What goes on behind closed doors at the MEDO Supplier Development Programme? It would be quite easy to say that we ‘develop entrepreneurs’ through sharing valuable business knowledge, but what does that in actuality mean? What is this ‘valuable knowledge’ and how relevant is this knowledge to the entrepreneurs? Have a peek into our Supplier Development module and judge for yourself, who knows, maybe you’ll be the one picking up a few tips…
Telling entrepreneurs that they should work ‘on’ their business rather than ‘in’ it is often much easier said than done. After starting up a business and dedicating their lives and finances to it for a number of years, ‘the business’ often takes the metaphysical shape of a child. It is true, babies (or businesses) need to be cared for and nurtured, but there comes a time for every parent to set their children free. Yes, you can nudge and nag it to your will, but essentially you need to trust the business to take its natural course and grow into an independent entity. So here’s the problem, how do you get entrepreneurs to let go of their babies?
During the MEDO Lean Supplier Development bootcamp we focus specifically on getting entrepreneurs to differentiate between themselves and the business, leaving them to work ‘on’ it rather than ‘in’ it. We develop our entrepreneurs to become scientists, testing constantly what works and what does not work in order to find a winning business formula. In order to do this we implement a problem-solution model which requires constant testing. Throughout the five-day programme, we embark on this scientific journey marked by three steppingstones which will ensure the success of any enterprise.
Steppingstone 1: Know your customerThe basic goal of being an entrepreneur is profit, right? And in order to achieve this profit at the end of the month means selling, selling constantly, everything, to anyone willing to pay for it, right? If this is so, then why do we find so many businesses just surviving, barely covering bills?
Now this is where we encourage entrepreneurs to think carefully as to who they are selling to. Are their customers fly-by-nights or recurring customers who have a sense of value for the product or service rendered? Do the customers come specifically to their business or would they have bought from anyone else, they just happened to stop here first? Are the customers seeking the product or service or is it the entrepreneur hunting down customers, forcing them to buy products or services they never really required in the first place. We urge entrepreneurs to start differentiating between catering for a myriad of customers and serving a specific market.
Knowing who you’re catering to, is only the first step however, you need to know exactly what it is the customer wants from you too. Knowledge is everything, and the more you know about your market, the more you will be able to shape your product to fit the needs of your customer and only then will you be able to grow sustainably.
So how do you get to know your customer? We shape our entrepreneurs to start thinking of themselves as social scientists, where opposed to convincing someone to buy from them, ask them what wants, needs, desires and frustrations is experiencing. Know why people come to you and know which alternatives they consider before buying from you. Get into the head of your customer and find out what problems they need solving, otherwise you force a solution down throats without knowing what need you are fulfilling.
You can’t have a solution without identifying the problem first, and the only way to find out what your customers require is by asking them. We ingrain the belief in our entrepreneurs that only by knowing the who and the why can you grow sustainably, the right way.
Steppingstone 2: Building the right solutionNow that the entrepreneurs are starting to think about their customers, can they start building relevant solutions. Acting as a scientist
doesn’t only refer to asking around what customers require, that is only the start of the process. Now entrepreneurs need to go to the drawing board and draw up possible solutions to any type of problem or need that the customer identified. People value the small things as much as the big, and we want entrepreneurs to address even the smallest details that would make customers value and choose them over competitors.
Having said that, we still want our entrepreneurs to be scientists rather than to jump on the horse and charge forward with the newly identified solutions. So we start again at the beginning, with the customer. There is no shame in asking and testing ideas before investing two years on something that might not work. There is also no shame in going back to the drawing board a number of times to find the best solution, that isn’t failure it is effective experimentation. We refer to this step as the problem-solution fit.
This steppingstone will not only highlight small changes that need to be made to the product or service rendered, but will also show whether entrepreneurs are speaking to the right market or not. In many cases, it is found that entrepreneurs need to go back to the first steppingstone, finding that they have not quite identified a specific market. When finishing this step after numerous changes and tests however, entrepreneurs have a clear idea of what they doing with a clear market who is willing to support them. At this point there is almost nothing to hold them back.
Steppingstone 3: Catering to the marketKnowing exactly what customers want is a victory in itself, but it’s not quite time to celebrate before the home stretch is reached. Entrepreneurs need to be able to deliver, after all. After entrepreneurs identified solutions to problems it’s time to structure a delivery system that would be most convenient to the customer. This doesn’t necessarily refers mostly to costing and pricing.
Entrepreneurs often rather give their products or services away than finding a price their market will pay that covers their costs. This pulls them back to the first step where they have the mindset to sell anything to anyone, at the cheapest price possible. A sustainable business isn’t built on a rat race finding cheap alternatives to competitors. It is built on knowing your customers, knowing precisely what they want and what they will be willing to pay for it. This is again a process, where if entrepreneurs aren’t able to cater to their specified market with a price that satisfies both parties, we send them back to the drawing board to either identify a new market or alternative ways of doing the business. A rule we impose from the very start of the MEDO process is that entrepreneurs should learn from the start to never discount in order to attract customers. Profit is the goal, and if they are not able to meet that goal it is back to step one.
1, 2, 3 done: So now what?
Measure it! A scientist work is never done, people change, needs change and markets change. Once entrepreneurs have found a winning formula to their business, it’s time to keep that formula relevant and working. Knowledge is power, the more entrepreneurs know about their customer, the more they will know what they can do with their product and grow sustainably.