What’s the objective of voice-of-the-customer (VOC) interviews? Trick question. There are two objectives. At least there should be if you are a B2B supplier. The first objective is to understand the needs of customers much better than your competitors. This ensures that your R&D is answering questions customers actually care about, while the competition squanders its R&D on… other questions.
The second objective is to conduct your VOC work in a manner that “primes” customers to buy your product when you’re done developing it. Do this well and you sell your product before it even exists. Sound odd? Let’s look at the research: In his landmark book on selling, SPIN Selling, Neil Rackham described how 35,000 sales visits were monitored to find the most successful sales method. Here’s the punch line: Great salespeople engage customers in discussions about customers’ problems.
Now please consider your own stage-and-gate process. You know… the one that starts with “Idea” on the left, perhaps next to a lightbulb icon. As you move to the right—through Concept Development, Feasibility, Development, and Scale-up—you eventually come to “Sell Product,” right? At this point, according to Mr. Rackham, your best salespeople look the customer in the eye and ask, “So tell me… what problems are you facing?”
What if we pulled this question forward in time… before Scale-up… before Development… before Feasibility… before Concept Development? What if we asked this question before we even knew what “Idea” we would work on? Two things would happen. First, this question would be more genuine, because we weren’t trying to sell something we already had. Second, we would be using the best possible selling method… before we had anything to sell. We would be engaging customers in designing something they wanted, and priming them to buy the product later.
We would be using the best possible selling method… before we had anything to sell.
Why don’t you hear more about this missing second objective? Simple: It doesn’t exist in consumer-goods VOC. You pay consumers to come to your focus group, ask your questions, and say goodbye. It’s just not practical to engage a million toothpaste buyers in a manner that primes them to buy later.
Would it not be an incredible waste if you failed to engage these companies during interviews?
At New Product Blueprinting workshops—which are for B2B suppliers—I like to ask teams this question: “Within your target market segment, what percent of the total buying power comes from the 10 largest companies?” The answer is usually above 20 percent and is often above 50 percent. Would it not be an incredible waste if you failed to engage these companies during interviews? After all, why fly across the country for a VOC interview and not do everything you can to engage this important prospective buyer?
If you wonder where our New Product Blueprinting process diverges from traditional VOC, you now have the answer: It’s about engaging knowledgeable, rational, interested B2B customers to a) uncover needs that competitors miss, and b) prime them so they’ll be eager to buy your product later. Here are some approaches you may want to consider building into your new product development process…
As they say in the infomercials… “But wait. There’s more.” When you launched your last product, did customers start snapping it up right away? You know… when you were ready? Or did they take a while to evaluate it because they were swamped with other matters? And even after your main contact was convinced, did it take longer yet for him or her to convince everyone else to sign off?
Rapid “time to market” is good, but fast “time to money” is even better.
A good rule of project management is to do tasks in parallel instead of in series whenever possible. So why not start engaging all the decision-makers and -influencers before you launch your new product? Rapid “time to market” is good, but fast “time to money” is even better. This brings in the sales much sooner. You can start this engagement during VOC interviews, but there are many ways to keep this parallel process going afterwards: Offer a sample, demo a prototype, share a concept drawing, ask for updates on their situation, or just discuss your progress. Do this and you’re not only accelerating; you’re selling.
At the end of a Blueprinting workshop last week, the president told his troops, “New Product Blueprinting is next-generation VOC… it’s where everyone will be going. We need to get there ahead of competitors.”
If you’d like to learn more, you can contact us to request a one-hour personal web-conference. You might even hear us ask, “So tell me… what problems are you facing?”