Your Customer Insight Capability: 4 Key Questions
How critical is customer insight capability to your company? This introspective question may be uncomfortable to business leaders. For me, the most dangerous questions are those I never ask myself. Have you pondered four sequential questions that will impact your organic growth? If your answer to any question is “no,” you can comfortably skip the rest.
- Would better customer insight capability improve our innovation success (and subsequent growth)?
- Should we take a DIY approach to customer insight capability (vs. using “hired guns”)?
- Should we learn from external trainers (vs. training ourselves)?
- Should gaining customer insight capability be a top priority (vs. other priorities)?
You may find question #2 especially interesting (Do-It-Yourself vs. Hired Gun insight). The age-old answer to all marketing questions applies here: It depends. Today we’ll explore what it depends upon.
1. Would better customer insight capability improve our innovation success?
This is the easiest question. Imagine you researched 35 project teams from 14 (mostly) Fortune 500 companies… who had just learned and applied their customer insight capabilities (totalling 675 customer interviews). Got it? Now you ask them how much impact their interviews had on their new product design. If 86% said the impact was “great” or “significant,” what would this tell you?
You’d probably draw two conclusions. First, these interview methods were effective. Second, the teams would have developed very different products without these interviews. If you’re investing millions of R&D dollars, wouldn’t you prefer to work on “after-interview” product designs vs. “before-interview” designs? For more, see page 10 in the Preference Interview Research Report (at AIM Whitepapers).
2. Should we take a DIY approach?
There are times when a supplier should directly interview customers… and times when a suppler should hire an outside firm to do this interviewing. As shown in the illustration, you should lean toward the “Do It Yourself” approach when two conditions prevail.
First, your target market segment has tens, hundreds or thousands of customers… not hundreds of thousands or millions. Second, your new product annual revenues will reach millions or tens of millions of dollars… not hundreds of millions of dollars.
- If your company launches a $500 million product, it’s all about that product’s success… and you can afford to spend lavishly.
- If your company is “turning the crank” on many smaller new products, it’s more economical to develop in-house expertise.
- If you use hired guns for many small projects, you have limited time to deeply understand their findings… vs. hearing insights first-hand.
- With huge numbers of buyers, you need a large survey sample size and statistical expertise… capabilities found in an outside firm.
- In concentrated markets, you already have strong relationships and frequent visits with some customers… making interviews easy.
- By personally engaging customers during interviews, you can “prime” large buyers to later buy your new product when launched.
3. Should we learn from external trainers (vs. training ourselves)?
For 11 years, we’ve had the good fortune to teach New Product Blueprinting methods to many wonderful B2B companies. So how many times have we heard a workshop attendee say, “We were already doing most of what you taught us”? We’re still waiting for the first.
Why would this be? A home-grown approach is laudatory, because management “gets it”… and has invested in customer insight capabilities. But an external training firm—working with scores of client companies, hundreds of industries and thousands of clever client employees—can improve its methods more rapidly. In our case, we thought others would “catch up”… but over the years, we’ve actually seen an increasing gap between typical practices and the methods we teach.
Think of it this way: We’re the golf club maker and you’re the golfer.
You might say, “But if I learn the same methods as everyone else, where’s my competitive advantage?” Think of it this way: We’re the golf club maker and you’re the golfer. To become the next Arnold Palmer, you need the absolute best set of clubs available, right? But it’s what you do with the clubs that matters. As in golfing, your customer insight capabilities are determined by your practice time, the coaching you receive, and your level of desire.
Finally, we find many “subtle” practices that have a very non-subtle impact… and are often missed in “home-grown” approaches. For instance, are you…
- impressing customers during interviews with your professionalism?
- probing more deeply than competitors for non-obvious insights?
- uncovering hidden opportunities during your customer tours?
- capturing insights in an unbiased, unfiltered, quantitative manner?
- engaging customers in a manner that reduces their evaluation time after launch?
- incorporating all your insights into a value calculator to optimize pricing?
- using customers’ interview language to improve SEO for your new-product website?
4. Should gaining customer insight capability be a top priority?
If you’ve read this far, you may want to 1) improve customer insight, 2) build your own insight capabilities, and 3) learn this from external trainers. But will you cross the “knowing-doing” gap? Will the priority be enough to reach “activation energy”… so you actually begin “doing”?
In our experience, the answer is often “no.” We understand this: Most people today have a crushing workload that makes real forward progress a rarity. But consider two points:
Everyone wants to go faster… but no one wants to start earlier.
First, as soon as we begin training a new client, we are usually asked by management, “Can we go faster?” And this is often asked after it took months—or years—for them to reach a decision to engage us. We now have a saying: “Everyone wants to go faster… but no one wants to start earlier.”
Second, the future has been defined as “the time you’ll wish you had done what you’re not doing now.” I spent nearly three decades working inside companies, and the best times were when we delivered exciting new-product value leading to strong organic growth. Give this gift to the “future you.” If you can think of something that will deliver this gift better than improved customer insight… you should go after it.
At the AIM Institute, we understand the pressures of your job. If you want to cross the “knowing-doing” gap, you’ll find us to be pleasant, patient, and eager to support you on your journey. To start a conversation, just leave us a note at Contact AIM. And please consider our upcoming open workshops in New Product Blueprinting – typically in Atlanta and Cambridge, UK… a great way to learn with modest activation energy.