Editor’s note: Bill Warner is managing partner of Paladin and Associates and is a regular contributor to Local Tech Wire.To have a winning business, you must have a winning product or service. Well, DUH!! That’s pretty profound.

It’s a simple concept, but it’s quite hard to actually accomplish. To have a winner, your business has to have a product or service that is focused on an attractive market segment, solve a well understood customer problem, have a financially compelling value proposition, be differentiated from your competitors, be effectively distributed, have excellent quality and be supported by outstanding customer service.

That’s a mouthful, but every single aspect of a winner has to be in place in order to succeed in today’s economy, which is now populated with very selective buyers who have a broad range of choices and not much money to pay for anything.

It all starts with the right target

If you have done a complete analysis of your market and determined the market segments that have the most opportunity, then you will have an in-depth understanding of the market needs right down to the level of who is the buyer and what is their buying criteria. So, before you launch your product or service into the market, you better have a good understanding of the target you are shooting for. To have a winner, the market must have a large addressable opportunity, measured in revenue, in order for you to have a chance at business success as well as to attract the interest of an investor.

Understand the problem

The product or service has to directly solve an important customer problem. What makes a problem important? The idea is that your product or service needs to solve a compelling problem that can be financially quantified as one of the top priority issues the customer has to deal with now. Customer’s purse strings are still very tight. They are being very selective and careful about what they buy.

Only the most important issues will get attention. Lot’s of scrutiny will be placed on the purchase decision. In order to hit the target, you need to understand the customer’s problems as well as they understand them. If you don’t, you will lose to those who do!

Have a match

The features and capabilities of your product or service have to directly solve the problem and match up to the buyer’s requirements in every way. If you have a detailed understanding of the problem, your solution will be easy to determine. Know how all the features and capabilities match up to the customer’s needs and be able to easily and effectively explain it. Most importantly, account for all the customer needs, including product features, sales support, distribution, fulfillment, professional services, support and maintenance.

Having a match means that you have addressed all the customer’s needs from the time they are called as a prospect through the time they are a satisfied user of your product or service. So, it’s not simply a matter of having the best set of product features. It’s a matter of having a complete solution to the customer’s entire requirement.

Know your value — Make an offer they cannot refuse

The most important part of matching your customer’s needs is being able to easily and decisively communicate the value (benefit) that you bring them. The customer benefit has to be financially justifiable and be so compelling that it will come to the top of their priority list for purchase. An attractive return on investment (ROI) is necessary, but not sufficient.

The rate of return is equally important. Customers today need a big payback, but they also want it as close to now as possible. Explaining a return in eighteen months will not be accepted. One that pays back in six to nine months will. With the budget constraints that exist today, it is imperative to be able to show that the expense will be recovered very quickly. Therefore, be able to concisely explain your product’s or service’s value, in financial terms, and in a way that is so attractive that they cannot turn you down.

Be the best

Needless to say, your product or service has to be a “must have,” from your customer’s point of view. “Nice to haves” are not affordable today. In addition, it has to be the best in a meaningful way. Meaningful to the customer, that is. Being the best means that you have a competitive advantage. Your product or service has to be superior in many important ways, and you must demonstrate it by comparison to your competitors.

But there’s more. If there is unique innovation in the product or service, your “secret sauce,” bring that out as part of your marketing message. For sake of protection, patent it. In addition, make sure the barriers to entry are large, so that you have a time to market advantage as well. But, being the best can also mean superior marketing and sales support, high product quality, more effective distribution, outstanding professional expertise or superior support. Whatever being the best means make sure that your potential customers know that you are the best. Be able to say, “we are best because –”

How do I get it?

If it’s hard to buy or receive your product or service, the customer may decide to go elsewhere. Know how your customers want to buy the product. That means its purchase price, usage terms, distribution channel, fulfillment channel, installation assistance, ongoing support, and maintenance have to match the customer’s way of doing business. You may also have to align your product or service with other partners for purposes of integration, and you may have to insure your consistency with their distribution channels and support services. Having a cohesive and well thought out process of delivery will help to insure that your product or service is perceived as a winner.

Make sure it works

Nothing can be more dissatisfying than to deliver a product or service that does not perform as advertised. The quickest way to a returned product and a bad reputation is a product or service that doesn’t work. It is very important that your product or service be fully tested for all its features and capabilities. Of equal importance is making sure your whole delivery process works as well. Your early adopter customer programs needs to insure that your product or service does what you say it will do, and that you can deliver the product in the manner you intended.

Satisfy your customer

A winning product or service is delivered with a winning attitude about customer satisfaction. You want repeat business. You want your customers to be a positive reference for potential customers. Make sure that you have done what it takes to meet and manage customer expectations. Successfully deal with customer issues and suggestions. Provide responsive ongoing customer support and maintenance. Doing these things will go a long way towards creating satisfied customers. A lot of future business can be won by positive referrals, word of mouth, and having a great reputation. Create a culture that fosters the creation and nurturing of satisfied customers, and you will be viewed as a winner.

So, having a winner means a lot of things. They all have to be in place. You should have a checklist of those things that make you a winner. Check them all off your checklist before you go to market. Having done that, proudly stand before your customer and against your competitors with the best product or service in the markets you serve, and sell it with all the energy and know-how you can muster.

Bill Warner is managing partner of Paladin and Associates. You can reach him via e-mail (thepaladin@paladinandassociates.com) or phone (919 570-1023).