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The best source for innovative ideas

What is the secret of having a successful product? And who should come up with innovative ideas?

I have been involved in the design of many products; some of them designed by me, others as a team effort, whereas many others as part of the review process. In my experience, most products designed purely by research and development (R&D) teams composed entirely of scientific personnel fail to deliver the expected profitability.

I recall a specific product developed at the expense of more than a million euros across a span of several euros, only to realize that the specific company had absolutely no knowledge how to market it. At the end, it was the sales force that rejected the product, and not the customers. And here lies the secret of having a successful product.

I recall one of the sales people who were working closely with me in one of my customers. Almost every month, he would come up with some customer’s problem and would ask if I could help out. Surely enough, in most cases there was nothing to be done, but now and then, we managed to think of a custom product to address the specific problem. At the end, out of a dozen such efforts, about half products became big sellers as they resonated with both sales force and customers. I happen to know that these products are still good sellers.

So, here’s my answer on who should come up with innovative ideas: your customers! Have the sales force asking them what problems they face daily. Then have the sales force talk to R&D on what is reasonable to sell to resolve the problem — and at what price. And finally, have those bright people at R&D do what they know to do best: come up with ideas on how to create a product that has already been sold.

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