Marketing Lesson Learned: Spending Money on a Product or Program without Validating the Market

Do Great Ideas Always Make Money?

Wow what a great Idea! You should sell that and you’d make tons of money!

Unfortunately, just because a few others think something is a great idea, doesn’t mean it will have a market. No one ever spoke the above words to me and I am solely responsible for my own direction. But I did get some buy-ins and interest when talking about my idea.

I have found advice alone is rarely the case for immediate action. Due diligence is always needed.

Due diligence happened for me when I dug in to analyze the actual data to find what types of services my revenues were coming in from.  I did this as part of my annual review of my marketing plan.  I found out how telling it is when data shines a light on the reality of a situation.

It is always easier, cheaper, and less painful, personally, to test out products and services on paper.

The service in question in my case was my website boot camp. Seems a lot of business owners don’t really want to learn the ins and outs of building a website; even if they save a ton of money doing it.

Although, I don’t consider my website boot camp a failure entirely, I just don’t think there is as big a market for it as I thought.   I found this quote to ring true.  

Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor. 
`Truman Capote

This shift from my expectation to this service being a primary source of revenue to significantly less makes it a failure in the current plan and I now consider it a seasoning in creating success.

While focus is important, seeing what is really happening in a market trumps focus.

I love to watch Shark Tank and sometimes I see such laser product/service focus by the entrepreneur at the exchange of market reality. It is extremely interesting to see all the innovative solutions to true problems people experience in their day-to-day lives on this show. 

But then, there are those products and services which are built looking for a market. I think these sorts of products fail to solve a pain point.

I have been reading about and wrestling with identifying the pain points of my customers, finding a solution to these pain points, and then identifying (not yet building) the best service solution to fit the bill. All this can be done on paper, for very little expense beyond pen and ink. The only cost is time.

I find I am delving deeply into those questions which tie a customer emotionally to a product or service.

And I have found that the best list of benefits won’t outweigh an emotional connection when price is not the prime competitive go to market factor.

Experts have noted that there are times when we think that we have a great product or service ( just like I did) but it turns out that we are not building this product or service for a customer, but rather we are building it for ourselves. I found myself doing this with a service I thought would be the biggest generator of my sales when in fact it is the smaller part of the picture.

For a time, I thought marketing was the silver bullet to get my service sold. But I realized this would just be throwing good money after costs already sunk.

What follows is my video discussion of my lessons learned.

There are No Guarantees!

I found out that starting out something new provides no guarantees. Even when people say it is a good idea, the real test comes once the product or service hits the market.

I made a lot of assumptions about what people would want to do and found out that fewer than I initially thought would actually behave the way I planned.  My big “aha” moment.

Those in business for a number of years won’t be surprised by this statement, only newbies like myself, get caught up in it.  This is an age-old lesson. I am sure I am not the first to re-learn it.

Testing the Waters

In hindsight, what I should have done is found less costly ways in both time and money to pursue my idea and test the market.  

No plan survives contact with the enemy.

~Sun Tzu

Market surveys and focus groups are a couple of ways products can test the waters before spending lots of money.

Turns out that outlining emotional aspects of a product or service as you design it can create a better value for customers and clients.

I am working through a book called, Well Designed by Jon Kolko, and it describes a way to identify and evaluate these and even create the personality for your product or service.

What Led to my Going Down the Wrong Path?

A few people thought it sounded like a good idea. Some market research in my geographic area of interest showed that this need was not being met. I knew how to build this and deliver it. I got tunnel vision once I identified what I thought was a market opportunity and built it.

I added a layer of expense in building out some associated infrastructure to support it.

Lulled by this false sense of security and some well-intended advice, I began to spend without fully validating my market.

No one makes us act in a specific way and we are each responsible for the path we take.

When receiving advice, I have learned that it must be carefully weighed against our own objectives.

Not those in which our friends, associates, and relatives believe we should be headed, but tested against our own standards of proof and our internal north star.

Recovering from a Misstep

A mid-course correction is in order. Stop spending 80% of my effort on less than 20% of my outcomes.

I find that analyzing the patterns revealed by the actual sales numbers to be sobering.

When I took a look at the mix of business which I had, I became crystal clear that I was focusing on the wrong pattern. I was spinning and not seeing the results I expected, yet not recognizing there was some silent momentum going on in another direction.

I was stuck feeling somewhat frustrated on my progress in the area that was giving me the least return on time.

Paying Attention to the Numbers: Aka Analytics

A very small effort was generating 80% of my business. I was failing to recognize this until I took a look at the patterns from the revenues.

I am recovering by being agile and flexible and changing from my original idea. This is woefully hard as I had become so involved and entrenched that I fell in love with the idea. Even when I quickly realized that this wasn’t working as planned, I still resisted changing my path.

Why is this so?

I even felt somewhat angry and disturbed that I had a thought in the back of my mind which prodded me to continue on.

Maybe the right people haven’t heard about it yet?

Or, should I try to reach out beyond my target geographic area to see if there is an interest?

While expanding territory to reach a broader audience might increase the percentage of my revenue from this service, I came to understand that this would be costly for a couple of reasons. My time and potential income suffered.

The best of plans most likely aren’t executed exactly as written. The plans form the basis for starting out and can be used as a guideline when the course is on target.

But when off target, it would be unwise to continue with the plan just because that is what has been identified.

What can I do differently in the future?

I have learned that you can gauge interest in a service without building it out. This might work in the case of a new product if you know where to go to get a quick prototype or model in place without investing tons of cash to do so.

Since I went off on this tangent, I have been revisiting my customer pain points and have delved into the emotional aspect to the decisions my customers might make. Sometimes, the decision isn’t about the cash outlay of a product or service alone.

Learning from the experience of others. 

Standing on the shoulders of giants and hearing their findings with similar situations might be helpful to build in some ways to avoid problems or make what is known and working even better without totally reinventing the wheel.

What I think is great about my experience with this is that I have adapted from my original plan and become more flexible even when I felt that deep-seated resistance to change.

A Change Will Do You Good 

I have refocused after having spent a few painful days giving myself grief over it. 

It was then that I realized that I could have been much further down on the path and spent way more money/time than I had to come to the same conclusion.

This is when I realized this was a cause for thanks for the opportunity to change course mid-stream. I also felt a sense of relief because I had been working so hard towards this goal without seeing progress when another pattern was shaping itself without me and any marketing whatsoever.  I could now let off this particular goal since it wasn’t producing a good outcome.

Wow, now that is a true eye opener. I hope to see less goal frustrating effort as I redirect myself towards a more fruitful path.

Reading Resources

A good resource which I am working through right now to help me identify how my service will leave my customers feeling after purchasing from me is the book, Well Designed, by Jon Kolko. I plan to provide a review of this book and how I used it, so stay tuned for more on this in the coming weeks. I am still working through some of the tools presented in this book. But check out the link to the book in this article. To Succeed With Your Small Business Avoid These 5 Mistakes


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