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 the price. The challenge then is continually generating new product ideas.
However, there is a problem concisely put by Claire Mason in a 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’.
Organising For New Product Development
As technology moves forward, as new and innovative solutions enter the market and economic conditions change businesses that fail to innovate lose market share. Some markets may change very slowly but the end result remains the same.
Innovation can take many forms. Myers and Marquis (1969) defined it as ‘not a single 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.’
Any new product development 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 new product process time to run its course without interference or mismanagement.
What is required is a person (or team) with both an in-depth understanding of the market and the creativity to deliver a product or service that offers a unique solution.
The problem is such people are in short supply. Worse still when they do exist higher management often lacks the vision and market understanding to back them. They fail to put the resources in place to develop their concepts further.
The best creative product people are often side-tracked (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. They need to interface with customers, intermediaries and sales and marketing.
Sources Of New Product Ideas
Sources of new product ideas can be both internal and external to the organisation. External sources of product ideas can include customer input to the product innovation process brought in by sales or agents. These are covered elsewhere on this blog.
It is useful to monitor competitor activity. However, it is important to focus on what factors are driving their new product developments and not the products themselves. Assessing the competitions perceived market drivers can deliver real insight. Copying a competitor product leads to a ‘me too’ situation that drives down profitability.
The businesses strategic planning and audit process should deliver issues that deserve further research. A review of upcoming technologies, the latest University spin-offs and start-ups can all indicate the direction new products should take.
Existing staff knowledge and expertise should be exploited. This can be via brainstorming activities or suggestion boxes. To be of value, this process should be is inclusive and not judgemental in any way. The resulting ideas may be rough and poorly defined but are the starting point for further work.
As brainstorming meetings tend to be by invitation suggestion boxes (with incentives) can be useful. Many good ideas can come from manufacturing operatives and junior staff who may be unwilling to raise their ideas in an open forum.
New Product Idea Screening And Research
With many roughly defined product ideas in place, it is important to develop a short but robust top level screening process. This should 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.
Design of the top-level (and lower level) screening processes is essential. Many good and valid ideas can be dropped because of a screening process that has been designed incorrectly.
With several screened ideas ready to go a top-level research process can then be undertaken to assess the market potential for the product. This will be the input to the second level screening process. At this point, a rough assessment should be made of the investment required to take the product forward.
The process then repeats, screening out products that do not match the required criteria. This is followed by more detailed market research before a final fine screening process. The result should be only the best ideas progress to manufacturing trials, prototypes and market sampling.
The importance of new product ideas may be clear but building a process that delivers concepts worth investment can be difficult. The key issues are adequate resourcing, robust screening procedures and adequate market research. All information sources that can make a valuable input to the process should be included.