Sustainable Business Partners is running a pilot program this summer, testing a new approach to growth for companies that sell to socially and environmentally conscious consumers. A pilot program is a means of testing the value – and shortcomings – of a product, service, or process before rolling out a fully developed version. It’s a proof-of-concept.
So what are we trying to prove?
To answer that, let me first share a couple of thoughts.
Everything Is a Prototype
I once took an intensive course on product development. One of the first things I learned was that “everything is a prototype.” Regardless of how successful your company is, our world is changing so quickly that even proven products should be thought of as prototypes of future versions that meet evolving customer needs and interests. If salespeople are supposed to “always be closing,” our mantra is “always be testing.”
In business, everything is a prototype, requiring us to test constantly.
Testing can reveal a variety of opportunities and threats, whether your company is new, like ours, or well established. These include:
- New customer segments you can serve well, or existing customers you can serve better, perhaps with a minor tweak;
- New creative strategies that bolster your message to your core markets or resonate with specific niche markets;
- Growing or declining engagement levels among specific customer groups;
New marketing channels.
You can learn all this and more by consciously and continually fielding tests to learn how your customers respond. A good way to think about strategic intelligence gathering is to emulate two distinct activities that any security guard or policeman has perfected.
The first activity to adopt is patrolling a regular route, looking for anything unexpected, anything out of the ordinary. In this activity, your testing is designed to tell you whether all is well. Do your basic assumptions still hold, or is something new going on that needs your attention? This may seem obvious, but unless you are consciously alert for changes, they can be easy to miss until they become real problems. For example, they may be occurring only among certain customer segments, in certain media, or in response to specific ads.
The second activity is tracking specific issues. In this role, your testing should examine issues that are already on your radar, and which may affect your customers and your product. The goal is to regularly update your insights into what is changing and what that means for your business. For example, new competitors may be entering your market with a new business model, product features or prices, and you may need to stay up-to-date on your customers’ price sensitivity.
What Are We Trying to Prove?
So, what are we trying to prove with our pilot program? A couple of things:
- We believe that consumers who are interested in any sustainable product are the best prospects to purchase other sustainable products. They already understand that how products are made is important and that their purchases support a specific kind of economy. By using various digital techniques, we can reach them very cost-effectively with marketing communications about relevant products.
- We designed a product that we would love to use. We need to make sure that our clients also love it. What works for them? What did we overlook? What did we think was fabulous that they don’t care much about?
- We based our business model on several proven marketing processes. We are confident that they will produce good results, but we can’t be sure they will be “good enough.” Our pilot will tell us if we are on track.
A pilot program puts customers in charge. Giving them a chance to ‘test drive’ our product is the best way we can be sure that we are meeting their needs.
What Are YOU Trying to Prove?
What are you trying to prove? Do you intentionally scan the market for changing customer behavior that might be either an opportunity or a threat? Do you have a short list of high-risk/high-potential issues that you are exploring systematically?
To learn more about our pilot as results come in, email Chet@SustBizPartners.com.