Supply-Push & Demand-Pull – The Key and The Lock

I learned this lesson the hard way.  You know, as in sticking your hand in the fire and finding out that fire burns and not only that it really hurts.  Anyway like all lessons learned the hard way (as opposed to read amongst a million other surfs on the net) it is never forgotten.

It’s simple to explain, easy to remember (if you think of keys and locks) but hard to strike the dynamic balance in practice – the Tao is not a fixed thing – this isn’t some western “right answer” thing … more like surfing when you have to decide there and then where the balance is.

source: V&A

source: V&A

Supply-push is when you design something and then try to sell it.  It’s like designing a key.

Demand-pull is when you find out what is required and then design it.  It’s like working out what key is required when you know what the lock is like.

This is a huuuuge rift between two tectonic plates in BizDev. Which way round you are is perhaps the most important factor in determining BizDev ease of success. Let’s go over why…

So let’s take the theory.  The “standard Business School theory” of course is that you “research” the market and find out what is required and then build it and then sell it.

Great. Nice and simple. But if it’s that simple how come everyone doesn’t do it?

Well there are many reasons … one is rather like Henry Ford’s comment about if he had surveyed the market people would have wanted faster horses. You break new ground precisely by knowing better than people what people want.  Another reason is that businesses are busy.  You can’t knock on buyers’ doors and say “Hi I am Joe Schmuck, fresh out of business school, can I take a lot of your time and ask you questions” 🙂

So we might say the general reason is a combination of “the market doesn’t know (by definition) what it is missing” along with “and they don’t have time to tell you”.  With perhaps a healthy dose of “the market is relatively efficient in the first place”.

Hmm so then – like me in 1998 – one designs a key.  And I knew exactly how to design the key in the case of my Strategic Risk product as I had just finished a six year stint being the first Head of Risk in the City.  But designing the key is also problematic. “Build it”, and in these days of excess, they not only “won’t come” they won’t even notice! Business-process-wise it moves all the pain to the sales folks. “Oh we have a great product, it’s just those guys in sales can’t sell” … or the oft-heard “We were right, we were just well ahead of our time” (ie you were wrong at that time lol – you supplied something the market didn’t buy … which isn’t how you make your fortune).

I mentioned earlier that – just like the ever-changing Tao – the balance point is something which is entirely dependent on time and place.  I can’t give you the “right” answer independent of your circs. Interestingly enough i recall reading sometime back on the splendid Presentation Zen site (nice book too) a similar comment about he can’t tell you how to do the presentation you are doing now.  Zen/Tao – very very similar vibe in this respect].

If you want a way to go then if you are starting from the supply-end – ie you have an idea – then the best thing is to check out the MVP – minimum viable proposition (see What is the Minimum Minimum Viable Product?). This stops you designing as baroque a key as above by producing the minimal implementation that, as it were will give you the credibility to have that conversation with your market and start co-evolving the key and the lock (which is the simplest definition of the secret of balancing supply-push and demand-pull).

If you are starting from the demand-side … then the easiest way is to partner with your first potential client and build something that solves their problems regardless of profit margins – as long as you can leverage it with other clients.  It really is worth its weight in gold to find the answer to the Key-Lock koan.

How about you?  Personally or professionally are you erring on over-defining a key and then having “problems” selling it? Or are you having problems identifying a “lock” that you can build a key for?


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