How to Sell What Customers Want and 4 More Business Tips From the Week

Read how to offer products that people want, build lasting business relationships and more.

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By Brian Patrick Eha

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A roundup of the best tips of the week from

A local girl's sour lemonade immediately struck Debra Kaye, a partner at Lucule, a New York City-based innovation consulting firm, as a product destined to disappoint consumers. The girl's father, who expressed the opinion that people consume too much sugar these days, had made the batch with only one-fourth of the typical amount of sugar used in lemonade. Soon the girl was packing up her lemonade stand. "Trying to change people to accommodate your product is a recipe for failure," Kaye says. "If you think you can change customers' behavior, think again."

Similarly, it's a mistake to market a lifestyle that customers don't want. Take Talbot's, the women's clothing retailer that is known for its conservative business attire. Talbot's stock has taken a hit as the jobs market remains weak and professional women seek more casual clothes in which they can transition easily from day to night, says Kaye. Fashion retailer J. Crew, by contrast, has posted soaring profits thanks to its understanding of customers' changing desires. "It provides business casual clothes that meet the customer's desire to transition from work to play and back to work again with ease and style," Kaye says. More: Marketing's Best Kept Secret

Be open and honest, even when you can't share all the details.
In business meetings, honesty is the best policy, says Carey Cavanaugh, a professor of diplomacy at the University of Kentucky and a former U.S. ambassador. Being honest is crucial for reputation-building, he says, but it doesn't mean showing all your cards. Just be upfront about what you can and can't reveal when it comes to your company, Cavanaugh says. Things to keep to yourself might include an upcoming product launch or an expansion plan. As long as you're open about the need to keep certain aspects of your business private, no one will take offense. More: Lessons From a Diplomat on How to Build Business Relationships

Seek fairness in your business relationships.
Many professionals view business as a zero-sum game, with winners and losers. Yet in your personal business relationships you should "have the humility to seek out long-term, positive-sum collaborations with others," says Victor Hwang, chief executive and co-founder of Silicon Valley-based T2 Venture Capital. "You can't innovate alone. You need partners to take on the journey with you," Hwang says. And who doesn't want to partner with someone known for looking out for his partners? More: The 5 Rules for Silicon Valley Success That Can Work Anywhere

Over-delivering can be as much of a problem as under-delivering.
The downside of under-delivering is obvious. But over-delivering can be just as bad, says Peter Jerkewitz, founder of Seattle-based NovusWorks, a business operations consulting firm, and author of Choose Not to Fail (PonderWhy, 2012). He uses the example of a creative team that must design a new ad campaign. The team's goal should be to deliver a small number of high-quality designs, not to produce a large number of designs in the hope that one will "stick." To solve this problem with your employees, give better direction and encourage a thoughtful approach to accomplishing tasks. More: 3 Ways Teams Undermine Themselves

Do due diligence on your investors.
Entrepreneurs, especially first-time founders, tend to be hungry for investment. But it's a mistake to rush into anything. Just as investors do due diligence on you and your company before offering funds, you should check them out before accepting, says Mo Koyfman, a general partner at Spark Capital, a Boston-based venture capital firm. Meet with VCs in person, spend time getting to know them and talk to other people who have worked with them. "Ultimately, personalities don't always match and things don't work and you can't predict how things are going to go," Koyfman says. "That's why you have to meet with people." More: A Young VC on How Young Entrepreneurs Can Land Cash for Their Young Companies

Brian Patrick Eha

Brian Patrick Eha is a freelance journalist and former assistant editor at He is writing a book about the global phenomenon of Bitcoin for Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Random House. It will be published in 2015.

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