Category Archives: New Product

How To Select The Best New Product Ideas

Generating a steady flow of new product ideas is difficult and time consuming so it can be tempting to push ahead with any product concepts that are identified without further thought. However, given the substantial resources allocated to a new product development, that approach can be an expensive mistake.

In this post we develop the discussion in our post covering how to reduce the risk of new product failure to discuss the value of the new product screening process, including some suggestions on what to include (and exclude) based on hard won experience.

In this old, but gold, post Susan Greco discusses some of the myths surrounding where new product ideas come from . Often, product ideas are not true new products at all but simply line extensions or copies of competitors’ products.

True new products (as defined in our recent post ) are less common but potentially much more valuable. That said, any screening process must be able to justify (or not) further development of both the line extension and the true new product as both may potentially add significantly to future growth of the business.

Key Elements Of A Screening Process

So what are the key elements of an appropriate new product screening process? To make a bland (but valid) statement it must be flexible enough to let through what may appear to be radical new product ideas but rigid enough to drop poor ideas as early as practical in the process. That may be easy to say but is far from easy to implement.

There are many examples of companies who have dropped new product ideas that have gone on to be a major success in the marketplace. Perhaps the most famous case is Xerox (allegedly) giving away the technology that led to the development of the Apple Mac. Famously, Kodak developed the digital camera way back in 1975 but failed to understand its potential. The key elements of any new product screening process are:

  • It must be consistent
  • It must match corporate objectives
  • It must match corporate capability
  • It must be based on solid data – documented
  • It must have the flexibility to address true new product ideas and market opportunity.

Whatever the process it must be approved, and more importantly supported, by higher management and must not be circumvented by those with management or other influence that simply have a ‘gut feel’ their idea is a winner.

It must also be a formal process, undertaken at regular (communicated) intervals. An attempt should be made to match the frequency to the number of new product ideas arising otherwise there is a risk of ad hoc decisions being made simply on the basis there is no time to wait for the next meeting.

If either of the above are not in place then there is little point putting the time and effort into a process that will simply by bypassed at will. The process must apply in all situations or not at all.

Consistency

Whatever the screening process may be it must deliver a pre-set number of gates (questions) any new product must answer to proceed to the next stage. Those gates must be designed to let through (or not) a wide variety of ideas, some of which may be radical or distinctly left field.

The same process must apply to every situation as it is not practical to have several flows (depending on the idea type) or a process that is over complex with too many options. Whatever flow is designed must be applied consistently regardless of the new product idea presented for screening.

Match Corporate Objectives

The new product must match with the stated corporate strategy, pre-requisite lifetime sales value, profit and growth objectives to be passed through to the next stage. As noted below these elements are top level screening elements coming before market opportunity.

Perhaps an example from my early career may illustrate the point. Sales identified an opportunity for an equivalent to a competitor product. The competitor had been entrenched in a particular account for years and my company had been unable to secure any of the valuable business available. However, an opportunity had arisen as the competitor could not deliver a particular product for technical reasons. The lifetime project value for the product was not significant but it was seen as an opportunity to gain a foothold in the target account

Sales, quite naturally, wanted to develop and deliver the initial quantities the customer needed of the equivalent product as quickly as possible. Commitment was made to tens of thousands of pounds of tooling costs and resources re-allocated from other projects to make the new product happen as quickly as practical. The product was delivered on time as were the remainder of the project quantities but no further orders were secured for the customer and tooling costs were not fully recovered.

The above is no criticism of sales as the objective was perfectly reasonable. The point is if project value was a top level screening element, higher than penetrating key accounts, then the above project would have been screened out (if we had a screening process at that time – which we did not). However, if the reverse was true then it would have passed. The screening process must be designed to specifically match corporate objectives, be they market penetration or maximising turnover and profitability.

Match Corporate Capability

This is perhaps the most contentious area of new product screening. It is a valid argument to state that if the product idea will generate sufficient returns then the capability can always be put in place to deliver it. However, in reality to produce something new to the business does not just require equipment it also requires people with specific experience of the required design and manufacturing processes.

