The most overlooked innovation practice? Understanding customers’ alternatives.

Sure, the most important practice is understanding customer needs. But most overlooked? Few suppliers ask customers 1) for the most important, unsatisfied outcomes, 2) what test methods measure these outcomes, and 3) how satisfied customers are by various test results. Without these questions, you cannot properly assess competing alternatives.

More in article, Four Steps Needed for New Product Differentiation (Originally published in B2B Organic Growth newsletter).

Consider an important—if awkward—question to ask new-product project teams.

If any process in your company should be customer-driven, it should be the one developing products for customers, right? So try this at your next review: Ask team members how many hours they spent talking to customers… and how many hours working internally. You may be surprised at how little time was spent understanding customer needs.

More in article, Should Your Stage-Gate® Get a No-Go?

You can stop “lobbing and hoping” with prototypes and samples.

If you ask B2B customers the right questions, you can replicate their experience within your operation. Learn which outcomes they care about, which test methods simulate those outcomes, and how much satisfaction would be delivered by any test result. Do this properly and you’ll know how they’ll react before they react.

More in white paper, Catch the Innovation Wave (page 11).

B2B customers can tell you exactly what they want… but you must know how to ask.

Imagine you’re planning to build a new home: Your architect sees you for half an hour, spends the first 15 minutes talking about sports, and then shows you pictures of other houses he designed. Later, when the house fails to please you, he dismisses it saying, “Well that buyer just didn’t know what he wanted.” Ever treat customers this way?

More in article, What is New Product Blueprinting?

Too many suppliers conduct customer tours like tourists.

Most of their thinking goes into adjusting their hardhats. Too bad: Tour insights provide great context for interviews… and your “fresh eyes” may yield ideas for improvement. You might see what everyone else has seen, but think what no one else has thought. You just need to learn the proper skills to do this.

More in e-book, Reinventing VOC for B2B (page 17).

Pursuing the right customer needs requires divergent and convergent thinking… in that order.

For every job a customer does, there are dozens of potential outcomes… so diverge with customers to uncover far more than competitors. Then ask for 1-10 importance and satisfaction ratings so your R&D can converge on the important, unsatisfied outcomes… while competitors guess. I’d like to make this sound more complicated, but it’s not.

More in white paper, Timing is Everything (page 8).

If you’re eradicating surprises in quality & productivity, it’s hard to embrace them in innovation.

Innovation is fueled by the unexpected. But many suppliers are surprise-averse. They start with their own ideas, filter them through internal processes, and avoid customer-led interviews. In an odd twist, surprise-averse suppliers are the most likely to be surprised… by mistaken market assumptions and blockbusters introduced by surprise-seeking competitors.

More in white paper, Catch the Innovation Wave (page 10).

Innovators should worry about errors of omission as much as errors of commission.

When you validate your new product concept with customers, they may tell you if it’s a dud. Great… you’ve avoided the error of commission. But what about the error of omission? If you first enter the customer’s world with B2B divergent interviews, you might learn of unexpected needs that lead to a blockbuster.

More in white paper, Lean Startup for B2B (page 9).

Don’t overlook the staggering impact of directly engaging customers in your innovation.

Innovating companies that directly engage their customers have operating income growth rates three times higher than those that do not.  When you see a gulf of 3X, it should scream “opportunity!” Gaining customer insight in an engaging manner may be commonplace in the future, but today it’s a competitive advantage. Will you seize it?

More in article, Why Maximizing Shareholder Value is a Flawed Goal (Originally published in B2B Organic Growth).

Look for Landmines and Launchpads… especially in unfamiliar markets.

A Landmine can kill your project… but who steps on a Landmine they can see? When you convert assumptions and questions into facts, you make landmines visible and therefore harmless. A Launchpad is an unexpected, high-value customer outcome. Discover these before competitors to develop solutions in a “competition-free zone.”

More in white paper, Innovating in Unfamiliar Markets (page 13).