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Power to the people
With raising expectations and louder voices inside businesses, today it’s people who are calling the shots. Embracing these real end-users…
With raising expectations and louder voices inside businesses, today it’s people who are calling the shots. Embracing these real end-users is the key to successful innovation for B2B product owners.
by Karen Waldron, Director of Product Development, LexisNexis
My relationship with customers was much simpler 20 years ago. In our business of legal professional publishing, our processes and transactions were very straightforward. We’d talk to experts who would tell us what information lawyers needed. Over time we would collect these sources together and put them online. We would then deal with the ‘buyer’ in the customer firm — usually a Librarian — explain the benefits of this information and negotiate how much they would buy on behalf of their firm.
In some cases, the only time we interacted with a lawyer — our users — was when they were telling us about the book they wanted to write. We were experts on our content and how to produce it, and not at all expert in how or in what context a lawyer would consume that information.
Today, this looks very different. The last 10–15 years have seen a seismic shift in the relationships B2B organisations like mine have with their customers. Along with bringing new challenges, it’s also brought much more opportunity for innovation. Central to the transformation has been the rise of the power of the end user to dictate the experience they want from their services, and the increasing amount of direct communication between suppliers and those users.
Contact with end users and customer-centric design have become the basis of our product development. That change can be attributed to external factors in our markets — such as the growing need for our customers to be more competitive and the evolution of the role of the ‘buyer’ within firms. Internally, this has also been driven by changes in culture and realising that better customer satisfaction drives better commercial performance.
One of the biggest factors, however, has been the rise of ‘pester power’ coming from the service users themselves. Consumers today have access to a lot more information about what is available to them. With that comes the expectation that accessing systems in their working life is as intuitive, simple and accessible as any consumer online activity.
Demand is created within our customer firms by end users, or by our customers’ customers, and passed on to the buyers. This demand is usually that existing services improve, or demand that others that they have discovered online or via their contacts are acquired instead. This creates the pressure for us as a supplier business to adapt and change in order to continue to succeed. But it also means that we understand those real end users much better, which gives us the brilliant opportunity to make greater strides in innovation.
We now understand those real end users, which gives us the brilliant opportunity to make greater strides in innovation.
Henry Ford is often quoted as saying “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. This can be used as an excuse for ‘innovating’ in closed rooms within the walls of the organisation, and innovation is often described as giving staff opportunities to come up with their own ideas and the ability and space to run with them. ‘If you only give people in your company time to think and dream and create’ goes the theory, ‘you’ll create much better products’. While this is obviously useful, and great for employee engagement, it’s much more important to give your people the time to get out of the office and to go and listen to customers describe exactly what it is they do and how they do it.
While it’s true that the users of services do not always know what they want, they invariably know what they’re trying to do and can describe their experience of trying to do it. The best innovation strategy at least takes as an input knowledge of what a user in the business that you are selling to is actually trying to achieve. It gives context and relevance to the best ideas. Frequent and ongoing validation from end users during the concept process also helps to fail fast or adapt by understanding when an idea isn’t going to help someone achieve a useful outcome.
The better B2B businesses realise that power truly is with the people — the people being those who actually consume their services. Harnessing this knowledge is the key to creating better products.