Finding customers in their space

It's easy to find customers outside their own space. This is really bad news for any of us wanting to spawn disruptive innovations and create new market spaces. Outside their own space, customers will say anything to get attention, get approval or get rewarded. They dish out tons of misleading information when they fill out customer satisfaction forms, get interviewed by marketers or attend focus groups. The customers do not think outside their own space like they do inside their space.

To develop innovations that create more demand, we need to start where they customers are really at. Where they say they're at is not it. Actions speak much louder than words. Customer-talk comes cheaply. In their own space, customers will show us what difficulties they're having, what problems have been left unsolved and what is not working for them. They will also reveal how they get by with what they've got, cope with their adversity and adapt to their situation as best they can. If we have the eyes to see and ears to hear, customers show us how to serve them when they are in this space. We get where they are really at and how to make a difference in that space. We're conceiving of solutions to the problems they are currently experiencing, rather than chasing after what they say they want or say are their preferences.

I've found it's far better to visualize this challenge as spaces than as "untapped demand", "non-consumers" or "niche market opportunities". When we're speaking of spaces, it's much easier to see where the customers are at, where we're coming from and how to get to them in their space. We stop assuming any input from customers is valid. We first question whether we've found potential customers inside or outside their own space.

When we've found potential customers in their space, we're in a much better place than most inventors and marketers. We're setting up a value proposition that sells itself, rather than a tough sell that takes tons of convincing, promotion and sales expenditures. We coming from that place that speaks their minds, tells their stories and supports their aspirations. We give the potential customers the experience of feeling understood. They give us the same in return. They understand we want to make a difference and make a sale. They feel we deserve respect, trust and cooperation since we've given them that experience from the start. They meet us in this good place we're coming from to get where they are really at.

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