>Questions That Could be Worth a Fortune

>Note: I am enjoying the slopes of New Mexico this weekend and so I have asked a couple of friends to do some guest blogging. Jerad Kaliher writes the Bust A Change blog on innovation and also has a passion for marketing. Enjoy his perspective on innovation in marketing.

By Jerad Kaliher
Have you ever stopped and thought to yourself, “why didn’t I think of that?” The simplest of ideas, born of necessity, are sometimes the biggest money makers. That’s what comes to my mind when I think of innovation in small business. Don’t let the term throw you off guard, you don’t need to be a large corporation with millions of dollars in research and development to be an innovator. In fact, with the help of your customers, you can start in your own backyard.

Booz Allen Hamilton published their annual report about the world’s 1,000 largest corporate R&D spenders. Much to the surprise of the team leading the report, they found that it’s not how much you spend, but how you spend it. The companies that did the best leveraged their money by integrating customers into every step of the innovation process. They listened to what their customers were telling them, picked through the best ideas, refined them in the field and released them to customers who already stood by them.

An example is DeWalt, a professional power tool manufacturer. “DeWalt’s engineers and marketing product managers incorporate copious customer input at the front and back ends of the innovation process. They spend a great deal of time at job sites talking to people who make their living with power tools, observing how they work, gathering information, and ultimately putting it into databases of tool features and customer contacts that engineers can draw on to help design new products. Then, once prototypes of new products have been completed, those same engineers and marketers take them directly to the same job sites, leave the tools, and come back a week or so later to collect information on how they performed.”

“Some of the insights from this process have run counter to conventional wisdom. For example, DeWalt customers are willing to pay more for innovative tools, belying the reputation that contractors have as slow adopters of new products. And although some of the efforts DeWalt pursues involve incremental innovations, the company prefers true breakthrough products, in part because it understands that its customers will always be able to tell the difference.”

Obviously DeWalt has the money to cough out an expensive research process. Yet last time I checked asking your customers for their opinion doesn’t cost much. Involving them in the development of your service or product shows that you have a vested interest in their business. It creates value when they find that your final product has been tailored to meet their specific needs. So go out and start asking – the right questions could be worth a fortune.

Jerad Kaliher
Bust a Change – My Blog

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