By Andrea Ruttenberg, Ph.D., Associate Principal & Voice of the Customer Training Instructor
A few years ago, I worked with a company in the learning and development industry. They’d once been an industry leader, the Gold Standard in L&D. But their market share had dropped steadily over the years as competitors developed newer, better L&D products, and there were talks of downsizing, layoffs, and salary cuts. The leadership knew they needed to innovate to turn around the ship, but their most recent product launches had been disappointing. Offerings that were supposed to reinvigorate the company missed the mark – often by quite a lot.
Where did the company go wrong? How could a once-great company have fallen so far? Of course, there are many reasons for a decline. But, as we worked together, it was clear that they had made three critical innovation mistakes.
Mistake #1: Ignoring (Most of) Their Customers
At Applied Marketing Science (AMS), the Cardinal Sin of Innovation is ignoring your customers’ perspectives. If you don’t understand your customers’ wants, needs, and challenges, how can you develop better products and services to address their pain points?
When I brought this up to the L&D company, they agreed wholeheartedly. In fact, they shared that they already had a strong understanding of their customers’ perspectives. They talked to their customers regularly and had a good sense of what they liked and disliked about their products, and what their customers wanted to see next. As we dug deeper, however, it quickly became clear that they had a good understanding of some of their customers. A small slice, really, that included just their top customers -- those who were already happy with the company’s products and services and had good relationships with their sales team.
However, the L&D company was missing many very important perspectives – B-list customers (and C- and D-list customers) and non-customers. Those in the company weren’t thinking broadly enough about their customer base, and how not everyone might share the perspective of those already highly satisfied with their products and services. By ignoring most of their customers, they were missing out on important intel about their own strengths and weaknesses, and where the market was heading next.
Mistake #2: Building Strategy Around Informal Sales Conversations Rather than Systematic Market Research
I spotted the company’s second critical mistake right away. Rather than conducting formal market research interviews, with a well-thought-out sample plan and detailed discussion guide, the company relied on informal conversations between their sales team and current and potential customers. When the salespeople heard something particularly compelling or interesting, they’d share it with their product and marketing teams. They were especially vocal when a potential customer refused to make a purchase unless the company added a particular feature or product change.
Now, I’m certainly not suggesting that your sales team doesn’t have good insight into your customers (particularly into those A-listers I mentioned earlier). But, do not mistake sales calls with market research. Sales calls are focused on convincing customers that your solutions are the best ones for them. VOC market research is focused on gathering all your customers’ problems and pain points (even the ones you don’t have solutions for). It’s about listening and understanding, rather than getting a sale.
Without a comprehensive understanding of all your customers’ unmet needs, you risk building product strategy based on your latest sales leads. VOC helps you think bigger, smarter, and more long-term.
Mistake #3: Listening to your Customers Too Late in the Process
After learning more about their process and sharing my recommendations on how the company could use VOC to improve their innovation process, they were eager to get started. So eager, in fact, that they wanted to start a VOC study on an initiative that had already begun. This was a high-profile product that had already received buy-in from senior leaders. Teams had devoted months to developing a prototype and were quickly headed toward launch. My client wanted to do a VOC project just to make sure they were making the right decisions.
However, this is the wrong time to do VOC. VOC should start early in the process, ideally before you’ve developed any strong opinions or ideas about where to take the product next. The critical question to ask before starting any VOC project is: Will I change course if the findings suggest we’re going in the wrong direction?
If you’re too far into the product development process to pivot, or if key stakeholders will never be convinced to do something different, even if the data suggests you should – it’s best not to waste your time, effort, and money completing a VOC project. Save the resources for another project.
Do any of these mistakes sound familiar? I’ve highlighted problems I found in just one organization, but the truth is they are not at all unique. Many of our clients fall into the same trap.
- How to properly define the Voice of the Customer and learn how it fits into the product/service development process
- Who you need to interview and why it matters
- How to interview your customers to get the best insights possible
- How to analyze customer interviews to discover customer needs
- What to do with your Voice of the Customer information
- How to communicate the voice throughout the organization
Why do people call this the best training they’ve been to in 10 years?
Sign up and find out for yourself!