How to make customers realize they need your product
Norm Brodsky is a veteran entrepreneur.
Dear Norm, My new business puts on-site medical examination rooms in assisted-living communities. There is an urgent need for such rooms, because most communities don't have one. Doctors and dentists from outside have to treat their patients in the hair salon or the cafeteria, even in a shower stall sometimes. As a dentist myself, I am appalled by the unsanitary conditions that medical professionals have to deal with in these places. My problem is that the industry is in denial. I can get to the CEOs, but then they talk to the facility managers, who deny that a problem exists. How do I overcome this resistance, short of appearing on 60 Minutes or Oprah?
Stuart Boekeloo Founder and CEO, Aleydis Centers St. Joseph, Michigan
We all run into unexpected obstacles and problems when launching a business. It's part of the process. To me, it's what makes entrepreneurship challenging and fun. Often, however, we get so close to a problem that we can't see the solution sitting right in front of us. I think that's what's happened to Stuart. He actually isn't so far off in his joking reference to 60 Minutes and Oprah. He is acknowledging, in effect, that outside pressure is needed to generate demand for his product. So how can he create that pressure? For openers, he can bring the issue to the attention of the people who would care most about it—namely, the men and women who are putting their parents in these places. There are many ways to reach them. I suggested Stuart think about approaching organizations such as AARP, Consumers Union, or the Department of Veterans Affairs. Maybe they would run articles in their magazines and newsletters or develop a system for rating assisted-living facilities that would take into account whether they have separate on-site examination rooms.
Or, if Stuart has contacts in local government, he can try to get an ordinance passed mandating that any assisted-living facility have a medical treatment room. He could then say to the CEOs, "Look, the regulators are stepping in. Instead of waiting for them to force you, why don't you become a pioneer and lead the entire industry to do the right thing?"
The word pioneer got Stuart thinking. When I spoke to him, he mentioned that one of the largest assisted-living companies had agreed to put his examination rooms in two of its downtown Chicago facilities. "That's a start, but you have to get some press behind you," I said. "I'd begin with the Chicago media and go from there. It's perfect for them: an aging population, a growing need for assisted living, a problem that has to be solved, and a pioneer in solving it. The publicity will be great and may help you sell the customer on putting rooms in its other facilities."
"You're saying I should go outside," Stuart said.
"I'm saying that when something isn't working, you need to try something else," I said. "You've been going inside, and it hasn't worked—because there's no outside pressure on the facility owners to change. That's what's missing, and that's what you have to create."
Please send all questions toAskNorm@inc.com.Norm Brodsky is a veteran entrepreneur. His co-author is editor-at-large Bo Burlingham. Their book, The Knack, is now available in paperback under the title Street Smarts: An All-Purpose Tool Kit for Entrepreneurs.