How changing your market can save your product

The other day, I was picking my daughter up from a birthday party. The father of my daughter's friend is an arborist. He makes his living pruning and caring for trees, and he's owned his own business for 12 years.

During our conversation he told me his business story. His first few years in business were really tough. He'd grind and grind and grind, but wasn't earning a substantial amount of revenue.

And then, he found his solution. He changed his phone number.

You see, up until then he'd focused his marketing efforts on his local market. Unfortunately, most the town's residents were retired farmers. They're DIYers: if their trees need pruning, cutting or care, they do it themselves.

But 20 minutes away, there is a very affluent suburb. Most of the residents are executives. They don't have time to care for their trees; they need someone to do it for them, and they have the money to pay for it.

So, he switched his phone number to a number local to that suburb. He opened up a PO box there as well. And he started advertising in their yellow pages (this was 10 years ago), and their local paper.

The result? Almost 95% of his revenue comes from this suburb.

Looking at it in hindsight, it seems obvious: go where people need your service, and have the money to pay for it. But so many of us keep grinding it out in the wrong conditions.

Why your product isn't generating sales

  1. Wrong product - this is the worst case scenario. No one needs it (or wants it), and thus, they're not willing to pay for it.
  2. Good product, wrong market - this is a little harder to determine. How do you know if your product is good? Try a different market. My arborist friend switched to an affluent market, and got way better traction. Take your product to a different audience, and see if it works.
  3. Good product, wrong positioning. Sometimes you've chosen the right market, but you haven't positioned your product correctly. Is your product priced right for your audience? Is your marketing copy speaking their language? Does your product need different branding or design?
  4. Good product, no channels. Sometimes you have a product people want, but there are no strong distribution channels you can use to reach the customer.
  5. Good product, bad funnel. It's also possible that your process for taking people from anonymous website visitors to paying customers is broken. Maybe you're asking for the sale too quickly. You might need to create multiple touch points before someone buys. Maybe you have a freemium model, and you need to switch to a more traditional sales model.

I've seen these tactics work in the software industry. One of my SaaS clients were toiling away in the B2C market for years. Their product was $19/month, and just wasn't profitable. They decided to change markets. They focused on B2B sales, cancelled their freemium plan, and raised the price to $99/month. Revenue took off.

Still grinding it out? Before you throw in the towel: it might be worth tweaking your product, and offering it to a new market.

Justin Jackson

PS: want more? Check out my book! You can download a 21 page sample here.

Published on July 29th, 2011
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