Making products that sell themselves.

Author:Adams, Dan
Position::Business & Finance

WE business-to-business types have a choice: we can remain paralyzed, fearful of what outside forces might do next, or we can forge ahead boldly and grab our competitors' share of the marketplace. Of course, we all know that, in theory, life rewards action, but here is the rub: it rewards only intelligent, well-researched action that results in positive customer outcomes, and that kind of action has little to do with creating corporate ego-fueled products or with panic-stricken attempts to put something--anything--out in the marketplace and hope it strikes a chord.

Innovation is not about flinging products willy-nilly against the wall to see what sticks, nor is it about building a product you and your employees love and waiting for the adoring masses to arrive. "If you build it, they will come" may have worked for Steve Jobs, but it is not likely to work for you. More to the point, you cannot afford to waste your time, energy, and money on hopeful guessing. B2B suppliers first must understand market needs and then develop solutions to meet them:

Get employees excited about the future. What do your employees think your company's purpose is? You might assume, as many leaders do, that it is "maximizing shareholder value." Maybe so, but does that dry phrase sound like something that will get employees revved up? To get full engagement from employees, you need to teach them a new mantra: "The goal of our business is to understand and meet the needs of our customers."

Suppliers' employees can get very excited about their future when they see how they can impact it directly and, of all the ways they can impact it, there probably is nothing more exciting for them than innovating in a way that makes the customer happy and, in turn, causing the supplier to grow in a profitable fashion.

When the Venn diagram circles of "Happy Customer" and "Happy Boss" come together, everyone is happy, and the best way to make B2B customers happy is to deliver significant, measurable economic value to them.

Master the art of competitor benchmarking. All suppliers say they want to deliver value to their customers, but no customer will pay more for a product that matches existing value, only for one that exceeds it. What you really need to do is deliver value beyond the customer's next best alternative. That means making sure you quantitatively understand that next best alternative. If you do not, then how can you design and price your product and know whether it is...

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