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Without Market Research You Could Find Yourself Fishing In An Empty Pond

by Tim Knox

I’ve never been much of a fisherman. Sitting in a small boat for hours watching a red and white bobber float atop the water holds about as much interest for me as watching paint dry. My old man, on the other hand, would have rather fished than breathe. In fact, his favorite Bible quote was: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and he’ll sit in the boat and drink beer with you for life.” Needless to say, my old man wasn’t much of a Bible scholar, but he was one heck of a fisherman.

The few times that I went fishing with him as a young boy (before I was old enough to know better) he’d bait my hook with a worm he’d dug up from our garden and drop it in the water and tell me to watch the bobber until a fish pulled it under the surface. The moment I saw the bobber go under I was to jerk the line and reel the fish in. I can remember staring at that bobber until my eyes crossed and never, not once, did it ever go under the surface. I am probably the only male child ever born in the great state of Alabama who never caught a single fish. It is but one of the disappointments my ancestors have endured on my account, I assure you.

My old man’s bobber, on the other hand, would be jerked under the water within minutes of being tossed in. He’d be catching fish left and right and I’d be sitting there like some angler savant just staring at my bobber and wishing I was old enough to cuss out loud.

I discovered a few years later that the reason he caught all the fish was that he baited his hook with live worms while hanging the dead ones on mine. His worm would wiggle seductively to attract every fish within a two mile radius while mine couldn’t even get the attention of a starving turtle if it had swam directly into my hook.

I’m sure I suffered some permanent psychological damage as a result of his actions, but we all have our scars to bear. Mine just happens to be in the shape of a hook with a dead worm hanging from it. The memory has been filed away deep in my psyche in a drawer labeled, “Gee, thanks dad.” It’s a drawer I’m sure we all have, mine is probably just a little fuller than most.

While he could have used a few lessons on child rearing, the old man was an expert in one thing that we entrepreneurs often botch or ignore and that is market research. He didn’t call it that, of course. He said, “Son, never fish in a dry hole.” Let me translate that tidbit of Forrest Gump advice: don’t try to sell a product in a market where there are no buyers. If there are no buyers, there is no market. You can have the greatest product in the world, but if there is no market for your product you might as well pack it up and go dig worms.

Over the years he had surveyed every inch of that lake and as a result knew his market well. Through much research he knew exactly where the best customers, i.e. the hungry fish, were in the lake. And that’s where he anchored his boat; smack dab in the middle of his own starving niche market.

Having found his hungry market he tested products to sell into it. He tried crickets, dough balls, lures, worms, and who knows what else, to determine the kind of bait the fish liked best. In the internet marketing business we call it split testing: offering customers variations of a theme to see which one brings the greatest response. In his case worms were the product that his market liked best.

He also knew his customers well. He knew that if they liked the product they’d be quick to bite. He knew without flinching exactly how to react when they nibbled the bait. He didn’t jerk the line because he knew that might let his customer get away. He tugged it gently until he had his fish hooked, then he’d reel them in and close the deal.

And being the consummate fisherman cum entrepreneur he always took his best customers to dinner, literally. What the old man knew was that in fishing, as in business, you succeed by giving customers (be they human or be they fish) what THEY are hungry for, what THEY want or need; not by trying to catch them with the bait or sell them products YOU think they should have.

Sometimes we entrepreneurs think we’re smarter than our customers (OK, sometimes we are). We think that they will buy whatever we put in front of them if we just do a really good job of selling it. I’ve actually heard some arrogant entrepreneurs say just that, “They’ll buy what I have to sell or they can take their business elsewhere.”

That line of thinking guarantees that you will spend most of your time watching bobbers that never get pulled under.

It’s when we take our customer’s wants and needs for granted that we fail as entrepreneurs and our lines sit in the water undisturbed. The problem often comes when entrepreneurs put the cart before the horse. They will create a product or service for which there is no market. They fail to survey the pond for hungry fish. Instead they grab the bait they think will work and off they go. Usually they come back empty handed. It happens to entrepreneurs and fishermen all the time.

What can you do to help ensure that the pond you’re considering is full of hungry fish? That’s a topic we’ll discuss next time. Keep watching that bobber now, you hear.

Here’s to your success!

Tim Knox

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About the Author:

Tim Knox
Entrepreneur, Author, Speaker
Tim Knox is a nationally-known small business expert who writes and speaks frequently on the topic. For more information or to contact Tim please visit one of his sites below.

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