[EDITOR'S NOTE: Vistage Connect contributor David Shedd wrote this three-part series in response to issues raised for an virtual CEO peer session on entrepreneurship — but the advice and ideas these articles contain are applicable to any business facing (or anticipating) such issues.]
The Issue: My company is exiting the start-up phase. I’m considering several alternate product innovation ideas and/or directions. How do I synthesize these options and build a common vision?
David Shedd has this reply:
The company needs to evaluate which of several alternative product innovation ideas and/or directions to invest most heavily in. The most important concept to remember in such decisions is that you are not debating about facts. You are weighing opinions and hypotheses about what might work. No matter how sure someone is about the potential success of a product innovation idea, until it has been a success in the market, it is an unproven assertion or hypothesis.
No new product, service or solution survives (unscathed) contact with the marketplace.
If everyone accepts this premise, then the vehemence and passion of the disagreements are toned down significantly. The goal then becomes to get as much data as possible in the time allotted to strengthen and bolster the different options.
How to do that?
1. Talk to customers, both current and potential customers. Involve all parts of the leadership, including you, in the customer visits and interviews.
a. Does the customer like the idea?
b. What problem does it solve for them?
i. Is it something that solves a problem that they really do want to get solved?
ii. Or does it solve a problem that the customer should want to get solved?
c. Is there a bigger problem that the customer wants solved?
d. If they like the idea, will they buy it?
i. If yes, then will they pre-buy now and give you the money?
ii. Beware that the biggest challenge in customer surveys as with focus groups is that many customers will sincerely intend to buy a product. But, when it comes time to actually buy, they balk.
2. Do small roll-outs or test cases, especially where it can be done quickly and does not cost much money. Target the customers that appear to most want the product or service.
3. Does the product resonate with these targeted customers?
4. What feedback was received? What improvements are needed?
Once customer data and test case data is in place, you are more likely to have an idea of which innovation idea / direction is most appropriate.
Finally, if financially feasible, it may make sense to roll out several of the ideas at the same time (especially if all tested positively and they address different customer segments, thus minimizing confusion in the marketplace). This is the old case of throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks.
Having thrown spaghetti against the wall on several different occasions, I have always been surprised at the results. Products that seemed like “sure winners” weren’t. And product or services where we were quite uncertain turned out to resonate and have legs.
[This is Part II in a three-part series by David Shedd, to read Part I in this series, click here: Hey, What Kind of Gel Do You Use? Get Your Executive Team to Gel & Excel]
David Shedd has 10 years of success as president of a $200 million group of manufacturing and services companies, having overseen 19 different B2B businesses. Currently, Shedd is principal of Winning B2B Leadership, an advisory firm focused on small- to middle-market B2B clients, while looking for his next company or group of companies to lead. David blogs at www.helpingleaderswin.com and his book, Build a Better B2B Business: Winning Leadership for Your Business-to-Business Company, is now available on Amazon.com.