Volume 12, 
June, 2014


Are You Lying to Yourself About Your VOC Program?
Eight excuses companies make for not exploring customer needs up front


Sheila Mello

Research into the psychology of excuses hypothesizes that one reason individuals rationalize behavior is to make themselves feel okay. Explaining away the dissonance between who you think you are and how you act is easier than changing your actions.

In short, people lie to themselves to feel better.

Sometimes companies do the same. I’ve observed many companies that consider themselves innovators spending endless energy justifying why they don’t invest in the front end of product development.

Here are eight of the most common excuses I hear when I ask why companies don’t have a robust, cross-functional process for investigating customer needs before beginning development.

  1. We should already understand our customers’ needs. If we don’t know this basic information about our market, we don’t deserve to be in this business.
  2. Production cycles are too short. We don’t have time to research customer needs.
  3. We already have a big sales system with plenty of feedback; that tells us everything we need to know about what customer are looking for.
  4. We have way more data than we can deal with about our customers. We’re overwhelmed. 
  5. We’re pursuing a new market area. We don’t even know who the customers are, let alone how to reach them. It’s okay to just rely on secondary research.
  6. We don’t have a budget for this kind of program.
  7. We’re short on resources. We’d like to get engineering involved early on, but they’re not allocated until later in the process.
  8. Our product is technology-driven. It doesn’t make sense for marketing to be involved up front.

And here’s what I say in response:

  1. Best-in-class companies always seek more knowledge about their customers. Asking questions doesn’t signify an inadequacy.
  2. Production cycles are short. You don’t have time for re-working products near launch—or worse, after launch—because they miss the mark.
  3. Your sales system can give you great data about sales. It tells you what you need to do to meet your competition. It can’t give you insights into the challenges that will result in truly innovative solutions
  4. If you’re overwhelmed, a systematic approach to collecting and analyzing data about customer needs will reduce, rather than add to, your feeling of being inundated.
  5. Secondary research can be a great adjunct to talking with customers. In a new market space, it’s more important than ever to find and interview potential customers; secondary data alone will never give you the deep insights to be truly innovative and yes, you might need to get help in identifying potential customers to interview.
  6. Can you afford not to investigate the environment in which your customers operate?  The best way to waste R&D spending is not to have a clear target or even worse to have no target.
  7. Understanding customer needs gives engineers a powerful development tool: The ability to make decisions and tradeoffs based on actual customer data, not guesses or feelings. 
  8. If marketing is not involved up front, you could end up with a way-cool product that nobody needs.

Self-delusion is never a sound strategy. If you don’t have a front-end process in place for exploring customer needs, take an honest look at why.

Did I leave out any excuses? Head over to PDC's LinkedIn page and let me know or comment below.

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