Dear Aunty B,
I run a fast growing company, pride myself on being very close to my customers and last year decided we needed to innovate and put some new products out there.
I did loads of market research asking my potential customers what they wanted, and went back to them with the new product that they assured me they would LUV! and that they would snap up at a price that would cover my costs with a small profit.
So I get my manufacturer in China to make a batch and barely any of it is moving – even though I am getting great feedback on it. What have I done wrong?
Highly annoyed innovator,
Dear highly annoyed innovator,
Oh dear. Surely you have NOT been listening to your customers again? You are not alone in falling for the great innovation myth, which goes like this: ask the customer what they want, come up with some solutions and hooley dooley, there is your next million!
Because most customers don’t know zip about what future products you can give them – and why should they? Innovation is your business, not their business. (And if it were their business, they would innovate and make all the money.)
The reason you don’t ask customers about what they want is they don’t know what they don’t know – they can only make recommendations within their own terms of references. How can they know about new technologies, new ways to manufacture, better materials?
If you ask customers what they want, they will focus on what they know. This means they may make a few suggestions on how to adopt a product with which they are already familiar. You therefore come up with a new product that is not all that different to anything else on the market.
Of course people will give you great feedback on it – but why should they buy it?
The key is to come up with solutions that come from identifying outcomes that customers want but they do not get from existing products and services that they use. This means that you and your staff have to know the client extremely well, study the way they do business and come up with solutions they would not have thought of in a billion years. Chances are when you ask the customer if they want it, they would say what on earth for? Who thought they wanted Post It notes?
Look, Highly Annoyed, innovation is a tricky thing. And don’t be too hard on yourself. You won’t get all the solutions right. But you will learn a hell of a lot about your customers by trying – and boost your chances of innovation success next time!