Find A Lock And Make A Key (In That Order)

I heard the rough draft a business plan yesterday and it reminded me of this Seth Godin idea: A lot of businesspeople make a key and then go looking for a lock. The logic is they’ll do x and get y. They feel offended when they don’t get it. Godin asks what led them to think x and y were even related in the first place? This is a marketing problem.

Making a key and then looking for a lock is a bad way to get into a house. It’s easy to think our product or service is a skeleton key that can unlock anything. In practice, those keys rarely exist. When the locks are people (individuals or groups) we should assume they’re unique. It’s far better to find a lock and then fashion a key.

The great part about the business pitch I was hearing was the authentic connection she had to her niche market. She had three unique yet related locks identified. Once we know our people, we can turn our attention to how to serve them. She was ready to start making a really powerful set of keys.

Thinking of a business plan as a lock and key problem reminds us to be specific about who we serve. We can’t come up with a value proposition until we know which values our market values. We can modify Godin’s equation one step further: find person a who values b, and then do x to get y. Work for the people, not for the product.

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