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Finding Sources of Innovation Inspiration

February 06, 2015 | By Lisa Singer

  • In SiriusDecisions annual survey of product management leaders, 33 percent of respondents noted that focus on innovation is a key challenge
  • Product leaders want to know how to find the "white space" or the unexplored area where an innovation would address unmet or unarticulated needs
  • By considering each of four distinct types of b-to-b investment, brainstorming about possible innovations becomes more manageable

In SiriusDecisions’ annual survey of product management leaders, 33 percent of respondents noted that focus on innovation was a key challenge. This result wasn’t surprising, as our clients often ask about the best way to identify find new buyer needs upon which to build new businesses. They want to know how to find the “white space,” or the unexplored area where an innovation would address unmet or unarticulated needs. For b-to-b organizations, these innovations might improve efficiency or productivity, solve a problem, or create an opportunity where there previously was none.

The daunting aspect is that white space can be everywhere in relation to your current business offering. Therefore, before creating your strategic canvas, first consider where you want to look. Two years ago, SiriusDecisions introduced the Innovation Strategy Framework, a model that identifies four distinct areas of b-to-b investment. Listed by level of risk, low to high, these areas of investment are: current buyers/current market; current market/new buyers; current buyers/new market and new market/new buyers. By considering one possible type of investment at a time, brainstorming about possible innovations becomes more manageable.

If you are focusing innovation on current buyers in your current market, you might want to explore three areas: a new approach to solving the problem(s) you currently solve for this buyer, the identification of unmet needs that you do not currently address, and the identification of buyer needs that are underserved.

Let’s focus on finding unmet needs. One of the best ways to find unmet buyer needs in your current market is to talk to the most progressive users – so-called “leading edge” users. These are not just your early adopters, but the buyers and users who are pushing the product to its limits. They have run the product through its paces and found the shortcomings of the offering that can be identified only after rigorous usage. They may even have developed bolt-on improvements that could be leveraged as commercial business opportunities.

Leading-edge users can be found through your own customer communities or industry-oriented blogs. Sales reps and support team members may also identify leading-edge users, as these users are likely to be vocal about offering shortcomings and volunteer ideas for improvements.

However, only a small group of users will be able to articulate their unmet needs. To find those needs that are not identified, observational research is an excellent approach. This activity helps you understand how buyers and users interact with either your offering or competitive offerings and how processes, decision points and other individuals are involved in the offering area. Observe buyers and users using the product. See if they are employing workarounds or using other offerings to compensate for an omission in your product. Catalog the process by which your offering is used. Is it possible to shorten the process or reduce steps? Trace a day in the life of your offering. Whom does it touch and impact? How do different individuals or functions use the features of the offering?

For innovation inspiration, product managers and leaders need to listen to their buyers and users and truly understand how they live their lives.

Lisa Singer

Lisa Singer is a Senior Research Director of Product Management Strategies at SiriusDecisions. Lisa has more than 20 years of international experience with global marketing and product management, with an emphasis on strategic alliance and business development. Follow Lisa on Twitter @lisagsinger.

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