How changing your market can save your product

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.

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  1. Tim, something struck me about your post: “For the average rock/pop or avant-garde musician, it’s a little tougher because of such a broad target audience.” Are you limiting your audience by thinking of yourself as average? Secondly, if your target is too broad to get traction, narrow your target. That’s basically what the tree guy did. He did it geographically, but with music, you may have to segment your market in another way (though if you are in a small town, you may need a bigger town; and if you are in a big city, you may need a different performance venue). Check out Tribes, by Seth Godin, for some inspiration on this topic. Then check out Derek Sivers short video on How to Start a Movement:

    Interview the fans that do buy your music or go to your concerts and find out WHERE they hang out, what they eat, what they read, what kind of online social networks they use, where they shop, what TV/film they watch, how they heard about you, etc. If nobody likes your music, you either have to changes your “product” or find more people who do. If it costs too much to find more people who do, revisit that last sentence. One of my favorite lessons from the great business Good to Great by Jim Collins is Be Brutally Honest with yourself. That’s something the DIY Music scene has yet to embrace.

    Good luck!
    ::amplify your story::

  2. This is great advice. Thanks for sharing the story and to Derek Sivers for pointing me to it.

  3. Hugh,

    You’re welcome. What I like about Sivers’ advice is he points out that you don’t win with persistence alone. He says: “If it’s not a hit, switch.” This arborist says: “If you’re grinding, grinding, grinding, try something else.” And the old idiom says: “Don’t beat a dead horse.”

  4. I wonder if he would have had that success these days going though the YellowPages.

    I bet 10 years ago there was 1/10th the amount if data.

  5. It might have been harder today. A “local” phone number might not mean the same today, as it did back then. The main idea is that he really made himself a part of that market; he identified it as his market.

  6. After reading this my wife said to me, “He’s speaking your business love language.” ;).Yes, I love this post. If the market isn’t large enough to support your business, no amount of tinkering on your product, price or promotions will help. It’s interesting how a subtle change made such a huge difference to his business. A change in phone number didn’t change his day to day work but it made his company feel different to his customers. Suddenly, he was part of a different community and a sustainable market.

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