No matter how great your products or services are, the reality is that almost all face the same grim outlook. The market will mature, competition will increase, sales will level off or decline, and profits will erode. To survive that cycle, companies need to find new ways to address known customer needs or, better yet, identify and address new customer needs.
Here are four techniques that you can use to expand offerings and recharge top-line growth.
1. Zoom Out
Today’s environment is so complex that it is often easy to focus on products or services that we offer to current customers—i.e. we are always zooming in. The solution? Zoom out in order to better understand how your product addresses the needs of your customer. For example, although Netflix started by renting movies to customers, it zoomed out and recognized that its customers were not simply looking for movies, they were looking for entertainment. As a result, they expanded content to include television shows and original programming, and now pose a serious threat to the traditional broadcasting model.
2. Get to Know Your Customer
When was the last time you walked in your customer’s shoes? If you did, then chances are you would find that your customers face a whole host of previously unknown challenges.
Unfortunately, picking up the phone and calling a customer is not likely to reveal these challenges, because customers often subconsciously accept limitations and simply develop workarounds. For example, how did you get your whole family in a single picture on your last vacation? You probably had to ask someone else to take the picture for you (the workaround). Despite this workaround, if someone asked you if you were happy with your camera, you probably would have answered, “yes” simply because you accepted the inherent limitations of a traditional camera. However, in 2014, two keen observers identified the workaround and the selfie stick was born.
There are a number of tools you can use to uncover workarounds, but none of them work if you do not go out and spend time in your customer’s environment.
3. Accept the Fact that You are Always Wrong
Far too many companies approach R&D from the inside out—someone at the company comes up with an idea, the idea passes the management smell test, resources are allocated, prototypes are developed and tested, and final products are delivered to market. Later, sales and profits languish, resulting in significant product modifications or worse—abandonment of the entire initiative (for the record, this has never happened at Kreischer Miller, but we’ve read about it).
When considering new products or services, or making refinements to existing products or services, your goal should be to experiment quickly to test key hypotheses before marching too far down any path. This will ensure that you fail fast (burning less cash) as well as increase the odds of success for products that make it through the experimentation phase.
4. Disrupt Yourself
You do not have to look far to find the remains of companies that once dominated their markets (anyone want to rent a movie at Blockbuster?). A company may have an idea it is afraid of pursuing for fear it will jeopardize existing sales, but history suggests it is best to pursue those bold new ideas … before someone else does.
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