Trying times: Five reasons to embrace new product blueprinting
Industrial marketing specialist Dan Adams says the only way to win in tough times is through organic growth. Companies must consistently come up with differentiated new products customers want to buy—and that means finding clarity in the "fuzzy front end" of the process.
Economically speaking—and with apologies to Thomas Paine—these are the times that try business leaders’ souls. If you’re one of them, you have a tough row to hoe. Keeping the customers you already have can be difficult enough in an age of consumer anxiety, tight budgets, and suddenly Scrooge-like bankers.
To actually grow your company to thrive long-term can feel like an impossible feat, but don’t despair. The solution is found in organic growth.
“When debt financing flows freely, it’s easy to grow a company through acquisition,” notes Dan Adams, president, Advanced Industrial Marketing (AIM), and author of New Product Blueprinting: The Handbook for B2B Organic Growth . “When consumers are on a buying spree, even a mediocre business can grow nicely. But when these go away—like right now—the real quality of a business shows through. You have to grow from within, which means becoming a well-oiled, finely tuned new product machine.”
A company’s growth engine is its ability to deliver differentiated value to its customers through new products and services. If you can’t develop new “stuff” customers want to buy—and keep doing it over and over—you won’t be in business for long.
Many executives lose sight of this truth, says Adams, especially when growth comes relatively easily. They spend too much time thinking about investor relations, human resources, and financial reporting. While these are very important subjects, they’re not the engine.
If the first step is fully recognizing the importance of that organic-growth engine, the second is tuning it to a high-performance level. How do the best companies do this? In recent years many large global B2B companies have adopted the New Product Blueprinting—or NPB—a process that focuses on the “front end” of new product development.
Simply put, you work patiently with your customers to create a mental picture of something that will excite them. Then you create a new product blueprint that answers two critical questions: How will we make it?—i.e., the technical paths—and how will we pay for it? —i.e., the business case.
“Companies that take this approach consistently launch products that are eagerly embraced by their customers,” explains Adams. “This is New Product Blueprinting—a seamless, reproducible process to develop products customers love, competitors respect, and stockholders applaud.”
What makes NPB so attractive to B2B companies? Adams offers this insight:
Blueprinting lets you more effectively harvest “low-hanging fruit.” It’s almost always easier to get more business from satisfied customers than to start from scratch and try to sell yourself to new prospects. This is true in good times as well as bad. But during a downturn, many prospects will be far more wary of aligning with unknown companies. Current customers are no different. They would prefer to stay with someone safe, someone they know and trust.
New Product Blueprinting is a mechanism for discovering your customers’ as-yet-undiscovered needs. It prevents you from squandering resources on unsuitable markets. However gung-ho you may be about selling to existing customers, there will come a time to trawl virgin waters. In a sluggish economy, companies can’t afford to waste time and money in pursuit of customers that aren’t likely to pay off. One benefit of the NPB process is its commonsense mechanism for preventing bad decisions.
“Most B2B suppliers don’t differentiate enough between market segment opportunities,” says Adams. “They aim too many resources at slow-growth, dog-eat-dog segments and too few at the most attractive. The first step in NPB is targeting the best market segments.
It accounts for the critical differences between B2B and B2C customers. Too many B2B suppliers have severely limited themselves, particularly in the front end of product development, by using B2C practices to understand customer needs. Adams says profound differences exist between, say, a hydraulic hose buyer and a garden hose buyer. Even if Joe buys a hydraulic hose on Friday (at the office) and a garden hose on Saturday (at the local hardware store), he morphs into an entirely different person from one transaction to the next—and the NPB process takes this change into account.
“Industrial buyers are more technically savvy and less emotional than consumers,” Adams points out. “Workday Joe thinks about hose durability, fluid specifications, and pressure ratings. Weekend Joe, on the other hand, might choose Hose A over Hose B because it’s purple and that’s his wife’s favorite color.”
It helps you engage customers by treating them with respect and soliciting their input. Consumer-oriented voice-of-the-customer techniques don’t make your interview subjects leap for joy. It’s uncomfortable and it certainly doesn’t take advantage of their wealth of knowledge. But if you work with customers, they will make you smarter.
“We ask simple questions that encourage customers to direct us to the areas they are most concerned with,” says Adams.
It helps you avoid both the “selling stigma” and the “great solutions giveaway.” When most B2B suppliers call on their customers, they are doing one of two things: selling or solving. The sales & marketing staff are peddling their wares, and the technical people are fixing whatever is broken. For blueprinting interviews, says Adams, the advice to commercial people is “search now, sell later.” For technical people, it’s “search now, solve later.”
Says Adams, “For these interviews, you are interested only in the results customers desire. Customers don’t give a hoot about your products…they just want certain things to happen for them. When you’re selling your ideas, customers know you’re not all that interested in them. When you’re solving problems with them, you’re jeopardizing your intellectual property. In both cases, you’re wasting precious customer face time instead of probing to understand how you can deliver value your competitors are missing.”
Implementing NBP requires changing the DNA of your company so it routinely delivers more product value than your competitor. Such change is daunting, but Adams insists this paradigm shift is absolutely necessary.
“These are tough times to shake up a company in such a way,” he says. “But they are exciting times. In the last decades of the 20th century, companies discovered they could reach unimagined levels of manufacturing quality and productivity. I believe the next frontier is to dramatically improve the way we develop new products. Future competitive advantage will come from what we design, not how faithfully or efficiently we reproduce it.
“As statistical process control and Six Sigma were to operational improvement, New Product Blueprinting is to new product success,” Adams continues. “It requires an investment in people and a commitment to do things differently. But then, that’s how we differentiate, isn’t it?”
Dan Adams, president of Advanced Industrial Marketing Inc . (AIM) has 30 years experience working for B2B corporations to explore every aspect of product development, building New Product Blueprinting from the ground up. AIM conducts workshops globally to train commercial and technical teams in advanced B2B product development, provides strong post-workshop coaching support…and then gets out of the way.
About the Book: New Product Blueprinting: The Handbook for B2B Organic Growth (AIM Press, 2008, ISBN: 978-