In a now-obscure 1972 HBR article, Richard Vancil complained long-term product development expenses were buried within annual operating plans… allowing short-sighted managers to raid them. Shocking, I know. Divide your budget into short-term and long-term benefit buckets. And make sure someone is guarding the long-term bucket.
B2C companies seek to understand customer needs. B2B companies should do this and engage customers, priming them to buy later. If you interview ten customers that represent 20% or 50% of the market segment’s buying power, wouldn’t it be an incredible waste if you failed to engage these companies… so they wanted to work with you?
When you turn up your thermostat, the temperature rises to the set point and quickly shuts off your furnace. Imagine if you had an 8-hour “feedback loop” before your furnace got the message. Even if you try new VOC approaches in the front end—but all your metrics occur after product launch—your feedback loop takes years. That’s no way to improve, is it?
I am sometimes asked to do a workshop on developing value propositions. I say, “Not unless you invite your customers to it.” Seriously, suppliers already spend far too much time guessing what customers want. Why try to legitimize this innovation malpractice by creating and word-smithing value proposition statements internally?
Here’s the “B2B Advantage”: Your customers can offer more insight than end-consumers due to their knowledge, interest, objectivity and foresight. But if your company uses hand-me-down consumer goods voice-of-customer methods, you’ve ignored your own advantage. Your competitors may not.
More in white paper, Catch the Innovation Wave (page 7).
Imagine your business stopped innovating, your profits declined, and it is now budgeting time. To salvage next year, you’ll likely cut long-term costs, e.g. R&D or marketing, further reducing your ability to create high-value products. Next year, you’ll have even fewer options. This results in death or irrelevancy. If you’ve started this spiral, pull out quickly.
Most financial business reviews are like standing around the output die, exhorting the extruder to do better. But nobody’s checking the feed hopper. It looks like an intelligent meeting, discussing gross margins, price increases and growth rates. But these were predetermined years earlier, largely by your new products, what you put into the feed hopper.
More in article, Are You a Builder or a Decorator?
Lean Startup is a powerful approach for quickly testing assumptions and minimum viable products. But B2B customers can articulate their needs in amazing detail—if you know how to ask. If you start with your ideas, instead of diverging to all customer outcomes, you may be converging prematurely and limiting your possibilities.
More in white paper, Lean Startup for B2B (page 2).
Most B2B suppliers work too hard during interviews: Would you like this?… How about this?… Would this help? Better to probe a customer problem or desire to full comprehension, and then simply ask “What else?” This allows them to lead you to whatever they think is important. This is a customer-led interview. You should try it.
More in e-book, Reinventing VOC for B2B (page 11).
Great value propositions begin and end with customer outcomes. It’s like collecting specimens, sliding them under your microscope, and continuing to turn up the magnification. The careful researcher doesn’t have to agonize over the right value proposition. It comes into increasing focus, waving its arms and screaming to be addressed.
More in white paper, Timing is Everything (page 9).