A variety of techniques can be used to identify emerging needs that may have an impact on customers in the future
As b-to-b product managers and portfolio marketers look to better understand customers and their needs, they must recognize that there are needs that customers do not have today that they may have in the future. Addressing these emerging needs provides organizations with an opportunity to be first or early to market and to establish a strong leadership position, which will contribute to future success and growth. In this issue of SiriusPerspectives, we describe recommended techniques for finding emerging needs.
Lead users face needs well before the general market and are motivated to attempt to address them. They are industry pioneers with a history of being early adopters and innovators, often taking pride in breaking new ground and serving as an example for others.
Trendspotting is the identification of trends that could impact needs. Trends are often first identified in other industries and segments and driven by disruptive technologies, impending regulations, demographic shifts or changing behavior.
Customer advisory boards (CABs) are groups that are set up to collect feedback and input on an ongoing basis from a set group of customers.
In every industry, there are thought leaders, industry observers and subject matter experts (SMEs) who are monitoring progress in the market. These individuals may include well-known customers, analysts, independent consultants or others who have a perspective on the industry.
The search for emerging needs doesn’t need to start from scratch. In most cases, there is existing research done by various third parties, including sources such as government agencies, industry trade groups, not-for-profit organizations and market research companies.
Requests for proposals (RFPs) issued by customers include specific criteria they are looking for potential vendors to meet. Although RFPs generally focus on needs that customers currently have, they often include known or suspected future needs.
Established needs are comparatively easy to identify and validate, as there is evidence of their existence. Emerging needs, on the other hand, carry some level of uncertainty and thus some level of risk. Product managers and marketers can mitigate this risk by employing a few basic guidelines. First, use a combination of the sources and approaches described in this brief to identify and gather evidence to support emerging needs. Second, be conscious of the time horizon for needs – the farther into the future one looks, the more speculative the projection becomes and the greater the risk. Third, be objective; it’s easy to get caught up in what may seem like an exciting future need and seek only to validate it, just as it’s easy to be skeptical about a future need that may seem far-fetched and reject evidence that supports its emergence.