Reality Check – –
Have You Out-Innovated Your Customers?

Innovation is a critical survival technique. New strategies, tools, products, technologies are fun to grab hold of. But have you left anyone behind? Customers perhaps?

When you’re moving at the speed of light it’s easy to think those who don’t keep up just don’t get ‘it.’

Innovation Reality Check.

If you are in a dynamic product development environment your eyes might be so focused on the future that you miss opportunities in maturing markets simply because it seems passe’. (Buggy whips anyone?)

I was involved in a project that expected a significant number of senior participants. It was a bit high-tech but seemed well thought through. Usage was dismal.

“They don’t get technology.”
“They’re afraid of computers.”
“They’re set in their ways.”

Excuses, excuses, excuses. Did a bit of research. Asked folks in the target market what they thought. It wasn’t the technology. It was the concept. We were meeting a need they did not yet have.

Ah-ha!

What do your sales-folk think?

Pull you top salespeople in. Ask them for their best sales document. Want to bet it’s a home brew? Great sales-folks have always adapted their pitch. This drives marketing departments nuts. It’s off message. It’s ‘unprofessional.’ It’s cardboard creativity at its best helping meet sales objectives better than the original material. Large organizations have begun to install systems that try to capture this kind of end-user innovation, but most of the time it remains fragmented.

Salespeople usually have to live with what their customers actually want and understand. That often forces them to cut through ‘high concept language’ that was used to sell an idea internally and focus on the things that will actually sell the product. Sometimes cutting edge and sales talk align, sometimes they don’t.

Innovation Matters. But sometimes it would be better to call it Optimization.

Providing a customer something they don’t want is wasteful. Having it ready when they catch-up is brilliant.

  • Microsoft Word is a beast of a word-processing program. I no longer use it until final draft. Too cumbersome. To0 heavy.
  • Salesforce.com is a beast of a CRM tool. BUT, it can be just as simple or complicated as you want it to be without a lot of up-front planning or investment. Simple to get in, simple to ramp up, simple to get hooked.

Think about where you are in your business. Has innovation caused confusion, or irritation, or simply bloat?   Can you simplify or backtrack and pick up lost sales in a way that doesn’t compromise what you are about?

Do you see potential customers in your rearview mirror?

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6 Responses to Reality Check – –
Have You Out-Innovated Your Customers?

  1. Brad Shorr says:

    Fred, Everything you say in this post rings oh-so true for me. I was very lucky in my corporate life to be in the sales trenches AND marketing management at the same time. Marketers tend to live in a world of theory, so it helped me more than words can say to have one foot firmly planted in reality. I was able to picture exactly how a customer would react to a new marketing initiative, brochure, or communication strategy. It saved me thousands of missteps and made our success rate soar.

    I love this quote from David Ogilvy –

    “If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.”

    Brad Shorr’s last blog post..How to Prepare Yourself for Launching a Business Blog

  2. Andrew says:

    Hi Fred,

    You have hit on an important concept here, and I would understand how businesspeople could easily become so caught up in the drive for innovation that they could easily lose sight of what where their customers are at.

    I guess all of this boils down to an understanding of and continued focus upon the real world needs of your customer, and also about the direction in which these real world needs are likely to head in the future.

    Andrew’s last blog post..Will good intentions wither in tough times?

  3. Hi Brad, that’s a great background. Folks have trouble understanding why sales and marketing might have difficulty seeing eye-to-eye but the goals, measurements and even language can be very different. I also had the good luck to get a taste of a number of areas before landing in product management. It really helps to understand where folks are coming from.

  4. Hi Andrew, It is a real tightrope to walk.

  5. Bill Welter says:

    Fred,
    I agree wholeheartedly. Long ago and far away I heard someone say that “engineers love to engineer (even if it costs too much).” Likewise, innovative people love to be innovative (even if the customer can’t use it).

    If it doesn’t make business sense it doesn’t make sense.

    Cheers, Bill

  6. Fred says:

    @Bill, We all have our weaknesses 🙂

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