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Are you responsible for developing new products or services for your company? If so, there’s a good chance you’ve read some books or articles on the subject. Maybe attended a conference on new product development. Perhaps even hired a consultant to figure out this whole new product development process thing.

But what if your company sells products to other companies… and these books, conferences and experts give advice geared to developing products for end-consumers? Or what if their advice says a customer is a customer is a customer… be it a company or a homeowner? Does it matter?

I think it matters a great deal. Imagine that your company produces hose and you want to develop a new line of products. Imagine further that your customer is a home-owner and the hose in question is a garden hose. Since you’re a big believer in "voice-of-the-customer" (VOC) research, you schedule a number of interviews with homeowners to understand their deepest darkest needs about something terribly important to them… their, umh…garden hose. I’m not saying this is a bad idea, but the fact is these homeowners are probably spending a few seconds per week thinking about this topic and are disinterested enough that you’ll probably have to pay them for their time to even discuss it.

Now pretend your customer is an engineer at a large equipment manufacturer such as Caterpillar, and the topic is hydraulics hose. The difference between this conversation and the garden hose conversation is enormous. Why? The capabilities of the B2B customer usually exceed those of the B2C customer. Just compare the two customers: Which one has years of education on the subject of interest? Which might be spending several hours a week thinking about this subject? Which could become a hero if you develop a great product for him? Which will apply rational decision-making… as opposed to being manipulated by Madison Avenue?

So developing great new products really comes down to the nature of the customer, doesn’t it? That shouldn’t be much of a shocker: When you launch new products, you certainly use promotional tools optimized for either B2C or B2B. In coming blogs, we’ll explore a host of new tools to help you develop better products for B2B customers. We’ll talk about market segmentation, idea generation, competitive benchmarking and many other aspects of sound new product development. But we’ll keep coming back to one theme: How to interact with B2B customers in a way that lets you uncover not only their spoken needs… but their unspoken and unimagined needs.