The Ugly Truth about Customers' Buying Preferences

Summer movies show you that sometimes ‘good enough’ is what your customers want. I checked out the latest date movie The Ugly Truth with my husband. He suggested it knowing that my favourite Scottish hunk, Gerard Butler, was playing the lead role. Well, it served up a good enough script with lots for the male and female funny bone, a predictable ending and lots of eye candy. Will it win an Oscar? Not a hope in hell! Will I tell my book club I enjoyed it? No way! Did it make me, the client, happy? Absolutely!

The ugly truth actually is, that I have been dreaming of seeing Macbeth with my other favourite actor, Colin Feore, at Stratford this summer; instead, I settled for convenience.
These summer movies do not plan to be best in the Oscar category. Their plan is to appeal to a mainstream audience with a need to share a pleasant time together and a willingness to pay cash for movie tickets.

In the same way, Microsoft did not take over the computer market because it was the best operating system – Apple arguably offers superior technology to Windows. Microsoft took over the market because it gave the customers what they valued.

What did customers need, back in those early days of software applications? In the 1980s, people wanted to type, draw diagrams, create slide presentations and run spreadsheets. So what was the problem? You could get any of those software packages and have an excellent spreadsheet or word processor program.
The problem was that businesses were busy going international; they needed a universal language for all of their documents.

Executives from Vancouver wanted to be able to walk into the office in Hong Kong and be able to use the same software application. They also wanted to connect directly and immediately – seamlessly – to their customers’ computer systems. Microsoft was the first to bundle up three different software ‘apps’ (applications) into one, add in email and call it Windows. It could run with one operating system and in additional, any document could be emailed and used anywhere in the world.

Microsoft offered integrated product choice, not random stand-alone products that addressed one problem only.

Good Enough

Microsoft provided that connectivity in a single package and at a ‘good enough’ standard. The market bought it.

You see, the better mousetrap does not win. If you are building the best mousetrap out there and hoping to get venture capital, take a moment to review your lofty goals. Yes, you can continue selling your wonderful product that is far superior to the competitors, but Betamax engineers also shared your mindset. VHS succeeded with innovative marketing and better management, yet we all know Beta was far superior technology.

Look at Apple. Its intuitive software was far more advanced than Windows, but the US Justice department wanted to carve up Microsoft into Baby Bills, not Apple into Baby Steves.

The Value Rule

The Windows ‘value proposition’ beat the superior performing packages that were stand-alones. The past decade has shown that customers will pass the 'best of the breed' products to buy the all-in-one Windows integrated solution. Customers came flooding in through the doors (and Windows – excuse the pun.)
Your ‘value proposition’ should focus on one problem (e.g. Microsoft’s customers’ yearning for a universal language for all documents) experienced by your customers.

Begin With Your Customer

Business begins with people. Human beings make up your market. Each one, with her quirky tastes, individually buys from you. Understanding this will give you a competitive advantage. Your strategy must dig deep. There are the obvious, frequently discussed; overt needs, but the un-discussed, covert needs are where you will find gold. Your customers are going to force you to change because they will vote with their wallets where their needs are best met.

Critical Question: How do you add value to your customer?

Asking your customers is not the way to figure out value. If you asked them if they would use the mainframe with all its power, or the PC, which is a step backwards, you know the answer you are going to get. You have to get inside their day and watch how your product could make life easier, so much easier that your customer will take on the hassle of switching over to your company.