This is the fifth of several ‘Innovation Perspectives‘ articles we will publish this week from multiple authors to get different perspectives on ‘How should firms identify innovation opportunities and predict market potential at very early stages and in new areas (“green fields”) and ambiguous environments?’. Here is the next perspective in the series:
by Mike Dalton
Last month’s perspective suggested getting out of your environment and into the customer’s as one of the three steps to caffeinate your innovation. It’s fitting then that this month’s call for innovation perspectives should ask how firms can identify innovation opportunities and predict market potential at very early stages and in new areas.
In this innovation perspective, I’ll brief six of the most effective practices in conducting customer visits for the purpose of identifying new and emerging opportunities in B2B markets.
1. Focus on the problems
Customer visits must be focused on both finding problems that you might later be able to solve and also identifying the value that can be created by doing so. Think Mary Leakey the archaeologist there to unearth clues – maybe even a little Sherlock Holmes and Stanley Livingston. Remember, you’re there to study the indigenous peoples, not change them – at least not yet.
2. Find the pain
It’s best if you can observe people at work. What part of the customer’s operation is inconvenient, time consuming, costly, inefficient, dangerous, dirty, messy, frustrating, infuriating, embarrassing, or otherwise holding them back from achieving their goals or desires? That pain is where you need to dig, but don’t feel bad. You’re there to find the places where you’ll eventually be able to help.
3. Dig below the surface
You have to get below the surface of the problem. Continue asking why until you get to the root cause and then if necessary go deeper to find the part of the problem where you might be able to eventually develop a profitable solution.
4. Be prepared to cover the economics
B2B product success depends on helping customers sell more, spend less, or free up working capital. Your interview guide needs to include these questions and the team needs to include someone capable of discussing them at a detailed level with clients.
5. Keep information flowing
The detailed kinds of information mentioned above only comes out if the customer feels you need the information in order to decide if you can develop a win-win solution. Develop being the operative word. Any premature solution discussion shuts down the information flow because they suspect you’re trying to price the solution. So if possible, I recommend not involving your sales force for this activity as it can be quite a challenge for them not to jump to solutions. It’s not impossible, but not recommended without specialized training.
6. Never enter the jungle unprepared
Cross-functional teams, consisting of marketing, technical, manufacturing, and sometimes other functions must prepare before making any visits. They need to develop an interview guide and determine what role each will play in the interview (lead, scribe, observer).
You can check out all of the ‘Innovation Perspectives‘ articles from the different contributing authors on ‘How should firms identify innovation opportunities and predict market potential at very early stages and in new areas (“green fields”) and ambiguous environments?’ by clicking the link in this sentence.
Mike Dalton is the Chief Innovation Coach for Guided Innovation Group and the author of “Simplifying Innovation” and the Simplifying Innovation Blog. Guided Innovation Group has a simple mission – helping companies turn their new product innovation into more bottom-line impact.