Higher management must decree what will (and will not) be considered outside the boundaries of the current corporate capability. As a catch all a gate may be added, based on target revenue and turnover figures that allows new product ideas outside corporate capability but with sufficient value to pass through to be considered further at higher management or board level. If approved these product ideas may then be passed back to continue their journey through the screening process.

Based On Solid Data

Data on any new product idea will always be far from perfect but whoever may be promoting the new product idea internally must be prepared to collect relevant market data to support their idea. The data must be made available (and documented) to answer the specific questions at various gates in the process.

It is obvious therefore that the screening process and its gates should not be published and its criteria should only be known by the new product screening committee. If the criteria are known then those presenting new products may either massage the data accordingly or routinely discard new product ideas they believe will fail the process when they are genuine new products with merit.

Designing a process to select the best new product ideas is far from simple. There are many competing criteria and it is important to decide which of these criteria are the most important and which can be reviewed at a lower level. Higher management input to the selection criteria and there unwavering commitment to the process are crucial to success.

Generating Creative New Product Ideas – B2B Markets

In many B2B markets what was once a unique product or service is soon copied, often by low cost producers, making it a commodity and driving down price. The challenge then is generating creative new product ideas on an ongoing basis.

However, there is a problem concisely put by Claire Mason in a recent ManBitesDog post ‘despite the critical importance of ideas-led selling, B2B marketers face an uphill struggle to generate the big ideas their organisations need. Four in five marketing leaders believe that B2B marketing is facing a crisis of creativity according to our latest research’.

So what is the solution? The obvious may be to poll the views of the sales department or ask your customers but as outlined in our post ‘Customer input to the new product development process’ both routes have their problems. What is required is a person (or better still a group) with both an in depth understanding of the market and its needs and the creativity to deliver a product or service that offers a unique solution.

The problem is such people are in extremely short supply. Worse still when they do exist in organisations higher management often lack the vision and market understanding to back them and put the resources in place to develop their concepts further. The statistics on new product failure are well known and risk adverse organisations are often unwilling to take a punt on a new product concept.

Where new product ideas do often flourish is where the person with the idea is also the business owner. He or she does not need to convince anyone it will work or plead to management for resources (they are the management) but if the product is a success this route tends to bring problems further down the line.

The problem is many start up business owners are superb product people with a detailed understanding of the marketplace but are poor managing directors. They understood the product and market but sometimes also lack the capability to communicate their latest new product concept to company personnel leaving them as the only person to really take it forward.

The real creative product people often are sidetracked (or promoted) into a position where they can add less value. For a company to thrive this rare resource needs to remain on the front line, interfacing with customers, intermediaries and sales and marketing. The risks of new innovative new products are significant but perhaps the long term risks to the long term future of a business of not taking the risk are greater.

If that elusive person with the creative vision and the market knowledge can be found they should be backed, rewarded appropriately, and left in the position they can deliver the most value.

4 routes to increased B2B sales

It is all too easy for any B2B business looking for increased sales to opt for the short term fix of hiring new (or replacing underperforming) sales resource. Sales people with an existing potential customer contact base or from competitors are often seen as a low risk route to more B2B sales.

To be fair simply recruiting a sales person can sometimes work in the short term but to really achieve long term sales growth requires vision and the courage to see through that vision in the face of considerable risks. In this post we cover the four most common routes to increased B2B sales and consider the value and level of risk of each.

There are four main routes to increased sales over the medium to long term, they are:

  • Market penetration.
  • Market development.
  • Product development (upgrade/variant).
  • True new product development.

However, before setting out on any journey it is important to note your starting point, your destination (gap analysis) and a return route should you need it so it is important to have a solid strategy in place. Know your customer and have firm plans (and processes) in place to retain those customers.

Market Penetration

Market penetration strategies are based on delivering existing products to existing market segments. They are therefore primarily based on taking competitor market share and/or increasing the quantity, mix or value of product taken by existing customers      

This approach is by far the most common and explains the ‘new salesman’ approach outlined above. The dynamics are well understood and customers and their preferred products well documented. There is also usually an intimate understanding of the competition, their strengths and weaknesses and their key accounts.

