Why I hate it when people say “let’s ask our clients”

Yesterday I was pitching a totally innovative never-been-done-before six-figure customer support, training, and marketing initiative for a multi-ten-figure product line with extremely high gross margin to the board of an industry-leading company when someone piped up and said the same thing every scared decision-phobic exec always says when presented with a new idea:

Maybe we should do a focus group or something – ask our customers if this is something they would like.

So I was happy to see James Dyson’s quote at the Independent:

“You can’t go out and do market research to try to solve these problems about what to do next because usually, or very often, you’re doing the opposite of what market research would tell you. You can’t base a new project two years ahead on current market trends and what users are thinking at the moment. That sounds very arrogant. But it isn’t arrogance. You can’t go and ask your customers to be your inventors. That’s your job.”

Bloody right.

There’s a time and a place for listening to clients … but usually it’s not when you’re inventing some new product or service. People want what they know. They literally can’t want what they don’t know.

Innovation often comes from the edges – and sometimes that’s clients – but unless you’re incredibly smart at reading between the lines, focus groups usually tell you what you already know.

(In case you’re wondering, we’re reconvening next week to get to yes – or no.)

[tags] dyson, innovation, business, strategy, john koetsier [/tags]


Want weekly updates? Of course you do …



7 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I agree 100%. Usually, “Let’s ask our clients” means “we’re not sure we trust you with a decision like this but if people line up at the door with checks filled out, we may let you move forward with it.”

    Does it fix the problem? Yes/No – this should make the decision to do it or not.

    How will it work? Client feedback welcome!

  • I disagree 100%. You definitely have an idea on what direction you want to do, and I’m sure its quite innovative. But you’re not asking your customers to be inventors of your work, just interpretors to the process. If you learn insight that the customer doesn’t think its going to be useful, then the value proposition of introducing the service is going to take longer to interact and become part of customer’s process. You even might get a negative feedback because you’re not prepared for the initial rebuttals.

    That’s why you need to ‘test’ the concept, because its market knowledge. Focus groups are not there for making strategy or verifying it, but only there to confirm ‘hunches’.

    If possible, focus group info need to be done in a blind setting, where your service isn’t known to the customer. That improves the honesty for the focus group in help you ‘test’ the concept.

  • Devin,

    I can possibly agree with you … if you test as smartly as Clotaire Rapaille.

    As he says when asked the question: What’s wrong with traditional market research?

    They are too cortex, which means that they think too much, and then they ask people to think and to tell them what they think. Now, my experience is that most of the time, people have no idea why they’re doing what they’re doing. They have no idea, so they’re going to try to make up something that makes sense. Why do you need a Hummer to go shopping? “Well, you see, because in case there is a snowstorm.” No. Why [do] you buy four wheel drive? “Well, you know, in case I need to go off-road.” Well, you live in Manhattan; why do you need four wheel drive in Manhattan? “Well, you know, sometime[s] I go out, and I go — ” You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand that this is disconnected. This is nothing to do with what the real reason is for people to do what they do. So there are many limits in traditional market research.

    Now, if you’re smart enough to decode all that, awesome. You can do focus groups and actually benefit from them. But if you’re not, you’ll get Detroit, which thought over the past decade that all people wanted was more of what they had … and now, of course, is struggling to survive.

    And I still think there’s scenarios when you invent/innovate something new that people won’t have a clue whether the want/need it or not … until they see the early adopters and discover an immense and overwhelming need for something they didn’t know existed 10 minutes ago.

  • You’re right, decoding all that crap from the good stuff is difficult. Its not that we have knowledge, its that 90% of it is crap and there’s gold in there. Traditional market research sometimes gets too boiled down as the ‘right’ thing, when it just verifies it.

    Case in point: I was running a focus group for a very expensive product. Everyone said it was $$ as hell, but they also said if it was cheaper or available in bundles, they might buy more. Actual price testing of reducing the price didn’t work… but then through looking at price elasticity, we raised the price so it was even more expensive, and we made more–

    Oh, and the flip-coin is right too: throw stuff out there, and see what works. I’ve done some crazy marketing ideas in conservative markets, some has worked, some didn’t. You’ve got to try–

  • I once read about Sony’s CEO that he gave a green light to the Walkman™ on a hunch. He said himself that if they had used a focus group to decide on whether they should develop this (later iconic) device, the users wouldn’t have understood it.

    When the iPod first came, lot of commentators were laughing at the idea of a marginalized computer manufacturer making a music device.

    Focus groups can be helpful, but not as a deciding factor.