No matter what business you think you’re in, you’re in the tool business. Your customers are not buying the set of features you offer. They’re buying tools that (they hope) will solve their problems and produce their desired results.
Often a gap exists between the results you believe your tools are capable of producing and the results your customer produces with your tools. The size of the gap varies.
It’s even possible that your customers are using your tools in ways you didn’t intend or imagine. And they’re not using some of your tool’s features that you imagined they would.
Too many products and services—tools—contain features that are useless to the job customers are buying your tools for. No matter how well designed those features are, they are a waste of effort. Useless features only serve to create product bloat and feature creep without adding any actual value.
“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” – Peter Drucker
Forget about the features you offer. What tangible results do your tools produce that your customers consider being of a higher relative worth, utility, or importance than their next-best-alternative? Think in terms of critical business measures such as productivity, operational efficiency, profitability, costs and time-to-market. That is the value you add.
In order to be of value, you can’t innovate in isolation. You have to see your tools in action and look to your customers for ideas.
In his study entitled, Lead Users: A Source of Novel Product Concepts, MIT professor Eric von Hippel coined the term Lead Users for customers whose present needs foreshadow general market demand by months or years. Lead Users modify existing tools in order to solve a problem, transform existing tools into new items that serve specific needs, or use existing tools in novel ways. Your Lead Users are a great source of effective innovative ideas.
So, instead of focusing on the tools, focus on the help you need to supply to your Lead Users in the use of your tools to produce their desired result. Then incorporate what you learn into new products for your broader market.
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