There are limits to this approach. For existing customers to take more their business will need to be going well and that is not something that can be controlled. Opportunities may arise if a competitor drops the ball in a key account but in general they are not going to give ground without a significant fight. Concentrating on market penetration leads to a ‘me too’ approach that can only impact on price and margin in the medium to long term.

Market Development

Market development takes existing products to new market segments or converts current non users of the product or service to customers. A strategic approach is required to identify the best segments to attack but once in place market development usually delivers higher sales growth than the market penetration approach.

The challenge is to gain a foothold in new market segments probably against entrenched competition. Hiring those with specific expertise of the segment may be a short term (but expensive) solution but in general an awareness and credibility building campaign will be required before any real results materialise.

Product Development

Product development can be a route to sales growth. It may be a new market segment will require a variation of an existing product. Market niches may be identified that need particular products or variants. A classic example in the electronic component marketplace is taking a standard product and protecting it, screening it and qualifying it for use in extreme environments like the oil and gas industry.

The product development route, if implemented correctly, can reduce competition, increase sales and increase margins but a robust approach to market analysis and planning is required. Investment in product development will be required with that comes an element of risk. Combined with the market penetration and market development approaches outlined above it may be sufficient to deliver the required growth but if a step change is required then only a true new product development process can deliver.

True New Product Development

A true new product development is not simply a development of an existing product – it is something entirely new to the marketplace. However, it is not that easy, look around in any marketplace and there are not many products that are actually disruptive and really new and innovative.

Finding these new products is far from easy. A logical approach may seem to be ask existing customers but as Henry Ford said ‘If I had asked people what they wanted they would have said a faster horse‘. The product idea therefore often needs to come from within and those with the appropriate vision are few and far between.

If a new product concept can be identified the problems do not end there. Bringing a true new product to market carries significant financial risk but, if successful, the rewards can be substantially higher than those available from the other three strategies combined.

Should you wish to discuss growth plans for your business and how they may be achieved please call on 01670 513378. We cover the North East of England including Tyne and Wear, Durham and Northumberland.

Tax Relief For Research and Development

R&D tax credits were first introduced in 2000 at a relatively low level but in recent years the rates have increased significantly to incentivise companies to claim. The Government objective is to use tax incentives to encourage technical firms to invest in developing their own innovative products, and make the UK more competitive in the global market.

HMRC figures published in August 2014 showed:

  • Since the R&D tax credit schemes were launched in 2000‐01 up until 2012‐13, over 100,000 claims had been made and more than £9.5 billion in tax relief claimed.
  • By the end of 2012‐13, more than 28,500 different companies had made claims under the SME scheme since it began in 2000‐01, and over 7,000 under the large company scheme, which launched in 2002‐03.
  • The total number of claims rose to 15,930 for accounting periods ending in 2012‐13 an increase of 26% compared to 2011‐12

What Are R&D Tax Credits

If a company is taking a risk by innovating, improving or developing a process, product or service, then it can qualify for R&D tax credits. They can apply even if company has not made a profit.

The tax credit allows companies to deduct up to 225% of qualifying R&D expenditure when calculating their profit for tax purposes. The tax deduction is usually claimed against corporation tax but in certain circumstances SME’s can surrender a tax loss to claim a cash payment. This can be a valuable source of revenue for early stage technical companies.

How they work

R&D Tax Credits work by reducing taxable profit (sometimes, all the way into a tax loss) and thereby reducing Corporation Tax. However, even if little (or no) Corporation Tax is owed the scheme can deliver cash in exchange for surrendering some of the tax loss.

As an example, if an SME incurs expenditure of £100,000 on qualifying R&D (see below), it can deduct £225,000 when calculating its taxable profit for corporation tax purposes. The £100,000 will be accounted for so the balance of £125,000 would be an additional deduction from the taxable profit giving a tax saving of £25,000 (at a Corporation Tax rate of 20%).

It is often possible to make retrospective claims but the tax credit is only useable after finishing at least one accounting year.

