Entrepreneurs Create Change, Customers Buy Solutions

Change

“We already have a way of doing that”

This single sentence has taken entrepreneurs and change makers to the edge of their sanity.  No matter what you have created, no matter how great your product or service you will likely hear this dreaded phrase.

Even incredibly successful companies once faced this type of scepticism.  “Why join Facebook when Myspace is already so popular with everyone already on it?”.

This line of questioning is a massive problem to any would-be change maker because all of a sudden the conversation turns from being about what could be, to being about what already is.  And often if you compare a product that already exists to something which is still being created, the existing product often wins on the spec sheet.

I imagine this is what Nokia probably experienced.  They knew about the iPhone and what it could do, but they ignored it as a real competitor, because it didn’t have the features already present (such as copy and paste) in their existing products.

Recently I’ve been playing a game; Pick an existing technology and then say “we already have a way of doing that”, twice.

For example say that you’ve created this new thing called “e-mail”.  If you go to a possible customer and explain that you’ve created a new technology called e-mail which allows you to send messages to your friends, family and colleagues the customer will say: “We already have a way of doing that.  It’s called SMS.  It’s cheap and convenient.  Plus all my friends, family and colleagues already have a mobile number, but they don’t have e-mail addresses.  So this new e-mail thing sounds worse than what I’m already using!”.

Now do it again!

Say that you’ve just invented a new technology called “SMS”.  If you go to a possible customer and explain that you’ve created a new technology called SMS which allows you to send messages to your friends, family and colleagues the customer will say: “We already have a way of doing that.  It’s called a telephone.  It’s cheap and convenient.  Plus all my friends, family and colleagues already have telephones, but they don’t have mobile phones.  So this new SMS thing sounds worse than what I’m already using!*”.

Whenever you say “We already have a way of doing that” and then extrapolate it again you end up in a radically different world.  Your average customer doesn’t realise that new ways of doing things and new technologies not only change what you can do, but how you can do something.  Email is not just a replacement for SMS, it’s an alternative and can be used in a different way to allow you to do different things.

But customers are busy.  They have things to do.  They don’t have time to worry about “the future” and what could be.  They have sh*!t to do today!  And that’s why:

Entrepreneurs create change and customers buy solutions to their existing problems

This is the tension that will always exist between the entrepreneur and the consumer.  Whenever a customer buys anything, it by definition, means that the customer is willing to change in some way.  Whether this is signing up for a new online service or buying a new physical product, the customer will have to be willing to change their existing behaviour in some way.

Facebook got us in the habit of “liking”, Twitter got us into the habit of “micro-blogging”, the television got us into the habit of always having a screen in the living room.

But the only way to change someones behaviour is by solving some sort of problem in the customers present mind.  People might join Facebook because all their friends are on it and that person has FOMO.  People might join Twitter to vent their political frustrations.  People might buy a TV for the living room because that’s how they’ve been conditioned to relax.

Generally speaking, people do not change just for the sake of changing.  They want something out of it.  Some kind of solution to some kind of problem.

The way to get people to change is by hammering home the problem you are trying to solve for them and then explain the alternatives (which suck).  Mask the fact that you are trying to create change – let the customer decide this bit on their own.  If you have described your problem in enough detail then the change will follow.

*You can extrapolate this thought experiment again.  The creators of the telephone originally thought that the phone would only be used by telegram operators to communicate with one another.  They couldn’t even imagine a world where the average Joe would have a telephone.  Why would people call each other if you could just send a telegram?

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