What to do when your customer doesn’t want your product

Think back to college, it’s the start of the semester and you’re met with a laundry list of textbooks needed for all classes. Some of them are electives you were forced into taking to meet major requirements. You probably won’t be revisiting the "Fundamentals of Neuropsychology" or "Masterpieces of English Literature" after those classes are over. We get it, sometimes you are forced into a purchase, so we’re going to make it as painless as possible.

That’s the scenario my company, ValoreBooks, faces on a daily basis. We’re trying to sell something students don’t necessarily want. That might sound like a real headache, but with the challenges comes a lot of rewards. Here are a few ways to work through such a predicament:

Sell a benefit, not a product. If your stuff isn’t flying off the shelves, it’s important to look well beyond your product line to what is the real benefit. That’s why we’re adding a rental option to our online marketplace. Now our audience has the option to rent, buy or sell, they don’t have to commit to the product. Instead, our customer is really paying for the things our services can do for them, and not the textbooks themselves.

Innovate through empathy. We’ve found the quickest way to devise creative solutions is to put ourselves in the customers’ shoes. Our entire business model stems from when I tried to sell my textbooks back and the college bookstore rejected some older editions. I took those books and started selling them online. I always refer back to that time in my life and what would’ve helped.

Trailblaze trends. It’s important to stay on top of trends, especially when the consumer isn’t so jazzed about the product itself. The likes and dislikes of every audience, especially college students, are constantly changing and a new take on an old idea can be a game changer. Noticing first that the online college bookstore is the way of the future became one for us. We recommend monitoring popular websites and conducting focus groups to stay competitive.

Go to your audience, don’t wait for them to come to you. This takes a lot of hustle, but the pay-off is high. Students aren’t trolling the Internet for college textbooks in their free time so it’s our responsibility to engage them in their space. We’ve had a lot of success utilizing social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Offer giveaways and incentives that a particular audience would like even if it’s not necessarily connected to the product. We recently held a contest and provided the winner free tickets to Bonnaroo, a four-day, multi-stage camping festival held on a 700-acre farm in Manchester, Tenn. In addition, we’ve tried to marry the online/offline experience through a real life scavenger hunt with clues posted on Facebook. These outreach efforts proved to be a success and made students more aware of our company.  

Don’t think of a tough audience as a wall. If you’re hard working, creative and empathetic there will be plenty of opportunities to build a door.

About the author: Bobby Brannigan is the founder and CEO of ValoreBooks, a fast-growing online provider of cheap college textbooks. He can be reached at bbrannigan@valorebooks.com.   

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  • Jose Palomino

    An inspiring post, Bobby! Entrepreneurs should definitely create opportunities for themselves and their business.

    These points are so honest, inventive, and ultimately encouraging to so many companies who have yet to connect with their real customers. More than anything, all these tips point to listening and understanding what our audience wants and needs. It's all about being sensitive enough to be able to reach out to the right people who can truly find our products and services useful and relevant in their lives.

  • Bobby Brannigan

    Thanks Jose! I think it's all about knowing your customer and then innovating the process for them. You need to really know what their pain points are.