If you are an entrepreneur, especially a social entrepreneur, you have to fight to get customers/clients. People don’t know you. Even if you have a kick-ass product or service. So, how do you focus your efforts to go after the right customers? How do you determine who makes the best prospects?

Here are 3 things to keep in mind

1. Get to know your customers

You don’t have enough marketing time or money. So how do you decide where to put your limited resources? Get to know them. Can you explain your core target market? What do you know about them? Have you built profile(s) on them? Do you know what they like/dislike? How about their behaviors and how much money they spend in your category? What do they read? When and for how long? Who are their influencers?

Use market research to understand your target market

If you don’t know the actual answers to these questions, you need to do some market research and analysis. Go talk to folks. It can be low tech. Go stand outside where folks buy your (prospective) product or go to a conference on the topic and visit the exhibitor hall. Ask folks. If you can do a survey, even a short one, that’s even better, as it gives you ‘apples vs. apples’ data.

One of our working hypothesis is that many social entrepreneurs are focused in the wrong place. They are ‘barking up the wrong tree’, ‘looking for love in all the wrong places’ (bad post-Valentine’s metaphor, sorry).

But how do you choose the right customers/clients?

2. Don’t aim for the middle of the pack

We did a training with a great colleague, Udaiyan Jatar or UJ for short. He is the Founder of Blue Earth Network . And he asked the best question we’ve seen on this topic yet. Is the largest market the best one to aim for? Most companies do. If you think of consumers on a bell shaped curve, you want the big group in the middle. Makes sense, no? Yes, but not really.

You need to find the folks who are willing to go first. I just talked to a guy with an interesting start-up called Babele, which builds social networks. He said Italy has one of the highest prevalence and usage of Facebook anywhere today. But, they weren’t the first ones to begin using it. In fact, they were late adopters. They rushed en masse to Facebook after it had been in major media for a while.

His remark was that if Facebook had been started in Italy, the inventors would only have gotten attention for the platform from people to use it to sell cheese or something like that. Meaning: Italians aren’t very innovative to naturally gravitate to full use of the platform. But, they do like to talk and socialize. So, Facebook, when it was introduced as an accepted ordinary mechanism for daily conversation, fits them.

3. Go for early adopters

Find the people who like innovation, who want new things, who are curious. Use these folks to evangelize for others. Go where the easiest ‘sale’ is, even if it isn’t the deepest mission fit or greatest number of folks. These folks will help you get to that core market you want.

Think about some of our largest companies today that had rapid adoption. How did Amazon, Apple, Nike get so big? They all started out of the literal garage? Apple was competing against IBM and their big mainframes. It didn’t go to businesses, it went to individual computer hobbyists. It was hip with user groups and work groups. Geeks tinkering.

To bring it to our social enterprise world, if you’re trying to help with sanitation products for the poorest two billion people maybe you need to start with people who are a bit better off , who are educated, and can afford your product more readily – financially and also in terms of switching costs. These folks might not have as great a need. But they might more readily ‘get it’. Your crowd will then see their action and learn from these first sellers.

What do you think? Give me your ideas. And, go innovate. We need you to change the world.


Drew Tulchin is Managing Partner of UPspring (www.upspringassociates.com) – formerly Social Enterprise Associates –  a network of consultants working to leverage the power of the marketplace for good. This registered B Corporation works with entrepreneurs and their organizations to put ideas into action, raise capital, and measure results to advance the ‘triple bottom line’. Reach him at drew@upspringassociates.com. Tweet at GoUpSpring! #social enterprise

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