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We’ll come to you.

This week, we finish our three-part series on surviving and thriving in a miserable economy. This tip can best be practiced by companies providing products or services to other companies (not end-consumers). Outstanding research done by Huthwaite International shows the best way to sell a product is to simply ask customers what they want. (For more on this, read S.P.I.N. by Neil Rackham.)

So if that’s true, why wait until the product is already developed? Why not ask customers before the product or service is developed so we can 1) develop a better product and 2) engage them to prime them to buy our new product? This doesn’t work so well if you have millions of toothpaste customers, but does if you’re a B2B provider and would like to get much closer to your ten largest customers. We now have a host of tools used to interview B2B customers in a very respectful, peer-to-peer fashion that leaves customers very engaged in your new product development. (See for more on these tools.)

Of course, new products can take a long time to develop… so how will this help you now… in the middle of an economic downturn? That’s actually the fun part… and one of the unforeseen, unintended consequences of advanced B2B product development. When we first introduced New Product Blueprinting, we were focused exclusively on long-term product development. But then our clients started telling us their newly-learned interview methods so impressed prospective customers, that it cast them in a new light. Imagine you’re the customer: The last ten suppliers called on you trying to sell you something they already had. Now, here comes a supplier that listens closely to you to understand your needs. Who would you rather work with?

Here’s one example: A marketing professional in Europe had been trying to start a single new-product project with a major customer in the United Kingdom for several years. At the end of his initial New Product Blueprinting interview, he left the customer with six projects to work on. Customers just want to work with suppliers who are competent and care… about them.