Business

A young entrepreneur's dilemma

Sales Pitch

Herman Alvaranga

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

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RECENTLY a young businessman called me. He is an engineer who is writing his own business plan for a new venture and needed the benefit of research to assist him with deciding his revenue forecast.

He has no experience in the sector and is quite happy to conduct primary research, but that's not enough.

His challenge is the unavailability of information on the business sector he was planning to enter. Information is the raw material of decision-making.

Effective marketing decisions are based on sound information; the decisions themselves can be no better than the information on which they are based.

And if information on existing or potential customers in the sector is inadequate, how will he be able to conduct a proper customer analysis?

And that is a major dilemma for the Jamaican marketer. So little data is available!

So we have an entrepreneur who has little understanding of the business he wants to enter and almost nothing about its customers.

Here's a bit of advice: before you get started you need some serious customer analysis or you may lose your shirt!

TWO CATEGORIES OF CUSTOMERS

The information that we need about customers can be broadly grouped into current and future information. Here's some of what we need to know about current customers:

(1) Who are the prime market targets?

(2) What gives them value?

(3) How can they be brought closer?

(4) How can they be better served?

For the future, however, we also need to know:

(1) How will customers and their needs and requirements change?

(2) Which new customers should we pursue?

(3) How should we pursue them?

WHO IS THE CUSTOMER?

We all know that customers are not necessarily the same as consumers. As an example, I buy turkey ham, but I will never eat it. A useful way to approach customer definition is to recognise five main roles that exist in many purchasing situations as follows:

(1) The initiator. This is the individual (or individuals) who initiates the search for a solution to the customer's problem. “Can you bring home some ketchup, please?” In the case of a supermarket, the reordering of the same brand of ketchup whose inventory is low may be initiated by an automatic order processing system.

(2) The influencer. Influencers are all those individuals who may have some influence on the purchase decision. The hot dog experts in many Jamaican homes may have initiated the search for a ketchup, but the parents may have a strong influence (through holding the purse strings) on which brand is actually bought. In the supermarket the ultimate customers will have a strong influence on the brands ordered — the brands they buy or request the store to stock will be most likely to be ordered. And sometimes there is a hidden table which we won't speak about.

(3) The decider. Taking into account the views of initiators and influencers, some individuals will actually make the decision as to which brand of ketchup to buy. In the supermarket the decider may be a merchandiser or purchasing officer whose task it is to specify which brands to stock, what quantity to order, and so on.

(4) The purchaser. The purchaser is the individual who actually buys the ketchup that we've been talking about. In industrial purchasing it is often a professional buyer who, after taking account of the various influences on the decision, ultimately places the order, attempting to get the best possible value for money.

(5) The user. Finally comes the end user of the product or service, the individual who consumes the offer. For the ketchup it may be the kids who just love a particular brand without any carefully considered reason. For the goods in the supermarket, it should be the supermarket's customers. So we know the five key roles in a purchase and doubtless you are aware that in many cases one person may assume all of these roles. But how much data in the Jamaican business space is available to a new entrant to make informed decisions?

SIX KEY QUESTIONS

In addition to knowing who the real customer is, our young entrepreneur will also want to get an understanding of them and should be asking himself the following six questions: (1) Who is involved in buying and consuming?

(2) What are their voice criteria?

(3) When do they buy or use the product?

(4) Why do they buy or use the product?

(5) Where do they buy?

(6) How do they use the product?

THE LAST WORD

My young entrepreneur has a dilemma, for by some accounts, up to 90 per cent of all new businesses fail.

Now that's a frightening statistic! Some entrepreneurs take carefully calculated risks while some are gamblers. My new friend has an excellent product, but that is no guarantee of commercial success.

He thinks he has enough cash to carry him through the first six months while he really learns the business that he is about to enter. And he is a quick study who is determined to disrupt the market.

Nothing is going to stop him — data, or no data; information, or no information. Good luck, my young friend.

Fortune favours the brave. But always remember that even the best of hunters know that they must never throw caution to the wind.

Herman Alvaranga, FCIM, MBA, is president of the Caribbean School of Sales & Marketing (CSSM). For more insights on sales and marketing please go to his blog at www.cssm.edu.jm.

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