The customer is king – we all know this principle. It’s nothing new. And we don’t want to contradict it in any way. When we talk about customers, we naturally assume that you are active in a company or organization. If you don’t work for any company or organization, then just imagine that you work for companies or for an organization that you know.
However, a very simple – almost trivial – arithmetic exercise shows that the group of people, organizations or companies that are not currently your customers is probably larger than the group you may already call your customers.
You can learn and be inspired from this group of non-customers. Maybe these non-customers are prevented from buying your products by certain barriers. Maybe these non-customers don’t need your products because they have other means to solve the problems your product solves. Or because these non-customers do not value the benefits that your product – by which we mean goods and services – provides. By knowing the obstacles and barriers of your non-customers, you can derive innovation opportunities.
These innovation opportunities will not only help you increase the satisfaction of your current customers, but also turn a – perhaps small – part of the large amount of non-customers into customers. So be open not only to the problems of your customers, but also to the problems of those who are not your customers yet.
Ask yourself the following questions to identify new innovation opportunities:
Which people, companies, organizations are not your customers yet?
What are the obstacles and barriers that keep them out?
Beyond the existing market
Schumpeter’s (1912) definition of innovation also states that the development of new markets can certainly be seen as innovation. What at first appears to be only a manifestation of a broader marketing strategy in the geographical sense turns out to be an innovation because only in the rarest cases can existing technologies, business models or products be introduced to geographically new markets without any modification. Generally, even existing product concepts have to be modified to meet local, regional or national requirements.
It is not necessary to assume that this is exclusively a matter of fulfilling regulatory requirements such as environmental protection requirements. Rather, changes are also induced by different customer requirements. In the case of adapting goods and services to national requirements, this is then more likely to be in the activity scope of development – as opposed to research. Here, systematic innovation management – in a broadly defined form – is called into duty when it comes to overcoming boundaries with existing products and opening up new markets (Gassmann and von Zedwitz 1999).
Innovation management is of essential importance when existing knowledge, ideas and products are to be transferred to new markets or new markets are to be developed and generated with existing know-how in the first place. This is not about opening up new geographic markets with regionally adapted products, but about transferring existing knowledge into completely new areas.
Overcoming the common limits of the application of existing know-how results in profound changes within existing companies. Even successful innovation processes have to be adapted to the new application of existing technologies and existing competences.
Beyond the existing customer base
Above, we assumed that the integration of customers into the innovation process generates beneficial effects on innovation success. We have implicitly assumed that the integration of customers into the innovation process helps us to better understand the needs of customers. Whereby ‘understanding’ is the key word here. Companies have to go to considerable efforts to understand their customers and non-customers.
In the past decade, methods have been established that help you understand your customers or even your non-customers. One really interesting set of tools is ‘Design Thinking’, which encourages you to approach customer needs and their solutions with a designer’s eye and approach.
Introduction to Design Thinking
Design Thinking Airbnb
If you think that Design Thinking is only for companies that produce goods, then check out Marc Stickdorn’s post. If you had the assumption that ‘Design Thinking’ is also interesting for service companies, then you should also take a look at this post. You will be confirmed in your assumption.
The decisive factor is always that your innovation has a specific use for your customers, in other words that the innovation addresses a problem that you solve for your customers with the innovation. You can examine every idea you have with this simple question: What problem does the innovation solve?