Innovations in Listening to the Market: eBay could do better...

eBay recently guided Wall Street to lower numbers.  I'm always amazed that eBay can't grow faster because they have lots of information on millions and millions of people's desires.  Moreover, they know not only what is being sold and bought, but also what people are searching for and what they will pay.  More broadly, it seems to me that lots of companies don't do a very good job of engaging existing, former or new customers in helping to create new types of solutions for their desires.  It seems they don't hear their customers well enough!

For example, it would be possible for eBay to either buy, or compete with Indie-Go-Go, which is a company that helps people raise money for any type of project or creative act.  If you are building a movie, or want to write a book, or create a new company, you can go and raise the money through Indie-Go-Go.  Why can't eBay host this pre-production financing.  They are locked into a mindset in which they only "sell" "things".  If they could shift their thinking to being a market in desire, both for things that already exist and for things that might exist if enough people are ready to pre-buy it.  Also, Indie takes 9% off the top which is a bigger fee than eBay takes on things. This is a very different type of listening to the market.

The famous example, Threadless, the  company that creates custom t-shirts, and only builds to order could have been part of eBay as well if they had a "pre-thing" mindset.  It lets people provide content, and they have a business model that listens to demand by letting people pre-buy the shirts, and thereby lower the risk by having no inventory, and no marketing costs because people have already committed to buying the shirts.

This way of thinking is vital to the new world of search and social media.  Both Google and Facebook, like eBay, know  what people want before they have consummated the sale.  This is very valuable information, and innovative companies like Threadless create innovations in the way that their suppliers and customers interact with them so that they can let the market unlock this nascent demand.

For your firm, or for your career, how well do you listen to your customer's or possible customer's interests?  Can you craft a way for them to interact with you as you listen?

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