Saturday, December 14, 2013

Non-Profits, Pay Attention to your Customers

This post is motivated by an article that appeared in the Harvard Business Review about 30 years ago.  To the best of my memory, the author was Andersen.  HBR reprints are behind a pay-for firewall, so I am going by memory.

One of the difficulties of non-profits is that we lack the feedback provided by customers freely making decisions based on costs and prices.  Consequently, it is easy to slip into some thought traps.  Here are a few of those traps:

Joe Isuzu

Picture the stereotypical, used car salesman; resplendent sparkling polyester and mismatched plaids that make your eyes bleed.

He is in the selling thought trap.  The product he has on his lot is the BEST PRODUCT EVER.  End of story.

You might think you need a two year old minivan.  But if he does not have one on the lot, he will honestly believe that you need to buy his 4 year old Toyota RAV4.

His is a circular logic.  I have the best vehicles on my lot.  The reason these cars are on my lot is because they are the best cars.

It is good to have pride in your products/services...but not at the expense of listening to the customer.

Monte Motorhead

Monte is a car fanatic.  He devours car magazines.  He can quote statistics until your eyes glaze.  You want to buy a two year old, Chrysler minivan.  He wants to sell you a Turbo Porsche Carrarra.  You want utility.  He cannot understand why you do not orgasm over the sublime perfection of the TPC.

He is trapped in the product focus thought trap.

Martha Monolith

Martha actually makes marketing surveys.  She pours over the data and tries to figure out who her target is.

She has trouble focusing because the data seems to dance all around from survey to survey.  Still she tries.  If she is running the used car lot she buys a bunch of minivans at auction one month.  The next month it is pickup trucks.  Then it seems like she buys all sporty sedans.  She gets frustrated because the customers cannot seem to make up their mind.

She is in the simple market thought trap.

Patty Patchwork-Quilt

Patty also makes marketing surveys.  But her operating assumption is that "the market" is segmented like the sections of an orange.  We go through similar stages as we progress through our lives.  We are never identical, but we are likely to share certain needs as we pass through common stages.

She has some economical vehicles for those just starting out.

She has a portfolio of "family" vehicles to match varying family sizes and budgets.

She has some recreation type vehicles for families in their peak earning years.

She also has some more upscale, economical vehicles for those who might be in their empty nest years but want some luxuries and a higher level of dependability (and cost) than those just starting out.

She has some of this and some of that and the lot is arranged by cluster.


The "market" for non-profits is segmented.

Some people who are growing oak and chestnut trees focus on high production, high quality orchard trees.

Other people are passionate about landscaping for wildlife.

Others are passionate about reclaiming devastated landscapes like strip-mines, highway right-of-ways and eroded farm fields.

Some are motivated by the concept of integrating urban landscaping with the potential for cities to produce more food.  They see it as a way of addressing the issue of urban food deserts.

Others are geeked about the legacy of planting trees that might outlive them by 300 years.

Each constituency (and I am sure I am missing some) has slightly different priorities and this blog will attempt to serve them all.

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