For new product success, it’s critical to continuously understand customer needs. There’s only one true path to do this well: Your company must develop the competency to interview customers, to gather and prioritize needs. But additionally, are there times when the best decision is outsourcing VOC projects?
Yes, there will be.
But first, let’s review the reasons why it’s important to develop VOC as an internal competency.
When outsourcing VOC projects, they tend to become just that: projects. This means that it has a beginning and an ending. After the end, the research vendor will go on to another project with another client.
However, when we conduct our VOC internally, it’s a continuous activity. It never ends. Sure, there may be a sequence of projects. But that’s just it: it’s a sequence. The learnings from one project feed the next. Knowledge builds upon knowledge.
Also, your VOC moderators will have an advantage when probing over the outside consultant. They will have both process knowledge as well as business-specific knowledge and technical expertise about your markets. This helps identify probing opportunities.
Next, there are inefficiencies when working with outside vendors. Preparing quotes, Statements of Work, paying invoices, etc., requires effort.
By the way, cost is not a reason to avoid outsourcing VOC projects. It seems expensive because we compare it to the cost of our employees, which seems to be free. But of course, our employees are not free. If you truly compare the cost of outsourced resources vs. internal ones, when done fairly, including benefits, the outsourced project will likely be on par with the insourced project.
The first reason is time. An outside firm can conduct the VOC project much faster than your internal folks. They are focused, with better expertise, and are more efficient. They will not be held up by uncertainty about the methodology. And quite frankly, internal VOC practitioners often delay out of anxiety about conducting interviews. This isn’t a concern for the professional.
Secondly, the outside consultant for outsourcing VOC projects will be less biased than any internal VOC practitioner. They will not be influenced by what the leadership wants. Nor will they be pulled to “rubber stamp” the current product ideas in the pipeline. They will not suffer from the “curse of knowledge” and are likelier to bring a beginner’s mind to the process.
Thirdly, if the new product initiative expects to result in a large investment, then outsourcing VOC is likely the best plan. The VOC professional will be better at moderating, will be better at probing, and better at capturing customer needs. There’s no substitute for someone with thousands of hours of experience, especially in powerful methods such as jobs-to-be-done.
Just because you outsource your VOC for a project, that doesn’t mean that you can’t supplement it with an internal project as well! Let the consultant do the heavy lifting on the bigger issues. But every project, especially in B2B, will have multiple stakeholders along the value chain. Craft 2-3 VOC initiatives that can answer questions beyond the scope of the outsourced VOC project.
At the conclusion of all, schedule a summit to compare and contrast findings across all the work. When doing so, don’t perceive opposing findings as errors. Instead, these are spaces to explore more fully. The apparent conflict typically conceals the greater truth lying between the insights.
Firstly, for success when outsourcing VOC projects, find a vendor you can trust. Then trust them! It’s a waste of money to hire an expert and then proceed to tell them how to do their job. Either trust them or hire someone else. But recognize that, almost certainly, they have more process expertise than you do. Best to trust them.
Secondly, spend considerable time with the vendor up front. The consultant needs to understand your business aspiration. You need to understand the consultant’s method. Together, you must select a customer target, and area of exploration, so that the end result will help you to accomplish your objectives. This can generally be accomplished in one full-day meeting or 3-4 two-hour virtual sessions.
Third, understand that the consultant will cover some ground that may not sound interesting to you. It’s unavoidable that they may cover some basics in the first few interviews that you didn’t feel were necessary. They need to do this to get up to speed with the background of your market. However, before this feels like a waste of time, recognize that this is a feature, not a bug. That is, by not beginning the interviews with all the internal assumptions that your internal folks will have, the consultant is more likely to uncover something fresh and new. There really are many benefits to outsourcing VOC projects.
Well… look no further! For years, AIM has performed this work for clients, but it’s been an “off the menu” option. AIM only executed projects for selected clients when asked. AIM did not market this service. The primary reason was AIM’s conviction in the importance of companies developing their own VOC asset. However, with the expansion of our coaching team, this service is now available more broadly. If interested, contact us, and let’s talk about your project.