Posted by: DrAlanRae | May 23, 2012

New product development – a business cinderella

Whenever you go to anything to do with business education you always find reams of stuff on planning, marketing, accounting and HR.

But you never seem to see much about the product itself.

Last time I went for a job (1996) I was applying for a post as development manager in a Quango (which I incidentally got) so I popped into Foyle’s to see if I could find a book on New Product Development – after all you have to be able to talk about it right – even if you’ve been doing it all your life 😉

Anyway I found 3 books out of a whole wall of how to do business stuff and only one of those was semi useful. So there seems to me to be a bit of a gap here.

I know from my own research work that one of the largest gaps in the small business armoury is how to do meaningful research so I thought I might share a few pointers with you,
I’ve come to the view that the first thing you need for a business is something that people want to buy – in large enough numbers for you to make enough money to be there for the next iteration.

Why do I say Iteration? Because in today’s world people will copy you or the market moves on or a whole raft of new stuff comes along. And because as markets mature there’s less money around. If you need to earn enough money to support your team, you have to be working in a sweet spot where you can generate enough cash to stay in business. That means developing the business. You’ll really find it hard to stand still in today’s business environment.

It helps if your product is rare, not easily copied or imperfectly mobile. That means it can’t be made in China. Fresh Spinach and Salad leaves are a great example.

However you will find (or at least this has been true in any business I’ve been involved in) that the market doesn’t want what you want to sell to it. This means that if you spend months doing detailed, costed plans of how exactly it’s all going to work you’re wasting your time.

This doesn’t mean to say you should do no planning. You should have done enough sums to make sure that you can produce what you think you want to sell profitably and you should have done a competition analysis to know that there is a gap in the market you can fill. Whether there is a market in the gap or not is what we are going to find out next.

But you should still have talked to potential customers, established what they might want to buy, and be prepared to deliver it reliably without going bust in the process.

This is where the fun starts. Because the truth is that what the market wants to buy is probably SOME of what had in mind mixed up with a lot of other stuff that you haven’t thought of yet and which you will discover through the tango with the market that you are about to embark on.

What you need is a way of presenting possibilities quickly to potential customers and be able to adapt quickly to the feedback you get. This can be face to face – or online.

My introduction to selling and market research came last time we were getting it together in the country back in the 1970s. While looking for a job I bought a knitting machine and started making jumpers, dresses and waistcoats. Market research then consisted of bopping into a suitably funky shop with my suitcase and saying approximately “hey missus what do you think of these?” Some were ok as they were – some designs needed developing based on what the customers said and were closed with the immortal line ” will you take 6 if I make them like that”

After a few rounds of that we had a product line which morphed from me doing it to out-knitters doing it to mail ordering the patterns. It never made much money but I’ve used the principles since in products that have ranged from Dock Tractors to Software to Business Support Services to Spinach Pate and Marmalade.

Of course I’ve purposefully made it full of casualness and fun for this article – really you need to be a bit more strategic than this so I’ll tell you a bit more about research and new product development in the next instalment.

In the mean time here’s an extract from my new Business Basics Video series which covers the New Product Development area

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