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?

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).

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).

Validating hypotheses with customers distorts your entire new product development process.

Confirmation bias is the “tendency for people to favor information that confirms their preconceptions or hypotheses, regardless of whether the information is true.” It’s what happens when you take your lovely new-product hypotheses to customers. This systematically distorts data on customer needs… and that can’t be good for innovation, right?

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

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).

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?

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).