So THAT’S What the Customer Wants!

Yesterday, I had more fun than a trainer/consultant has the right to have. Each of my client’s teams was presenting its Business Case—the justification for proceeding into the development stage for a new product. In product development parlance, these teams had just passed through the "fuzzy front end" and were about to start spending the big bucks in their labs and engineering offices to develop prototypes of their new products.

So what made this a fun meeting? Each team knew precisely what the customers in their target market segment wanted. Now that may not sound like a big deal to you, but in my experience the vast majority of B2B product development (my area of concern) involves educated guesswork regarding customers unmet needs. At best, most suppliers gain a qualitative sense of what their customers want by interviewing them. At worst, they make it up by talking to themselves and convincing each other that they know what the customer wants without rigorously probing the matter.

What was unusual about today’s meeting was that each team had quantitatively measured how eagerly customers wanted their most important needs met. Here’s how they did it: For several customer needs, they had asked customers a) "How important is it for you to have this outcome?" and b) "How satisfied are you with your ability to deliver this outcome today?" If the new product they were designing was a new pump, these outcomes might be reduced footprint, increased flow rate, reduced noise, etc.

These teams had learned to use interviews and surveys to measure Importance and Satisfaction on a 1-10 scale… and then to calculate a "Market Satisfaction Gap." Without going into the math on this, a high Market Satisfaction Gap (MSG) means the outcome is very important and the customer is not satisfied today. Our firm has learned that a MSG of 30% or higher indicates customers are eager for the supplier to improve the outcome. (More on this at www.newproductblueprinting.com)

So some of the teams yesterday had one or two outcomes worth working on. Others had ten! But here’s the key: All of them knew what to work on… and what NOT to work on! That’s how a product development team radically improves its success rate… and puts some serious daylight between themselves and their nearest competitor.

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