The Buyers Are Never Wrong

IThere’s no question that the unfortunate downside of the relentless mindset, passion and persistence that makes it possible for entrepreneurs to walk through walls, ignore prior failures, and overcome staggering odds is their tendency to focus obsessively and far too narrowly on their singular vision. Now add to that their obstinate refusal to face obvious facts like the dog is not eating the dog food or their tendency to double down on lost causes and stay the wrong course for far too long. This explains why entrepreneurs don’t have an “off” switch and rarely know how to stop. 

This behavior usually stems from an enormous reserve of self-confidence, a firm belief in their own omniscience accompanied by persistent blind spots, and an unwillingness to ever admit that they could be wrong. Even in the face of poor sales, lack of traction, and painfully growing losses, it’s very hard to convince startup CEOs to change their course. Result? When new businesses hit the wall and implode, they usually leave no skid marks.

But the biggest problem in many of these cases is that the entrepreneur has simply fallen in love with a newly-minted product or service and just can’t understand why the world doesn’t immediately agree. They don’t realize that inventing a new and better solution to a problem isn’t necessarily the hard part. The real difficulty is getting customers to buy, use and adopt it. And, not surprisingly, customers make their purchase decisions based on their own interests, desires and concerns. Which is to say they don’t really care about yours. The issue is always the same: It’s not what you’re selling, it’s what they’re buying that matters. The most enthusiastic sellers sometimes can’t see the forest for the trees.    

Entrepreneurs are apt to get so excited telling their back story, explaining their mission, and sharing exactly how the sausage gets made that they forget that the world doesn’t really care that much about history, hard times, or good intentions – people just want what they want as soon as they can get it. All the rest of the wonderful window dressing, and marketing drool, is just noise. The renowned Harvard Business School professor Clay Christensen used to say: find out the job that the customer needs to get done and make it happen. Your main task is to remove all the obstacles to a prompt and painless purchase and make the whole deal as frictionless as possible. Do that and you’re home free. Amazing how quickly things can improve when you get out of your own way.   

I saw this entire process play out over the last couple of years at Songfinch, which is one of my favorite song shops. The company composes songs on demand for customers, and I may have commissioned one of their first custom songs a few years ago. But, in truth, up until mid-2020, when they really woke up and changed their approach and then watched their sales explode, the Songfinch team of proud and experienced “music guys” thought they knew what they were doing. Must have been the world’s fault that they just couldn’t seem to catch fire. There are two lessons here: (a) don’t bet against the world and (b) when the dogs won’t eat the dog food, it’s usually not the dogs’ fault.  

They thought they were connecting a bunch of talented and independent musicians, songwriters and producers with consumers looking to help create customized and personalized songs as gifts for special people in their lives on very special occasions. This was a proud and noble thing to do and looked like a sure “win-win” for everyone. The tag line at the time was “Stories by You, Songs by Us” – a testament to process rather than passion and emotion.

Unfortunately, they believed that their “story” was all about the craft, caring and sharing, which are no doubt important parts of the cool, creative process. They also believed that customers would be fascinated by the mechanics of making music. What they forgot – like thousands of entrepreneurs before them – is that there’s a reason they call it the music “business.” Meaning that there’s much more business than there is music. Eventually, the Songfinch team figured out what business they were really in — their core business was selling highly emotive experiences.  

They weren’t selling songs any more than they were selling sausages and almost no one really cared about what went into the creative process. People only cared about the end result and, even more surprising, the end result – what every single song buyer was looking for – wasn’t the song at all. It was the sigh and the smile on someone’s face when the product was delivered.

They weren’t selling a product, they were selling a powerful emotional experience, a moment, and it was more about making people happy than about making music. The song, for sure, was the delivery vehicle, but the experience (and the thought behind it) were the silver linings. Today the new Songfinch site talks about the experience of “One-of-a-Kind Wow Moments.” Life isn’t a matter of milestones, but of moments. And, while the moment may be temporary, the memory is forever. This isn’t exactly rocket science – Kodak sold film and paper but pitched Kodak Moments and Coke – sugar water and all – taught the whole world to sing. But each business and every entrepreneur needs to find and grab that special sauce that makes the magic and lights the fire.

Once Songfinch shifted gears and focused on talking about creating of moments of joy, the world shifted around them as well. The changes in engagement and interest were profound, and the business grew exponentially. If you’re constantly focusing on results, things will never change. But if you focus on change, you get results. In this case, getting over themselves, getting out and listening to the customers’ real desires and goals, and then delivering sweet, sentimental and sexy songs are what ultimately got the job done.  

Life isn’t measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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