How to qualify

One of the greatest hurdles when considering whether to file R&D Tax Credits is figuring out if the business qualifies The answer is not straightforward and it is always best to ask a specialist (disclaimer – we are not that specialist)

HMRC do (in principle) offer advice but unless the case is straightforward the advice can be contradictory and the response can be simply ‘submit and we will evaluate’. The two key criteria in determining who is eligible for R&D tax credits are ‘innovation’ and ‘uncertainty’.

If the R&D is associated with something that has been done many times and is common knowledge it is highly unlikely to qualify. However, if it involves uncertainty as to whether the desired outcome or new product could be achieved and there are technical aspects to be explored and overcome then it is probably a qualifying project. In many cases this still applies if the project is ultimately unsuccessful.

The value of the project is also a key consideration. If it is less than GBP(£)5K then it is unlikely to qualify but once in excess of GBP(£) 25K there is more chance of success.

Although the latest HMRC figures (above) show an increased take up in R&D tax credits they are still under used as a source of valuable revenue to technology start-ups and to reduce the tax liability of larger organisations. They are worth evaluating with the help of qualified specialists.

The Value Of Customer Input To Your New Product Idea Process

Asking your most important customers what new products on solutions would be of benefit to them may seem to be a logical approach to your new product idea process but there is a problem

Steve Jobs said: A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them. Henry Ford said: If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse

and that is you are unlikely to receive the answer you need or expect

Customers Don’t Know What They Want

In most medium sized B2B businesses there are several key decision makers. So who is best to talk to about potential new products? Probably not purchasing or quality so engineering or project management may appear to be a better bet. The problem is they are undoubtedly focussed on the latest project or task rather than looking ahead to what they may need in future.

Even if engineering and project people had time to look ahead the value of their input may be limited. In many medium sized organisation most employees operate within their own cells and very few have a complete picture of what is coming along in future or even where their current project fits within the overall whole.

Customer New Product Ideas Are Bad Ideas

When it is possible to engage in a potential new product discussions they often tend to centre on the obvious. What do the competition have that you do not? Or minor adjustments to existing products rather than true new product concepts.

This problem is exasperated if sales are entrusted with the new product discussion as their focus is also short term (rightly so) and competitor focussed. Returning with a message that everything will be fine if the business simply copies the competitor products is a common (and lazy) sales response.

Few businesses have limitless resources so it is unlikely that it will be possible to identify any common new product themes from the relatively small number of customers it will be possible to survey on new product ideas. Each response returned will often therefore need to be researched further as a stand-alone item.

Improving The New Product Concept Process

A better approach may be to first develop some potential new products concNew product conceptepts in before engaging with customers. These may often be initial ideas with little detail on how they may be implemented but simply designed to solicit a response and to start a dialogue.

Fuelling the process with some potential ideas often leads to increased customer engagement and a better response that is less focussed on what is available now. Many of the concepts introduced will be complete non-starters but may at least deliver feedback on why they will not work that may be filtered in to the next set of concepts.

Marketing should be tasked to customer discussion rather than sales. This has the advantage of allowing sales to concentrate on the short term and ensure that the conversation is turned away from existing competition. With marketing in charge of the process any customer input can be fed directly into the new product screening process. Sales may then brought back into the process at a later point when new product concepts have been screened and developed to a point they may be taken forward.

Conclusion

Although the suggested approach is far from perfect for most organisations it is a more realistic approach than the approach undertaken by Apple and Ford of developing new products that are truly market disruptive. Although the returns from this approach can be significant the risks involved and the resources required are beyond most medium sized businesses

The New Product Development Process – 5 Steps To Reduce The Risk Of Failure

The reality of the B2B new product development process is very different to what much of the standard marketing literature would like us to believe. It imagines a blank sheet of paper and sufficient company resources to develop new products without a driving customer.

Few, small and medium sized businesses are in such an enviable position and, those that are tend  to be concerned about the substantial financial risks associated with new product failure. However, the lead customer approach is not without its own set of problems.

As the lead customer often contributes financially to part of the development costs they can require specific modifications that make the product less applicable to the general market and impose restrictions on sale of the product to certain market segments. With the safety net of a known first customer marketing departments can be lulled into a false sense of security and fail to research and plan the new product launch and growth as they should.

