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Even in times of a slowing economy, new product development must continue if your company expects to remain competitive in the tougher market. But as this part of most businesses comes at a high cost, it is essential to evaluate and fix any issues with product development. Author Dan Adams, president of Advanced Industrial Marketing Inc.

Amie Chitwood

November 18, 2008

4 Min Read
New product blueprinting offers B2B survival tips in a struggling economy

Even in times of a slowing economy, new product development must continue if your company expects to remain competitive in the tougher market. But as this part of most businesses comes at a high cost, it is essential to evaluate and fix any issues with product development. Author Dan Adams, president of Advanced Industrial Marketing Inc. (Cuyahoga Falls, OH; advindmktg.com) offers some helpful suggestions in his book New Product Blueprinting: The Handbook for B2B Organic Growth. “If you play your cards right, you can reduce your pain during this downturn and come out stronger,” says Adams. He recommends the following three steps to help increase your company’s survival in an uncertain economy.

Strategy #1: Cut the waste. According to Adams, the average company spends about half its research and development funds on new products that fall flat, so a critical evaluation of new product development projects is crucial. Projects destined to be duds should be shut down so R&D employees can work on projects more likely to be successful. Since it is often difficult to see what will fail and what will succeed, Adams recommends that instead of deciding among colleagues what works, you should instead ask customers what they want you to work on. Start by asking customers to list what outcomes they want, and then have them rate the importance and current satisfaction levels for each outcome. When you combine the results from several customers in a market, you can develop a market satisfaction gap for each outcome. A high gap indicates customers dissatisfied with an important outcome, and that should be where your efforts are focused.

Strategy #2: Use best practices of other companies. Learning what works for other organizations in regards to sales management, marketing communications, and pricing can help increase your effectiveness with customers. Adams suggests looking at the benchmarks from the American Productivity & Quality Center (APQC; www.apqc.org) instead of waiting for results from a newly formed company benchmark team. B2B providers also have a great resource in the Institute for the Study of Business Markets (ISBM; www.smeal.psu.edu/isbm) based at Penn State’s Smeal College of Business. There is a wealth of “inside information” from its members, including more than 100 leading researchers and 70 top B2B firms. Adams says you might be surprised by how much “inside information” these thought leaders are willing to share. “These firms know that companies that simply hoard their secrets fall behind those that continually share and adapt,” Adams points out. “As Ralph Oliva, executive director of ISBM, puts it, ‘It’s really about how you implement new tools. Tiger Woods wouldn’t be worried if I used the same golf clubs as he did.’“

Strategy #3: Ask customers what they want. Adams believes that customers need to be asked what they want before the product is developed so that they can develop the product not only to meet their customer’s needs, but also to engage her so she’ll be primed to buy. Since products take a long time to develop, it might seem like you won’t see short-term results with this strategy, but by focusing on the long-term goals, Adams’ experiences show that customers have been impressed enough to give you more business.

“Imagine you are the customer,” says Adams. “The last 10 suppliers have tried to sell you something they already have, and here comes a supplier that listens to you to understand your needs. Who would you want to work with?” He gives an example of a marketing manager in Europe who had been trying to start one new product project with a customer for years, and after the first New Product Blueprinting customer interview, he left the customer with six projects in hand. Your competitors might be shifting the focus from long-term prospects to short-term survival in a down economy, and you can step in and show them that you are a supplier who cares.

In addition to his book, Adams offers video modules with other helpful tips at newproductblueprinting.com. “People still need products—not just any products but the right products—and someone needs to provide them. No reason it can’t be you. But you need to get started making changes right away,” says Adams. “Have you noticed that none of these three tips asks for near-term/long-term trade-off? In every case—reducing R&D waste, adapting new best practices, and engaging customers—you will reduce your short-term pain during the downturn and increase your long-term gain afterwards. So regardless of the tide, keep your swimsuit on and enjoy your swim.”

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