Innovating towards your customers' future needs

Knowing what your customers want is often hard enough. But when it comes to managing innovations, the task becomes even more difficult. You have to be able to project your customers’ needs three, five, or even ten years from now. How can you accomplish this?

A recent study by Michael A. Stanko and Joseph M. Bonner sheds new light onto this topic. By examining data from 128 companies in a variety of B2B markets, the study isolates three key recommendations in order to understand future customer needs and hereby develop better innovations:

1. Include your customers in your development processes. Far too many R&D departments are isolated from customers, merely relying on market reports or a few focus groups for their innovations. However, if you really want to develop customer-targeted innovations, your customers should participate in the process. This gives you two key advantages: first, you have the chance to continuously track evolving customer needs, and realize how these needs may develop in the future; second, you will be able to shape your customers’ future needs.

2. Build a foundation of trust. If your customers trust you, they will more readily share their future requirements with you. Moreover, they might more willingly follow your lead and adjust their wishes and expectations based on your advice. To achieve this goal give high priority to training your employees in building rapport (or maybe even friendships) with your customers.

3. Mix it up. Stanko and Bonner’s study shows that if your employees and customers are too homogenous, newly developed products forfeit innovativeness due to the notorious “organizational blindness.” To make sure this does not happen, include several “exotics” in your development teams. In addition, you have to monitor the teams for tunnel vision tendencies.

Original research article: Stanko, M. A., and J. M. Bonner (2013), “Projective customer competence: Projecting future customer needs that drive innovation performance,” Industrial Marketing Management 42(8):1255-1265


Entrepreneurship and Innovation

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