June 13, 2011, 11:20 AM — Today's tip comes from Dan Abrams, author of New Product Blueprinting: The Handbook for B2B Organic Growth
There's a famous quote from Henry Ford that Steve Jobs has been known to cite: "If I’d have asked my customers what they wanted," Ford reportedly said, "they would have told me 'a faster horse.'" Yes, it reflects a bold product development philosophy. And this closed-door, tell-customers-what-they-want-even-if-they-don't-yet-know-it approach works well for our modern day King of Innovation (and his development team at Apple, of course). But if you're tempted to adopt the Jobsian method yourself, think twice.
The reality is that the average new product success rate -- once the costly development stage begins -- is only 25%. Generally speaking, for those of us who aren't Steve Jobs, the practice of developing new products first and then waiting to see if customers buy them is a terribly inefficient use of resources.
For B2B suppliers, in particular, it is essential to first understand market needs and then develop supplier solutions to meet them.
Here are the key steps to becoming a new product mastermind in your own right:
1. Ask your customers what they want.
Remember, Steve Jobs deals in consumer goods -- a whole different ballgame from B2B products. In describing his iTunes development team, Jobs said, "The reason that we worked so hard is because we all wanted one. You know? I mean, the first few hundred customers were us."
In contrast, when DuPont developed Kevlar®, they first experimented in applications such as tire cords. They went 10 years before implementing the first field trial in protective body armor, which ultimately became their main market. If you’re selling to other businesses, it’s unlikely you know enough about your customers’ worlds to hit the nail on the head with every product you develop for them.
Unlike Steve Jobs, who can create successful products based on what he knows he wants and what his Apple employees want, you have to ask your customers what they want. Otherwise, you risk spending tons of time and money on a product that you think is great, but that ultimately elicits a sleepy yawn from your customers.
2. Hone your innovation skills
Compare your IQ (Innovation Quotient) to Steve's and act accordingly. There's no doubt that you and your team are smart. And in fact, you and your development team may just be as smart as Jobs and his team. But it's unlikely you've worked as hard for as long at mastering the skills needed to develop blockbuster products.