Product development is an important entryway into new markets and new opportunities. From R&D to product launch to portfolio management, a lot of planning and collaboration goes into making new products and technologies successful.
The companies we work with in medical device, optics and photonics, advanced manufacturing and other high tech markets tell us:
- “Our engineers are pulled in all directions.” — R&D resources are limited.
- “We don’t know what we don’t know.” — Companies lack new market intel and customer insight.
- “It’s the chicken and the egg.” — Pacing of product launch and product development is unclear. Many feel they need a prototype to take to customers, but they need a customer base to develop a product.
Here are answers to some of the most common questions our advanced manufacturing and high tech clients ask:
1. What role does product development play in customer acquisition and retention?
New product development should be part of a deliberate strategy to innovate and experiment in new markets. It should be budgeted for and planned for—not happenstance.
Your R&D strategy is important for both attracting and retaining customers. New product development improves public perception of your business as well as loyalty of existing customers. It also improves your self-perception, allowing the company to attract and retain talent.
2. What timing is appropriate for new product development and launch?
This is always a critical question. The schedule for each particular product launch will depend on several factors, including:
- your current presence in a market or technology
- how much of a departure your new product is from other product lines
- delivery timelines once you begin taking orders
As a guideline, we suggest that your team:
- Talk ideas 2-3 years out. Share concepts and innovations with current customers to test for promise.
- Talk applications 18 months out. Engage in pilot tests with key players in new markets, conduct focus groups, interviews or surveys. Tour user environments and watch their work, understand their pain points. Engage in social media, PR, and marketing, discussing the challenges you find and technologies that have potential to address them. Position yourself as a thought leader in the technology.
- Talk products 6-9 months out. Determine product features, pricing, channel strategy, naming and branding, product families. Issue product announcements with an anticipated availability date in line with your sales cycles.
3. How can a services company transition to a product company?
We work with a lot of custom manufacturers and engineering services companies, and the move from services to products is a common strategy. However, many companies struggle with the process at first. Often productizing is not given priority because cash is king, and service work drives short-term revenue.
Some of the most successful transitions we’ve worked on have used strategies such as:
- Collaborative innovation. Partnering with a customer or another company can improve speed and accountability.
- Structural separation. Create a skunkworks operation within the company. Physical and structural removal from the rest of the team will ensure that employees’ time and energy are spent on the right tasks.
- Defining a budget and quantifying results. Treat the internal R&D effort just like a client project—hold the team accountable to deliverables and deadlines.
- Rewarding both “go” and “no go.” Failing early is desirable if the demand isn’t there or the potential product does not fit company objectives. Make sure you set decision gates for key decisions, but reward for speed and quality, not the outcome itself.
- KPI tracking. Set specific metrics for the new product or technology. These could include: social media engagement, attendees to a technical paper presentation or webinar, traffic to a microsite or landing page, whether or not you meet gating deadlines, etc.
4. How can a company improve alignment between engineering and marketing for better product launch?
There are several opportunities to build collaboration and cohesion between your engineering and marketing teams.
- Your company’s patent strategy should consider market trends, competitive landscape, and design functionality. Working together to set the strategy will improve not only alignment but also a competitive advantage and company value.
- Product or market positioning is the intersection of your technology’s capabilities and customers’ needs. Agreement on this “sweet spot” will improve decision quality in product development tradeoffs over time. Learn more about positioning.
- Content or inbound marketing. Content brainstorm and abstract writing are two specific activities that can help create common ground between engineering and marketing. Inbound marketing offers both teams a clear and measurable role in sales.
- Innovation forums, product previews, R&D showcases. Informal events that engage your customers in the direction of new product development and emerging applications are excellent opportunities to collaborate. Try Google Hangouts or Facebook Live video for the kind of casual, informal experience you’re looking to create.
Download our checklist for step-by-step marketing and product launch tips.