We may think we know what our products are designed for, but how you can be sure that there are not customers out there who have come up with some very creative ways of using your products that you didn’t think of?
People use your products in unexpected ways – just like when baking soda was used to take odours out of fridges, and baby shampoo, which is milder, was found by adults to suit daily use.
Rather than ridicule such usage, we need to tap into it – and extend the market reach of our products.
Sometimes new usage comes from an accidental discovery when a mistake has been made and a positive outcome occurs. At other times, it is simply a customer stretching the boundaries of intended use to solve a problem where they have no other solution.
However it comes about, we need to know about it.
The negative side is that we may be exposing ourselves to unintended product liabilities, in which case we can label our products accordingly to protect ourselves. The positive side is that we discover a new way of utilising our product and turn that into a new version of the product and/or a new market place that we can exploit.
You could simply wait until someone happens to tell you of an interesting experience with your product and then react to that new opportunity, but this never an effective growth strategy.
The more pro-active approach is to reach out to your customers to solicit how your products are being used, or might be used, to solve new and interesting problems.
Remember that the customer who adapts your product to solve a problem, which they have been unable to resolve any other way, is taking you into a potentially untapped market.
And new markets are where you often experience growth situations; demand exceeding supply, consumers not being price sensitive, market leadership opportunities and so on.
You can simply acknowledge another use for your product, adapt the product so that the new task is easier to undertake, or open up a new market with a specialty product. But in all cases, you are enlarging your marketplace and creating opportunities for new sales, often with very low product development costs.
We need to make customer feedback an active part of our market interface if we are to actively overcome product deficiencies and improve our products, as well as to discover new missions for them.
Customer loyalty, reference selling, increased sales to existing customers and customer satisfaction are all characteristics of high growth businesses. Asking customers how they use the product and improving its usage characteristics is fundamental to building reputation.
If at the same time we use customer feedback to discover new ways of using the product or ways in which the product usage can be enhanced or extended, we are making our marketplace work for us to show us where growth opportunities might be exploited.
Of course you may also just get lucky and discover a blockbuster product. Imagine tripping over a solution to an age-old problem – and having the first solution in the marketplace.
They do say that we can make our own luck. Perhaps by listening more to our customers we may just do that.
Tom McKaskill is a successful global serial entrepreneur, educator and author who is a world acknowledged authority on exit strategies and the former Richard Pratt Professor of Entrepreneurship, Australian Graduate School of Entrepreneurship, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia.