As the Federal shutdown, slim down, or whatever you want to call it starts week number two, I just had to take a step back and wonder if the politicians in Washington D.C. (and locally, for that matter) really have any notion of the wants, needs, and desires of us constituents.

Polls tell us one thing, while Congress and the President often tell us something else. It’s really getting tough to decipher what’s real, what’s political bluster, and what’s plain old delusion.

My “Marketing 101” sensibilities tell me our elected leaders really aren’t focused on what their target audience (us, we the people) wants. Rather, regardless of which side of the political aisle they call home, they seem intent on acting on what they think we need, or what they want us to want.

It makes me wonder, do they ever really listen to their constituents? Methinks if they were to, things would be a lot different (better) in Washington and in lots of state capitals around the country.

Almost two years ago, I applied this same line of thinking to business and marketing in a blog about how knowing what your customer wants and needs is critical to success. This seems like apropos advice for our elected leaders today, so here’s that blog again. Enjoy!

Maybe It’s Not Just the Economy: Meeting Customer Needs

(Originally Posted on November 16, 2011 by Paul June)

These days, if you find yourself beating your head against the wall trying to generate more sales or get new clients only to come up empty again and again, it’s easy to blame the economy. Everyone’s doing it  . . . and for many, their woes are connected to the current business climate. But rather than settle for the status quo, did you ever consider that maybe it’s not just the economy, that maybe it’s something you’re doing (or not doing)? After all, not everybody’s business is suffering. In fact, many are flourishing.

Perhaps it’s time for you to step back and take an objective look at your approach to selling your products and/or services?

For instance, are you offering your target customers/ideal clients what they want and need, or are you trying to force feed them your vision of what you think they should need? In other words, are you trying to sell them a brand new Cadillac when all they really need is to tune up their Kia?

Do you even know what your target customers need? Do you even know who your target customers/ideal clients are?

If you operate in a crowded professional or product “space,” do you differentiate your offerings so your target customers can easily see the advantages of working with or buying from you versus somebody else?

Here’s a back-to-basics checklist to gauge where you’re at (You get one gold banana for every item you can check off this list; kudos to you if you get five bananas!):

  • Define your target customer/ideal client. Who is he or she? Where does this customer live, work, and play? How does he or she make purchase decisions?
  • Align your products and offerings with the needs of your target customer/ideal client. Don’t try to sell someone a black car if they want a red one—unless you can demonstrate a strategic reason for the client/prospect to reconsider.
  • Differentiate yourself by demonstrating to your target audience the advantages of working with you/buying your product. Differentiation can come in many forms: quality, price, overall value, customer service, responsiveness, etc.
  • Set client expectations at the time of product sale or service engagement. Don’t try to oversell your products and services—giving the client more than he or she really wants or needs. Similarly, don’t undersell or devalue your offerings just to get business. Clients will expect results, and if you undersell, they may be in for a surprise when either you don’t come through with promised deliverables or you do so at a much heftier price point than anticipated. Similarly, the lowest price isn’t always best. Many (including me) ascribe to the “you get what you pay for” school of thought.
  • Routinely exceed the expectations of your target audience.

I’ve been in marketing and product development for two decades, from line positions to department head to occupying the VP-suite, and I’ve enjoyed a lot of success, including generating multi-million dollar growth for clients and my own start-up businesses. If there’s one universal truth I’ve discovered along the way, it’s that as a business owner, professional, and/or entrepreneur, it’s up to you to meet the needs of your customers, to show them “what’s in it” for them, and to demonstrate why they should work with or buy from you versus from your competitors. If you can do that, and (importantly) you can deliver results, success is sure to follow.

What are you doing to bolster your sales and marketing efforts? What’s worked and what hasn’t? Feel free to share your golden bananas here.