Product Marketing Research And Planning Is Vital

In a recent post on product innovation we discussed the importance of a robust new product screening process. If a new product is customer driven this process may be less rigorous than it should be or overlooked entirely. This is one of the major reasons new product introductions fail or progress no further than the lead customer. The market should be segmented appropriately, likely targets for the new product identified and segment specific marketing plans assembled.

What worked in the past has a significantly lower chance of success today. A business with an established customer base could once rely heavily on a new product press release in a number of trade specific magazines, perhaps some limited product advertising and the sales force to beat on doors, set appointments with prospects and introduce the new product.

Switch From Outbound To Inbound Product Marketing

Today, many trade publications have either closed down or carry a fraction of the content they did in the past as the readership has collapsed and moved to the internet as a source of information. The decline in the impact of push marketing including telemarketing, advertising and, to a point, Email is well documented.

Inbound marketing by contrast is based on building marketing collateral and content and using this to build awareness, credibility and to support the sales process. This requires a significant amount of time and effort so content production must begin well in advance of the product launch.

Content should be produced (or existing information modified) to specifically match the requirements of the plan. Sales should be brought into the process at the earliest opportunities to ensure their lead prospecting and nurturing activities will be properly supported.

Delivery channels for content, be they online or offline, must be adequately researched and readied before the product launch. This is of vital importance and is a subject that is often overlooked, there is little point in talking if nobody is listening.

Integrate Sales And Marketing

As mentioned above marketing needs to work closely with sales. It is important to consider which existing customers are most likely to be the early adopters (obviously one will already be in place) and how these opportunities can be converted. Positive customer experiences with the product should be used to build credibility with other potential customers. The impact of social proof (Dr Robert Cialdini) can be a powerful sales tool.

With early adopters in place where will the growth (and volume) come from? Targets should be identified and prioritised and marketing activity focussed to help. A plan should also be put in place to support any sales intermediaries. Our own experience shows it is unwise to leak or drip feed new product information to far in advance as it often causes confusion and a lack of control.

Plan The New Product Launch

There is only really one opportunity to launch the new product so it is important to get it right. Everyone must have agreed and signed up to the plan, appropriate content should be in place and online and offline promotional channels should be set up and ready to go. In B2B markets there are often exhibition and seminar opportunities and these should be ready to be exploited for maximum impact.

Plan Product Sales Growth In Other Market Segments

Given the reality of limited sales and marketing resources in many small and medium sized manufacturing businesses it will not be practical to attack all identified market segments at one time. New (and potentially lucrative) market segments could appear in time leading to a re-assessment of the priorities but it is important to have an plan in place  as a reference point to refer back to if priorities do change.

Conclusion

The New Product Development Process can never be risk free and it is perfectly valid to try and mitigate some of that risk by finding a lead customer before making a commitment. However, it is important to be aware of the risks of this approach and to take appropriate steps to deal with those risks.

A plan is of vital importance to address each market segment, to seek out the early adopters and to plan growth. Although there can often be some internal company conflicts and politics it is vital that sales and marketing co-operate and both genuinely sign off on the plan and commit to the way forward.

The Product Innovation Process

It’s a hard truth but without a product innovation process most manufacturing companies are destined to fail. In this post we discuss some tools and techniques to develop an innovative culture and the process of developing and screening new product ideas.

As technology moves forward, as new and innovative solutions enter the market, as economic conditions change businesses that fail to innovate to remain relevant in a changing market lose market share. Some markets may change very slowly but ultimately the end result remains the same

Innovation can take many forms. Myers and Marquis (1969) defined it as ‘not a singleOutput from the product innovation process action but a total process of interrelated sub processes. It is not just the conception of a new idea, nor the invention of a new device, nor the development of a new market. The process is all these things acting in an integrated fashion.’ In this post we deal specifically with product innovation

Any innovation process needs support from the top of the organisation, it needs resources and it must fit within the overall strategic framework of the business. A mistake made by many organisations is a failure to allow the process time to run its course without interference or mismanagement.

