Wednesday, September 08, 2004



But what does this mean? It means that every successful enterprise's offerings (products and/or services) meet four criteria:

1. They fill an unmet business, social or consumer need.
2. The enterprise understood why the need wasn't already being met, and overcame those obstacles.
3. The enterprise has the competencies to effectively create and deliver offerings that fill that need.
4. The enterprise has the resources to bring those offerings to the marketplace.

This may sound like a simple recipe, but it's actually quite difficult to achieve. The market for products and services, though far from perfect, is reasonably efficient at identifying and satisfying needs. If you find an unmet need, there is almost surely a reason why that need isn't being met by some other enterprise. You need to find out what that reason is, and overcome it. And then you need to gather a team of people with the collective competencies to design, produce, market and distribute the product or service that meets that need, and the resources (physical, financial and intellectual) needed to do so effectively. Easier said than done.

The key to doing this is in research, the difficult, time-consuming (but usually inexpensive) process of discovering the who, what, when, where, why and how of unmet needs. There are two kinds of research: Secondary research entails reading and browsing online to gather information that has already been published about the market, and need, and the possible solutions to it. Primary research entails talking to people directly to answer these questions, gathering unpublished information and intelligence. Successful needs identification usually stems from primary, not secondary research.

As you do your research, keep asking these questions until you're highly confident that you know the answers:

* What exactly is the need?
* Who exactly is the customer (the group that has that need)?
* What are the alternative solutions to it? What are the benefits and drawbacks of each alternative? Which, all things considered, are the best, affordable alternatives?
* Who is offering, and who could easily offer, each of those solutions? Why aren't they already offering these solutions?
* What competencies and what resources would your enterprise need to have to bring the best alternatives to market?

You might think it takes a lot of gall to get so many people to give you so much information and to offer their opinions free of charge. But entrepreneurs and researchers I know tell me people are often glad to help, and to offer their opinion, as long as the demand on their time is modest and that the solicitation is polite and personal. That means, ideally, face-to-face, with the telephone used only to secure an interview with them. Prepare to wear out a lot of shoes doing your research.

Because business' products and services are so diverse, it's hard to generalize beyond this point about the process of Filling an Unmet Need. As the next three chapters will show, not only does going through this painstaking and time-consuming process almost guarantee you success, it can also dramatically reduce the amount of time, effort and money you need to spend promoting and marketing your product or service (you've already met a lot of your first customers, and if you fill their unmet needs they will spread the word to others -- and take some pride in having played a part in your success), and it can even reduce the amount of money you need to raise to launch the enterprise. But most importantly, you should follow this process, gruelling as it may be, because it works. If you doubt me, talk to any successful entrepreneur about the value of doing this, and you'll be convinced.