On Shark Tank, Mark Cuban often says that you have to run a business like there is someone working 24 hours a day to catch you. For many entrepreneurs and small-business owners, this is easy to imagine.
Tablets are promoted with the claim that “thinner is better” or that “higher resolution is better.” Smartphone shoppers are directed to not to settle for the 8-megapixel camera, but to opt for one with 16. By throwing all these metrics at us, consumer-products companies try to differentiate themselves and drive demand.
For small businesses, however, offering a standout product requires an understanding of what the customer wants — and delivering it.
Don’t fall into the trap of designing your business product according to these three myths:
Myth No. 1: Bigger is better. As Walmart has exemplified, a certain convenience to customers is associated with size. Offering a wide range of products at low prices, Walmart has carved out a very large segment of the market. But bigger is not necessarily better.
For many service-oriented businesses, being bigger can impose a burden. Some customers are looking for a level of service that large manufacturers struggle to provide. Customers (even those who work at large businesses themselves) want to interact with decision-makers. They want to know that their needs are at the forefront and that the right ears are receiving their requests. Large organizations often inspire unneeded bureaucracy, taking a toll on the ability of large firms to be responsive.
And though being large can help in certain ways (by being able to provide a wide range of products), smaller, more nimble and even privately held companies can do well by trying to understand customer needs and reinvesting in growth. Such reinvestments grant firms the opportunity to add additional services or products that customers want, in a natural way.
Myth No. 2: Self-service is better. In this age of self-service, businesses across sectors are offering automation, from online banking to mobile chats, as a way to provide convenience. The challenge is that if you serve customers as a faceless, nameless robot, your value proposition can disappear.
In Chicago, regional supermarket chain Jewel-Osco announced last year that it would discontinue self-checkout lanes. The self-checkout lanes seem to have hurt the company’s customer service. Many customers did not interact with staff — and those going through the normal checkout lanes were perhaps subject to long lines. I suspect that the company decided that the perceived convenience of self-checkout was not an actual convenience. The solution it came up with? Additional quick checkout lanes were added where the self-service lanes had been.
Although online and automated options can be valuable for small businesses to embrace, when a customer needs to troubleshoot an issue or find a representative, it is critical that they are able to do so.
Myth No. 3: Faster is better. As consumers, we are used to getting what we want, when we want it. Amazon has made a business out of being the fastest company to deliver products purchased online. Indeed Amazon is so fast that products can be delivered to our door on the same day (and perhaps in the future by drones). While this can work in the commodities business, most entrepreneurs should shun the “faster is better” mantra.
As small-business owners, we have to look at our work not as a race, but rather as part of a relay. At Ideal, the 90-year-old manufacturer that I run with my brother Yale and our dad, Steve, we manufacture corrugated boxes and point-of-purchase displays, requiring project management, graphic and structural design elements and logistics skills. If one of those aspects is off, then it doesn’t matter how fast the manufacturing plant churn out displays and boxes.
Get back to basics. The reality is that better is better — and better depends on your core customers’ needs. Customers will always care about size, breadth of services, convenience and speed, but those factors are rarely the primary concern. Provide a great product at a fair price. When small businesses return to this central focus, they will get to “better.”