Define Your Customers
Who Are They and What Do They Want?

Direct Sales Journal

by Michael L. Sheffield
CEO The Sheffield Group

People come to our office from all over the world. They bring their ideas and dreams in different degrees of development. Many of our clients have made massive monetary investments, often at great personal sacrifice, to bring their entrepreneurial vision to life. Ambitious as they are, these committed capitalists are often motivated by more than money; they're possessed by a profound sense of having a mission.

That's why I go into every consultation aware that to these extraordinary men and women are sharing with us more than just a product concept and business plan; they are allowing us to look at their vision of the future.

Like all worthy dreamers, out clients are convinced that their "awesome" product or service will take the world by storm and make them, and a lot of other people, healthier, happier and very, very rich. They're convinced that all they need is a good marketing and compensation plan to detonate the next MLM explosion. If their product truly is all they believe and the timing is right, they have every reason to expect that through their efforts another impressive entrepreneurial eruption will happen! Just as it is said that the key to real estate investment success is "location, location, location," the keys to MLM success are "product and timing, product and timing, product and timing."

In the same way our world is made of the basic elements — earth, wind and fire; and that human life is sustained by the basic elements — oxygen, food and water; the most basic components of a Multi-Level Marketing company are the right product at the right time. The truth is that while a hot product cannot, by itself, make your company, the lack of a good product can certainly break it.

To be successful, you need a contagious mission supported by a good management team. An equitable compensation plan for the distributors is a must. Professionally designed sales and support literature are imperative. Your distributors demand and deserve commissions and bonus payouts that are on time. Software to manage this is no longer a high-tech option but a mandate if you are to compete in today's market. But the reality is, you can have all these things in place — and if your product is wrong or your timing is off, there will be no success.

Without a product or service that meets the real needs of your customers and provides them genuine value, your company cannot survive. The foundation for long-term sustained success in MLM or direct selling is a commitment to a unique, highly consumable "service to mankind" product line.

So, if product and timing are so critical, how can you make sure you get them right? Part of the answer is — you can't be absolutely sure until you put your product out there and see what happens. That's part of the unavoidable risk of being an entrepreneur. But just because some risk is unavoidable doesn't mean that you can't substantially reduce the risk you have to take. After all, there's a big difference between absolutely sure and pretty sure. There is a great deal you can do to determine how the public is likely to react to a particular product. In other words, it is possible to ascertain, with a reasonable level of confidence, what's hot — and what's not.

We have found that the most basic element of the product selection process is identifying your prospective customers and determining their needs and wants. Now that may sound like an oversimplification, but in fact, it's a critical point many people overlook. Oh, they don't do it intentionally. They just assume that since they understand and appreciate the value of their product, everyone will automatically be enthralled with it too. The trouble is that's just not the way things work in the real world. But because of their assumption, they never put forth the relatively small amount of effort it would take to find out.

Start With The Who
It has been said that any mystery can be solved by asking and answering just six simple questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why? And how? That's probably true of starting a direct sales or MLM company, too.

We'll start with the "who." Who are the people most likely to want or need your product?

It's easy to say "everybody," but that begs the question. Remember, the objective here is to narrow your focus. Does this mean you want to exclude those who don't fit your target profile? Of course not. But until you establish whom you're targeting, you can't begin to effectively tailor your message to appeal to those who are most likely to respond.

Here's the unvarnished truth about product — any product: Be it a potion, pill or politician, you can't please everyone. Think about your product. Who needs it? Who wants it? Who would be willing to part with their hard-earned money to buy it? Identify different categories of people who would find your product useful, beneficial or desirable.

Now start asking more and more detailed questions about them. How old are they? Are they predominately of one gender or ethnic origin? What is their economic status? Are they likely to be influenced by a particular cultural or religious bias'? What is their family status? What is their typical level of education? What is their occupation'? Where do they live? Do they own or rent? What are their hobbies and interests? How do they spend their time? I How much are they willing and able to spend each month in order to satisfy the need your product or service will address?

It may seem at first as if this is a futile exercise. After all, network marketing is a great, level playing field where word of mouth reins supreme, right? How could you possibly know whose ears will be listening to whose mouths? But if you stop to think about it, don't most people tend to associate with other people like themselves? So wouldn't it make sense that your message might become concentrated in one or more groups of people?

In fact, this does happen with some frequency, and may happen in your organization. Someone will catch the bug and start telling everyone they know all about your wonderful product and opportunity. Because they are telling all the people they know, many of whom fall into one particular category, and those people are following the example of the first person and telling everyone they know, also probably in the same group, a concentration forms.

So if it's likely to happen anyway, how can you anticipate the direction it might go? One way is through a process of elimination. You can certainly establish who is not likely to respond to your message. Once you have identified the characteristics of that group, look at the opposite end of the spectrum. For instance, if your product is a nutritional that promises to restore lost youth, you can probably assume that teenagers are not prime candidates. By the same token, if you've developed a new formula that enhances extreme sports performance, the geriatric crowd may not be the best place to spend your marketing dollars.

Once you have a general idea of who your target customers are, you can begin using that information by asking what someone in that category might need or want. This is the "why" question. In the example of the sports performance product above, convenience might be a critical factor. A foil-wrapped snack bar would probably be much easier to use than a powder that requires measuring and mixing with water or juice. And since young people are less tolerant of medicinal tastes, it should probably be designed to have an appealing flavor.

Do you see how knowing who your prospective customer is, and why he or she will want your product, can help you make some of the critical decisions you have to make in order to get your product into the marketplace? Trust me — as you go forward with issues of design, formulation, engineering, sourcing, positioning, pricing, packaging, presentation and promotion, you will continually come back to these anchor points: Who is my customer and how will my product meet the needs of that customer? Finding the right answers to these questions will take you a long way down the road toward creating a successful network marketing enterprise.

Connect With Your Customer
To be successful, the product, distributor and customer must connect. You need a synergistic interplay to occur among them. The best way to counteract customer negatives is to know your customers. Listen to them. Understand them. Know how to appeal to their desires and how to anticipate and eliminate their factors of resistance before even presenting your product to them.

The story is told of a board meeting held at the headquarters of a large dog food company. During the conference, the sales manager was going on and on about the company's terrific advertising, lauding their great salespeople, and raving about its cutting-edge marketing concepts.

The company president interrupted the sales manager to ask, "If everything in this organization is so almighty wonderful, why isn't the dog food selling?" The manager stood speechless. The boardroom was quiet. Just when it seemed the silence would last forever, the secretary looked up from her notes, and said to the president, "Sir, the dog food isn't selling because the, dogs don't like it."

Know your market. Know your customers. Know what they want. Only then can you define your product with confidence that it will sell.

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About the Author:

Michael L. Sheffield is the CEO of The Sheffield Group, a full-service direct sales and multi level marketing (MLM) consulting firm. He is a Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Multi Level Marketing International Association and in 2001 he was inducted into the MLMIA Hall of Fame. He and the Sheffield team have assisted in hundreds of national and international MLM corporate start-ups as well as offered a full line of services for established direct sales companies including consultation on MLM Website development. As the most noted expert on compensation plans, he has been a guest lecturer on the subject for the DSA, University of Illinois, University of Texas, Berkeley and Harvard Alumni Association. He has helped launch over 200 new products marketed by direct selling companies around the globe. He can be contacted at 480-968-6199, The Sheffield Group, 2239 N. Hayden Road, Suite 103, Scottsdale, AZ. 85257, website address: www.sheffieldnet.com.

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