Better Mousetrap?

posted Aug 7, 2013, 10:26 AM by Douglas McCartney   [ updated Aug 30, 2013, 10:42 AM ]

Entrepreneurs are dedicated, they are commonly brilliant, and they normally have a way to make some service or product better, faster, easier.  But one of the first questions I at least ask myself is “are they simply building a better mousetrap?”

Now that’s an old bromide for sure, but what exactly do I mean when I ask myself that question? Do I mean to ask if the entrepreneur thinks that their better mousetrap in-and-of-itself will help them build a business?  As in, “build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door?” Lots of people do fall into that trap (forgive the pun), but for most entrepreneurs I meet that really isn't the case. They understand that selling and marketing is just as important as having a great product or service. So no, that is not what I mean to ask.

This American Life, the NPR Radio Show, drilled down into the details of mousetraps in the first segment of an episode that aired in 2008 called “A Better Mousetrap” (you can find it here: ). When I heard it, I thought now there’s a lesson to learn from mousetraps.

As the show outlines, the old-fashioned wooden, spring loaded mouse trap will succeed 88% of the time and you can buy a pack of 4 on Amazon for $3.99 with free shipping ( ).

To quote the host Ira Glass:

“... the dirty secret of trapping mice is, mice are really easy to catch. That's why every inventor thinks that he can do it. Catching a mouse is basically playing against a casino where you always win.”

For a few bucks more the show states, you can get something that has 100% efficiency. You might not like dealing with mice or dead mice in traps, but the old fashioned mouse trap certainly works.

So instead of a sales and marketing focus, what I mean by the question is does anyone actually need what you are offering -- or is there already a perfectly good solution at hand?

One way to gauge this question is, what is your value proposition Delta? How big is it really? Because the truth is that very few products or services I've seen offered have zero added value. They all do. But are the advantages big enough to entice a prospect to both change and part with their hard earned money? If you've ever been in a sales role, you know how that comes out in a customer objection. “I don’t really like what we are doing and your product/service looks great, but we really don’t see a need to change just now.”

The mousetrap is hence a nice little analogy. If all you have is a better mousetrap, you prospect may still have to deal with many of the downsides of a mouse. But if your technology takes it to a whole new level, for example you prospect will never have to deal with a mouse in any manner shape or form again (alive or dead), then perhaps we’re talking about something.