Don’t rely on a small staff of voice-of-customer experts to do your company’s interviewing.

Large businesses chalk up thousands of face-to-face customer meetings each year… as sales and technical service reps go about their normal duties. Why not train these people to become VOC experts? They’ve already gained customers’ trust, they know the customer’s language, they’ll get key information first-hand, and there’s no extra travel cost.

More in article, The Cost Cutter’s Guide to Growth (Originally published in B2B Organic Growth newsletter).

It is easy to tell if your interview is supplier-led or customer-led.

If you’re dragging in your list of questions and the customer feels they’re doing you a favor… it’s supplier-led. But if you keep the scope broad enough to interest them, let them lead you to what interests them, and help them think deeply through attentive probing… it’s customer-led. It’s also much more effective.

More in article, The Best Customer Interviews Use a Digital Projector (Originally published in B2B Organic Growth newsletter).

In one study, 76% said their interviews led to unexpected or surprising information.

And that’s the point, isn’t it? If we just try to develop the products our customers ask everyone for, and we haven’t cornered the market on R&D genius, we’ll keep struggling with differentiation. But if we intentionally expose ourselves to unexpected information—that our competitors lack—we’ll create more significant, protectable value.

More in article, Do You Really Interview Customers?

The greatest danger in customer interviews is hearing what you want to hear.

Your new product development should start where it ends: with the customer. When you take your “pride and joy” hypothesis to customers and ask their opinion, two bad things can happen: 1) They tell you what they think you want to hear. 2) You hear what you want to hear. Start by uncovering their needs, not testing your pre-conceived notions.

More in article, Give your Hypothesis the “Silent Treatment (Originally published in B2B Organic Growth).

You say your B2B customers can’t tell you their needs? That would be a first.

It’s much more likely you don’t know how to ask them. B2C customers can seldom describe what will entertain them or boost their self-esteem. But B2B customers are knowledgeable, interested, and objective. They may not know the solutions, but they do know their desired end-results. You’ll learn this when you learn how to ask.

More in e-book, Reinventing VOC for B2B (page 15).

The best way to hear (the customer) is often to see.

One of our best innovations started as an experiment. In 2004 I projected my notes during a customer interview. The customer loved it, the meeting went far longer than expected, and we haven’t looked back since. Sure, customers can correct your notes this way, but our biggest discovery was that customers own what they create and can see.

Read more in the article, The Best Customer Interviews Use a Digital Projector (Originally published in B2B Organic Growth newsletter).

Most companies measure innovation results. Few measure innovation capabilities.

Do you know if your company is improving key capabilities? Understanding customers’ needs, assessing competitive alternatives, creating data-driven value propositions, etc.? A race team that just counts wins—instead of pit crew times and engine torque—stops winning. Understand the capabilities that drive innovation and start measuring them.

Read more in the article, 3 Problems with Innovation Metrics (Originally published in B2B Organic Growth newsletter).

Beware incrementalism… and understand the “risk paradox.”

If you manage one new-product project, it seems less risky to develop a “me-too.” But if you manage a business brimming with “me-too” and incremental new products, you’ll slide into commoditization with its death spiral. Very risky. So make sure your portfolio has enough products that will deliver significant value to your customers.

Read more in this free white paper, Innovating in Unfamiliar Markets (page 3).

Why take a “leap of faith” when you could take a leap of confidence—more quickly and cheaply?

Lean Startup methodology refers to “Leap of Faith Assumptions,” and recommends testing assumptions with customers at the first opportunity. For B2B, this “first opportunity” to learn comes before a prototype is created… through VOC interviews to mine the foresight of knowledgeable customers. Don’t miss this B2B adjustment to Lean Startup.

Read more in this white paper, Lean Startup for B2B (page 6).

Got cool technology? Great. Just test it silently with customers.

Avoid “technology push.” But should you just leave your technology quivering on the lab bench? Hardly. Conduct customer interviews without mentioning your technology. If customer outcomes match your technology… wonderful! Otherwise, look for different technology (for this market), or look for another market (for this technology).

More in article, Should You Develop New Products like Steve Jobs? (Originally published in B2B Organic Growth newsletter).