Tossing and Turning

By Beacon Staff

One of the questions I often hear from clients is “Where do I get ideas for new products and services?”

Of course, the most obvious place would be “Your customers”, but sometimes it isn’t quite that simple. Customers are a valuable source of feedback in this area, but they aren’t perfect.

If every business waited for someone to ask them for their next incredible new product, a lot of great new products and services wouldn’t come to market as soon, or at all.

Sometimes you need to be ahead of your customers’ thought process. You need to be that visionary type.

Depending on how you’ve positioned yourself, you might be the go-to-authority in your marketplace. If you’re the one that everyone expects to be knowledgeable about newest information and products in your market, you’ve done well. If you aren’t, it’s something to work on.

Ideally, you want to be the one who helps your clients with problems they didn’t realize they even had.

Knowing your customers needs ahead of time means keeping up with trends and new discoveries in your market.

While it takes time, it’s a worthwhile investment. The info might come from your industry’s trade magazines, blogs, podcasts, video blogs, monthly conference calls, emails or even a plain old printed newsletter.

Failing to keep up can easily place you with the “rest of the pack”.

Spend time reading about trends and new discoveries in business niches that complement your own. The smartest folks I see take time to learn about other market segments that have nothing to do with their own.

For example, if you sell custom bikes in a specialty retail shop, what would be the point of reading about the newest strategies used by those who retail kayaks or rent high-end digital SLRs?

Simple – the customers who spend money in those markets also are likely to spend money in your specialty bike shop.

Looking at ideas that worked in non-complementary markets has value as well. What can you take from successes in a completely unrelated niche, bring to your business, massage a little and make your own?

Plenty, if you put a little thought into it.

How many businesses have drive-up windows now?

Do you think coffee shops, libraries or dry cleaners were the first? Nope. Oddly enough, the first drive up window appears to have been at a bank in 1928. 20 years later, In-and-Out Burger claims they opened the first drive-up window at a restaurant.

What else can you use to generate ideas for new products and services?

1 – Think about your ideal customer’s day.

Walk through it in your mind, step by step. If you aren’t sure about their day, do you really know enough about your customer’s business?
Look back at each step. What can you do to smooth their day, take away the roadblocks and annoyances? How can you turn that into not only a one sale, but a repetitive one?

2 – Think about how your business can help them improve their efficiency, safety and profitability.

For example, if your products/services involve safety risks to the employees who use them, how can you help them reduce or eliminate accidents and injuries? Training? Improved products? Their insurance firm might reduce their premium if they see documented steps to reduce risk.

3 – Direct marketing expert Dan Kennedy has a saying: “If I wake up at 2 am thinking about you, you’re in trouble.”

What has the customers in your market tossing and turning at night?

Is that different than what costs them sleep in a middle of the road, much less a poor economy? Maybe so, maybe not – but that’s the sort of thing you need to consider when coming up with ideas. If something is keeping your customers awake at night, it would be in your interest to find out and do something about it.

4- What are the top three things that frustrate your customers every single day?

How can you take those things off the table? If you can’t do that for some reason, keep going down the list of frustrations until you can.

Spending even 15 minutes a day putting thought into these questions can pay big dividends.

Want to learn more about Mark or ask him to write about a business, operations or marketing problem? See Mark’s site or contact him at [email protected].