By Tim Connor, Rodeo! Performance Group, Inc.
Improve it. Adapt it. Replace it. Expand it. Shorten it. Some of these approaches seem at odds with others; but all can be used by the innovator to make a product or a service more effective – and thus more marketable. Isn’t that why we’re in business?
Why do people buy what you’re selling? Isn’t it because it meets a need they have? Sure. But people buy repeatedly because a product meets more than one need, and the more needs met by a product the more loyalty your customers will have. To improve a product you have to keep searching out the needs that people have – and some of them take some real digging! For instance, in today’s market price is seen as critical, and the move for the last several decades has been to lower price. But what about quality? Quality is that something that makes a product last longer, a service more effective. And while a customer may be dazzled by the price, over time he realizes that a high-quality item endures, and requires less effort to keep it going.
So the first key to innovation is to constantly ferret out the changing needs of your customer. As a new need is discovered, your product can be improved and Voila* – your market expands!
* French for “Hot Dog!”
Sometimes small changes to the construction of a product, or small changes to the delivery of a service, will open up more sales. An example is the Hummer military vehicle, which began selling to a small (wealthy) civilian market. After seeing success there, the company brought out the Hummer 2, adapted to be much roomier, more comfort-able, and less expensive – although it no longer met the original military specs. Sales increased considerably.
Sometimes a company’s product just doesn’t meet a need any more, and needs to be laid to rest. This is where monitoring customer feedback pays big bonuses, because it makes it easier to predict the coming demise of a product, and allows new products to be developed before revenues begin to drop. A good example is the company Ridgid, which has long been known for high quality tools for steel and iron pipe. That market began to dry up with the advent of PVC, and the company has responded by introducing a line of consumer power tools, which is now being marketed by a national building supply house.
Exploring new uses for a current product is not often investigated, but can yield big results. My personal favorite involves a local piano tuner who re-ordered heating devices for his local customers and found that the product was about to be discontinued. He bought the rights (and the old inventory), and just for grins displayed it in a national gun show. The product’s damp-chasing ability immediately interested that market, and he’s now expanding it into electronics and avionics. Same product, but now a market that’s literally one hundred times bigger.
This key isn’t about the product itself, but the process that makes it, or the service that supports it. When you can shorten the time it takes to make a product, without compromising quality, you make it more available and sales will increase. That shorter time also means lower production costs, which is worth the pursuit.
But don’t forget the supporting services. Faster delivery times always mean happier customers. The same goes for immediate answers to questions, and quicker responses to issues and problems. People like getting good service, and will often pay a higher price to get it. Keep that in mind.