Generating New Product Ideas

Every product innovation process needs to start with a basic framework linked to the business strategy. A combination of Ansoff matrix, the value chain and competitive analysis tools can deliver an understanding of where the business is now and identify opportunities for growth that may be developed further utilising the techniques outlined below:

  • Brainstorming
  • Customer Input
  • Suggestion Box

Given a basic framework the product innovation process often starts with a brainstorming type activity. It is important that this is inclusive and not judgemental in any way if it is to be of value. Ideas that come out of this process may be rough and poorly defined but are the starting point for further work.

Customer ideas are also useful although our own experience shows customers are surprisingly poor at defining the products / services that may satisfy their future needs. Often the discussion turns to products offered by the competition today rather than future needs. Although the sales department may be the closest to the customer and have the best relationship they are not always the best at extracting the required information. Sales tend to be focussed on the next 6 – 12 months and achieving the sales forecast (rightly so) rather than what may help the business grow in future.

As brainstorming tends to be an invitational process and include mainly senior staff suggestion boxes (with incentives) can be useful as many good ideas can come from manufacturing operatives and junior staff who may be unwilling to raise their ideas in an open forum.

Idea Screening And Research

With a number of roughly defined product ideas in place it is important to develop a short but robust top level screening process to weed out those ideas that do not fit with business strategy. The process should not screen out ideas simply because they appear too difficult or do not fit with current manufacturing capability only those that clearly do not fit with the business long term objectives

Design of the top level (and subsequent) screening processes is essential as many good and valid ideas can be discounted simply because of a screening process that has not been thought through in appropriate detail and designed appropriately.

With several ideas in place a top level research process may then be undertaken to assess the market potential for the product and competition as an input to the second level screening process. A rough assessment should be made at this point of the investment required to take the product forward.

The process then repeats, screening out products that do not match the required criteria followed by more detailed market research before a final fine screening process which should result in only the best ideas moving forward to initial manufacturing trials, mock ups, prototypes and market sampling.

The importance of a product innovation may be clear but defining a building a process that delivers sound new product ideas that are worth further investment can be difficult. The key issues are adequate resourcing of the process, robust screening procedures and adequate market research with inclusion of all sources that may make a valuable input.

How To Deliver Ongoing New Product Introductions

For many B2B manufacturing businesses ongoing new product introductions are the life blood of the business. Products are naturally superseded by newer versions and customer requirements move on and change over time making a once great product idea obsolete. Without new products to replace the old a business will inevitably fail to achieve the growth it requires.

The required rate of new product introduction can vary wildly according to the market in which a business operates but the fact remains new products are often essential. The challenge is to find research and introduce products or services that satisfy a customer need and generate sales.

Ansoffs matrix often provides a useful starting point. Although a far from perfect model it does provide some useful insights. It suggests four business growth strategies and grades the risk of each. The four options, graded from highest to lowest risk are:

  • New products to new markets – Diversification
  • New products to current markets – Product development
  • Current products to new markets – Market development
  • Current products to current markets – Market penetration

If we consider the diversification and product development strategies then each presents its own problems. When attempting the product development strategy it is all too easy to fall into the ‘me too ‘ trap and either promote equivalent or similar products to those already delivered by the competition. To try to come from behind against already entrenched competition with a similar offering can be difficult.

The alternative is to develop products with a unique selling point that satisfy an existing market need in some different way. Ideally, to avoid competition, these products should capitalise on unique or specialist design or manufacturing capability within the business making them difficult to copy. The problem is these products can be more difficult to identify than ‘me too’ and present a greater risk of failure.

To go further and produce new products that are truly innovative and satisfy the needs of a marketplace not previously addressed can be a step too far. If it can be achieved the rewards are high but the risks of failure are also significant. Without detailed research addressing a new market can be a leap in the dark.

A simple way to get the new product ideas process moving can be:

  • Identify the leading current products in the marketplace of interest.
  • Identify the need they satisfy.
  • Think of a similar product that may satisfy that need better, cheaper or easier.
  • Research enabling technologies that may make the product a reality.

Then sketch out some product concepts without worrying too much about the engineering implications. These product concepts may then be progressed through a screening process to identify those worth further analysis.