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Building a Better Mousetrap

Younger readers of Business is Personal might not remember this old Tareyton cigarette ad, but it reminds me of one of the hardest sales jobs around: Selling a “Me Too” product.

A “Me Too product” is a replacement product for one already on the market and (presumably) successful.

I say “presumably” because you really don’t even know for a fact that it is successful unless you do serious market research. Yet the research to make a wise decision about a “Me Too” rarely gets done.

Let’s assume that you’re an accounting expert and a programmer and you just can’t stand Intuit QuickBooks and it just makes you nuts thinking about having to use it even one more day. The natural thing for a programmer to do in this situation to (not so) simply: create their own “perfect” product from scratch and wave goodbye to the old product forever.

But that emotional response ignores a critical thing required to make a business success out of that project…

Do you offer a compelling reason to switch?

Think about it for a moment: What would it take to get you to stop using QuickBooks, or Microsoft Office, or some other software that is entrenched in your business. Think about the time and money you’ve invested in knowledge and training.

If you’re having difficulty with that thought process, think about what it would take to get you to stop eating meat, stop drinking, become celibate by choice, or switch from a Western religion to an Eastern one. Or vice versa in each case.

In each of those cases, the requirement is “a compelling reason”.

There has to be a seriously compelling reason to get people to change from “Tolerable Product A” to “Your New Baby – aka Totally Awesome Product B”, particularly when Product A is embedded in the business processes of the entire company and has been in use for years. Worse so when the quirks of Product A have actually infected the business processes of the company.

Elected officials aside, people have proven for centuries that they detest change. To management, change often means sunk costs, lowered productivity and bad morale.

If your compelling reason is so easy to understand and so obvious that everyone from the CEO to the mail room clerk gets it, change seems like a good idea and most everyone gets on board or is easy to convince. If the only people who get it are at the boardroom level, you might have a challenge on your hands.

Do yourself a favor: Before you write a line of code, before you design a screen or a database, answer a simple question: What is the compelling reason that will cause people to line up for a chance to switch to your software?

At that point in the process, you should already have a conceptual model of what your new product will do, so this shouldn’t be difficult or expensive. In fact, it should roll off your tongue in a heartbeat. It might even be your Unique Selling Proposition or Unique Sales Position (different folks call USP different things).

It isn’t just the programmers. You can find it everywhere, even in cafes and pizza shops.

Believe it or not, people drank coffee before Starbucks existed. When they opened, Starbucks wasn’t just another coffee shop like all the rest. They created a compelling reason to go there. In fact, they created several different compelling reasons, attracting different groups of people.

Today, smart coffee shops fighting for market share create compelling reasons to go to their place instead of boring old Starbucks. They offer gourmet beans, live roastings, live music, readings, art exhibits, networking events, free internet access, gourmet foods, online ordering, delivery, party catering, gift packaging and so on.

What’s the compelling reason you give people that’ll make them want to line up for a chance to switch?