“Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and to think what nobody else has thought”.
Albert Szent-Gryorgyi, Nobel Peace Prize winner in medicine
Every significant new business initiative starts with a market assessment. This is usually the first stage in the classic Stage Gate-based product development process. Are there enough potential customers who will be interested in what we plan to offer? Does our offer meet an important want or need that they have? Will our offer be compelling enough that, with the proper marketing and sales efforts, they will be converted from curious prospects into buyers?
Given the hyper-competitiveness of most industries today, and the need to increase the percentages of successful product and services launches, market research continues to grow in importance.“Marketing organizations are constantly striving to establish competitive advantage….through novel market insight and buyer behavior derived through advances in market research ”, observed Chris Williams, Division President/Head of Global Marketing at Amdocs Corporation.
A Classic Approach to Market Research
Doing a thorough job of understanding the potential market for the new product or service requires a well-structured process. We’ve listed below an 9-step research process that is relatively typical of how B2B companies look at markets.
Fundamental Steps of Market Research
If you follow this process, you will end up with the data you need to make an informed, educated decision about the potential product or service that you’re planning to develop. It will be sufficient information, at least, to allow you to make the next decision in the Stage Gate process.
How is the Process Different for New Solutions?
Let’s talk about the process for doing market research for solutions. Is it the same? Are the steps the same? Does it involve the same people? Does it take the same amount of resources and budget? Are the results as reliable? Lots of questions…here are some of my thoughts.
When we think about developing new solutions, a great reference for this is the New Solutions Development Process Map (insert link) created by Solutions Insights. This lays out all of the major steps in the process that needs to be at least considered, and likely implemented.
The research process is different, and it’s not only us that think so. Here’s what Naomi Wilsey, Senior Director of Marketing at Optum and former Senior Marketing Manager at Optum said:
“The common outputs from market research for products and market research for solutions are insights and knowledge for decision making. The delineation is the degree of client focus — solutions marketing, by definition, starts and ends with the client in mind.”
So how do we reconcile the 8-step market research process above with research indicated in Solutions Insights’ NSD Process Map? In thinking about the differences between products and solutions, here is how we see it.
Differences Between the Market Research Process for Product and Solutions
|1. Define the customer problem||Understand how features and functionality can be combined to improve performance efficiency.||Gain a deep understanding of a customer’s business issues that impact profitability and growth; consider issues that are addressed at the “C-level” of an organization.|
|2. Determine the information needed||Identify all the possible uses and levels of customer interest in new product performance and application; consider competitive & alternative options.||Identify all the potential products, services and IP needed to be analyzed to address the customer problem; determine how to assessthe solution’s impact on the customers’ business imperatives. Consider competitive & alternative options.|
|3. Select the customer segment(s)||Define the groups of potential customers who may see the value of a new or improved product.||Define the groups of potential customers that share similar complex business challenges or opportunities: identify both potential horizontal and vertical segments.|
|4. Determine information availability||Estimate if and where the desired data exists; knowledge of previous or similar product specifications are key.||Estimate if and where the desired data exists; often there is little knowledge of similar solutions due to customization requirements and uniqueness of many of the business problems and imperatives.|
|5. Choose data collection methods||Determine best methodologies that balances primary, secondary, qualitative and quantitative needs||Emphasize more of the primary and qualitative approaches since the new solution needs high initial customization to meet specific customer needs|
|6. Select the sample population||Identify the groups that would be the users and immediate beneficiaries of an improved or new product; these groups tend to be at mid and lower levels in the organization||Identify the managers and executives who would be most impacted by the solution; they tend to be at executive and other senior levels in the organization.|
|7. Conduct the research||Do enough field testing to quantify the value between the existing product and the new/updated product||Do enough interviewing and evaluating to understand the impact of the potential solution on the customer’s problems; this often requires extensive beta implementations with multiple customers|
|8. Do the analysis & make decisions||Estimate initial demand, probable growth curve and potential total demand; compare price levels to total costs||Estimate initial demand, probable growth curve and potential total demand; compare price levels to total costs; solutions also require estimates of initial and future customization required, and number of successful implementations before scaling models demand estimates are validated.|
If you’re a product manager, or a product development specialist, and you’ve been asked to develop a new solution, be thoughtful about how you plan and implement the market research piece. A straight product approach will not get the job done. Think about the “delta” that was described in the 8-step process above, and plan accordingly. Prepare to tell your manager that it will take more time, more money and higher level touchpoints within the companies that you talk to. If you get this step in the New Solutions Development process right, the rest, relatively speaking, is a cakewalk!
Published with permission