The best B2B innovators understand that their customers know much more about their needs than they do. So they start by pursuing unexpected customer insight.
Cuyahoga Falls, OH (December, 2016)—Imagine you’re building a new factory: Do you want to be surprised? Nope. What if you’re installing a new enterprise software suite? No surprises needed here either, thank you very much. The fact is, nearly everything you do in the business world works better without surprises.
The exception? New product development. Here you should welcome surprises with open arms… the more unexpected the better. This is even the foundation for our patent system. The USPTO won’t grant a patent unless the invention is “unexpected,” as well as new and useful.
So we’ve accepted that innovation should involve the unexpected when it comes to suppliers’ solutions. But here’s what most companies miss: We should also welcome surprises when it comes to customers’ needs.
A recent study by The AIM Institute shows how leading B2B companies are getting big surprises—in a good way—before they develop their products. Before looking at the study results, let’s see how most companies discourage unexpected customer insight during new product development.
The average B2B supplier takes one of two approaches to developing new products. Door #1: They engage in internal “idea generation,” develop a new product, launch it, and then learn whether customers liked their idea. Door #2: Once again, they generate their own idea, but this time they take their concept to customers to “validate” it.
Neither of these approaches generates the unexpected customer insight that can lead to blockbuster new products. Dan Adams, author of New Product Blueprinting: The Handbook for B2B Organic Growth and the innovation blog, Awkward Realities (The AIM Institute), puts it this way, “Most suppliers know what they know (facts), know what they think (assumptions) and know what they don’t know (questions). But they don’t know what they don’t know (surprises)… and this is what usually provides the true spark for innovation.”
The AIM Institute recently published new research based on a survey of companies using qualitative Discovery interviews. They wanted to see how “surprised” suppliers were after conducting in-depth, B2B-optimized interviews. These interviews—part of the New Product Blueprinting methodology—use highly engaging listening, probing and idea-triggering methods. In a survey of 150 practitioners, 83% learned some level of unexpected information.
As new-product teams continued beyond qualitative, divergent Discovery interviews with quantitative, convergent Preference interviews, the surprises continued. 86% of the teams surveyed reported the interviews had a “great” or “significant” impact on their product design. In other words, they would have developed a very different new product had they not conducted the interviews. Thankfully, they put themselves in a position to be… surprised.
These results have been published in two 16-page reports: Discovery Interview Research Report, and Preference Interview Research Report, both downloadable at AIM Whitepapers. These reports uncovered a number of other findings regarding B2B customer insight during the front-end of innovation:
Adams suggests that these customer interviewing methods will eventually become commonplace: “Many B2B companies are realizing that lobbing new products at customers is an incredibly inefficient way to understand market needs. And asking customers if they like your idea just leads to confirmation bias. Besides, you may think you’re understanding market needs, but your just understanding market reaction… to one idea… your idea. Today, if you want to get ahead of your competitors in the innovation game, you need to pursue unexpected customer insight with skill and an open mind.” In other words—and hopefully this will not come as a surprise—you need to get surprised.
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