This is the fourth in a series of articles for Global Entrepreneurship Week (#GEW). Catch up on the series.

How to Avoid “Death By Ignorance”


Global Entrepreneurship Week aims “to grow sustainable enterprises.” Whether you seek sustainability or you aspire to be exceptional—to become one of Seth Godin’s “purple cows”—the biggest threat to your dream is failing to know your audience.

  • Maybe you “know the product will work,” so you never conduct the market research that would show you why it’s destined to fail.
  • Perhaps you developed the right product but you can’t craft effective messaging to convey its benefits.
  • Or maybe you have the product and the messaging but you lack the proof to convince buyers that the product works.

Being sustainable and exceptional requires that you serve your audience well—and you can’t serve people well if you don’t know them well. Here are 3 tips for doing both:

1. Know what they think.

Imagine visiting a consultant’s website and finding 10 glowing testimonials. You might consider hiring him, until you find another who offers 50 testimonials, 25 case studies, and statistical data showing that 95% of her clients were satisfied, 90% would recommend her to a friend or relative. Whom would you choose? Chances are you’d select the consultant who offers the most proof—and so would your customers or clients. Providing these 3 forms of proof can increase your sales dramatically and distinguish you from your competitors, who probably aren’t offering such convincing evidence.

2. Know who they are.

When a prospective customer lands on your website or crosses your transom, you may know little about who they are and what they need. Solving that problem by knowing exactly what problems or pain brought them to you lets you target your follow-up messages to their specific needs—and the more specific the message, the more likely it is that you’ll turn the prospect into a customer and a customer into a life-long fan. Once you understand who your prospects are and what they need, you’ll also know how to attract more customers like the ones who are already buying from you.

3. Know what they want.

Why do entrepreneurs fail? Often because they create a product or service and then try to find a market for it—only to discover that no market exists. The powerful alternative is to ask what your audience wants and create it to order. Imagine being able to tell prospective customers, “You told me you wanted this, so I built it for you.” They’ll feel invested in your business and they’ll commit to its success.

Gathering this vital information doesn’t need to be difficult if you use surveys to have an ongoing conversation with your customers and prospects. That doesn’t mean throwing together questions that demand information from your customers and leave them feeling cheated. It means creating warm, conversational surveys that enhance the bond with your audience; rewarding them for their time and input; reporting back on your results; and showing them that you’re using their information to serve them better.

This is the stuff of which “purple cows” are made.

Jeanne Hurlbert, PhD, and I became fast friends when she served as a source for an article I was writing on social networking and dating. She's an expert in survey research, social networks and social media. Jeanne has served on the faculty of Louisiana State University for more than 20 years, where she taught hundreds of social science students and marketing students how to read people’s minds with surveys. She has also been featured or quoted in such media as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The LA Times, USA Today, "Oprah and Friends", smSmallBiz.com, Forbes.com, Monster.com, Juneau.com, US News and World Report, Radio-TV Interview Report, Health, Smart Money, The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The History Channel, ABC News Now, and Business Talk This Morning.