It may seem obvious to say that every business, however small, should take time to identify its marketplace, its customer types and what benefits these customers are looking for. The basic question usually asked is who is my customer?
Understanding your customers means understanding their reasons for buying your product/service. It is critical to identify the group of people with:
1. The greatest need for the product/service AND
2. The willingness to purchase the product/service.
For the small business, this does not have to be complicated, it could be as simple as surveying your customers and asking them questions. However please ensure the sample size of your market research is big enough to form conclusive data (asking your 2 siblings and your mother about your idea is not market research!).
For the past one year, Dot Com Zambia has been developing an electronic bus ticketing system, where the general public can book and pay for their intercity and intercountry bus tickets electronically without the need to go to the station. I came up with this idea last year in September, when I could no longer contain my frustrations with bus travel within Zambia. I wanted to travel from Lusaka to Nakonde and securing a bus ticket was a nightmare. I had to go to Intercity Station twice on two consecutive days to purchase my ticket. Now the distance from Olympia Park to Intercity Bus Terminal in Lusaka is not that far, but on both occasions, it took me just less than 3 hours to go the station and back because of Lusaka traffic, finding parking once at the station, dealing with the illegal parking attendants, dealing with the ticket attendants and then the joy of being harassed by every call boy and taxi driver as I walked in and out of the station.
I knew in my heart that they must be a better way and I could not be the lone person with that view. But the challenge we entrepreneurs face is being so in love with our ideas that we cannot see its shortfalls or why it may not be a good idea. So the process of turning this idea into a business began. I started discussing this idea with my mentor, our bankers, and bus company owners. Then my staff and I started to do the necessary market research, in our case it was random interviews with over 100 people, the majority of whom have travelled by inter city bus in one form or another. The market research conducted among the bus travelers validate my views:
– 90% of customers stated that they were not happy with the current method of buying bus tickets in Zambia
– 100% responding they would be happy if they were given alternative ways to purchase bus tickets and that they would be willing to pay a premium for the convenience of K5 to K10.
– When asked what the bus companies could do better, many of the same themes prevailed including improving their services by operating on time, shielding the clients from the harassment of conductors and call boys and allowing tickets to be purchased in advance.
When we thought about Bus Tickets Zambia, we initially built it as an online model at www.busticketszambia.com, but in conducting our market research, we realized the scope of our work had to be bigger as, not all clients would book their tickets online, so we needed to increase the booking scope by adding the ability to book via smartphones, through a public computer terminal, at authorized paypoints and at supermarkets.
This may all seem simple, but, you’d be surprised how few businesses feel that they have the time or resources to really research this thoroughly. I have been coming across many business and start-ups who know very little about what their customers want. I call it business by instinct. While a few may succeed with this approach, many fail and the answer is simple, it’s because they have not taken the time to know their customers. In addition, we the consumers in Zambia may have to take some of the blame by not demanding better from the businesses that serve us and accepting inferior service, quality or the status quo.
The businesses that win are the ones that know who their customers are, what their customers want and can provide those goods/services effectively…
You can find out more about Bus Tickets Zambia here or watch the video below:
About the Author
Mawano Kambeu is an entrepreneur, IT, Investment and Finance Specialist. He is currently the Managing Director of Dot Com Zambia (www.dczambia.com), an IT company specializing in e-commerce. Mawano is a big advocate of entrepreneurship in Zambia and as such is the founder of Zambian Entrepreneur and Trustee of the Lusaka Chapter of Awesome Foundation (An organization that provides monthly grants of $650 to entrepreneurs)
Image Credit: For The Love of Marketing