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What To Do If Customers Aren't Buying Your Product The trick is to find that subset of customers who are eager to buy your product or service, make it easy for them to buy, and easy to tell others about it

By Jana Matthews

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No entrepreneur starts a company intending to fail—and yet about 75 per cent of them do, Why?

Some of them joke and say they simply ran out of money—or time. And while there are many reasons why companies fail, the fact is: companies fail if they don't have enough customers. Without customers, a company can't survive, let alone grow.

Here are some reasons businesses struggle to win customers, and what to do about it.

Unappealing products

Sometimes your product or service is just not appealing. Entrepreneurs don't like to admit their baby is "ugly". You developed it, you love it, but what if no one else does?

Be brutally honest. Figure out what prospects don't like, and change it to something customers will buy. Alternatively, think of the time and money you spent as a sunk cost, learn from the experience, disengage, and re-focus on something that will provide a better ROI regarding your time and talent. After all, we're talking about your life, and you shouldn't waste it trying to push a string.

Great product in a small market

Perhaps your product or service is great, but the market just isn't big enough, or there aren't enough people who want to buy your product to make your company viable.

Do some market research on the numbers of potential customers who have the problem you are trying to solve. If your market research indicates there are only 100 dog owners in your chosen town, you will need to add more vet services, or include cats, or become a travelling vet, or set up in another town. In other words, if the market for your product or service is too small for your company to be viable, you either need to expand your market, offer more products and services to customers, or focus on a new market.

The wrong customers

Men in their 50s might be the perfect market for you, but if you've been targeting weekend warriors in their 30s, you'll need to shift your market focus.

Look at the demographics of the customers buying your product, but also pay attention to the psychographics.

No point of difference

You need to figure out how to stand out in a crowd, to differentiate your product or service from similar ones offered by competitors.

Make a list of the features and benefits of your competitors' products and compare each one to yours. If your product or service is not considerably better on several dimensions, you need to go back to the drawing board, figure out what customers "value", then design something that offers a real competitive advantage.

Poor messaging

It could be that the website and the marketing collateral are too complicated or too technical for customers to understand. Or maybe the sales team is selling features and benefits and not making a compelling case as to why a customer can't live without your product or service.

Ask a marketing and communications company or consultant to review your marketing assets, from a customer's perspective, and then ask them to describe—in two short sentences—what you do and why a customer would care?


Is your product or service packaging right? Perhaps you need to bundle a product and a service together, e.g., buy the car and get free service for five years. Or perhaps it needs a beautiful and memorable presentation box like Tiffany wraps around its jewellery or a rare, bespoke crystal decanter from which Penfold's Grange is poured.

Look at the packaging, look at all the customer touch points, and the wrap-around services you now offer with the product. Ask customers for feedback. Design the packaging with your customers. Remember, it's not just the product, but the multiple interactions with the customer that determines whether you will close a sale and have a repeat customer.

Price and payment terms

Finally, perhaps customers don't think your products or services deliver enough value to be worth the price you are charging. Or alternatively, maybe they are concerned about the quality of the product or service you are offering at such a low price. Maybe they need payments to be spread out over time, or monthly instead of once-off payments.

Look at what your competitors are charging, talk with your customers, gauge their price sensitivity, and offer them a unique product or service—or a price they cannot get anywhere else, with customer service that exceeds expectations.

The trick is to find that subset of customers who are eager to buy your product or service, make it easy for them to buy, and easy to tell others about it. Once you have raving fans, your customer base will grow as well. But if, for whatever reason, your customers aren't fans or there are too few of them to support a company, then stop pushing a string, apply all that you have learned, and start planning your next venture—this time a beautiful baby that customers want—and will buy.

Jana Matthews

Professor and director of the Australian Centre for Business Growth, University of South Australia

Jana Matthews is the ANZ Chair in Business Growth, Professor, and Director of the Australian Centre for Business Growth at the University of South Australia’s Business School. She has a doctorate from Harvard, has founded five companies, and was on the founding team of the Kauffman Foundation’s Centre for Entrepreneurial Leadership. Matthews is an expert on entrepreneurial leadership and business growth, has written eight books, and designed award-winning programs that teach CEO’s and executives how to lead and manage growth companies. She was selected as one of the most influential women in Australia in AFR and QANTAS100 Women of Influence Awards 2018. 

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