More about faster horses and customers and voices

Following on from my last two posts on the subject, I’ve continued to give the subject some considerable thought; a longer post will follow in a few days times.

But in the meantime.

I was at dinner with my namesake MR Rangaswami (at a wonderful restaurant called Coi), and the subject of customer-driven innovation came up. MR reminded me of something Peter Drucker had said to him, which went along the lines of:

When you’re listening to your customers, remember to listen to the customers you don’t have, not just the ones you have. There are a lot more of them.

Listen to the customers you don’t have. I think that a lot of the focus of open innovation is about providing those customers a voice; that the tools of open innovation give them the ability to articulate what it would take to make them customers of yours; that the potential of open innovation is to attract and retain those customers.

Something to ponder about.

[Incidentally, today would have been Peter Drucker’s 99th birthday.]

7 thoughts on “More about faster horses and customers and voices”

  1. Good point. I’d add that truly listening to customers, not-yet-customers, and non-customers often call for “listening though” them as well, especially to the extent that they are ill adept at understanding or articulating their needs and wishes or the markets in which they in operate. Attuning one’s own organization to “listening to and through” involves the right processes (and the flexibility to ensure that they remain responsible to what one hears) but it also requires the right organization. As you often point out in your posts, there are individual correlates for organizational behaviour. At the individual level, listening calls for staff mature enough to listen before speaking and priding listening and (Socratic) dialogue over hold forth or being right.

  2. JP … A follow-up comment. On the sidelines of the debate and progress around Doc Searls’s VRM, I have been wrestling with ways of “embedding” a VRM-like mentality within organizations so as to enable them to better articulate the universes in which they function, determine strategy accordingly, and build listening and responsiveness into the organization and its processes. More on this in a blog post sometime … SL

  3. Great point Stephen. – I came here planning to leave a comment saying that customers often don’t know what they want and whilst listening to them is obviously very important, in areas of deep innovation your actions should often be guided more by your vision of where the world is going than what your customers say to you – only to find you have said the same thing already, and more eloquently.

  4. Thanks Nic. I’m glad to read that I am not alone in thinking this way. About 25 years ago, I wrote a manual for international audit proposals for KMG, one of the precursors to KPMG. Central to the approach I advanced was to think beyond RFPs, i.e. to investigate in advance the universe in which potential clients operate and work with them to articulate their goals and needs. An offshoot was that this would also prepare one to spot, anticipate, and “cold call” clients outside of one’s present reach and develop products and services accordingly.

  5. JP – great point, this insight is the basis of ‘Blue Ocean’ strategy which was one of the more interesting ideas I took away from business school. With respect to the customers you don’t have, there are the ones that your competitors have, and the ones that don’t even know yet that they could be your customers (non-users). Blue Ocean focuses on the later, but this is where real challenges exist in how organizations can learn from these non-users and where your post suggests some new tools that can help bridge this information gap.

  6. I’d read the Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne stuff while still in article form, and, like you, loved the Blue Ocean concepts.

  7. I have been catching up on your “faster horses” series with interest. I think if you include “appreciative inquiry” and ethnographic method approaches in addition to simple surveys that you are on to a marekting / product planning model that’s not as well appreciated as it should be. Steve Blank has famously characterized it as “there are no facts in the building, only opinions” to encourage entrepreneurs to actually talk to prospects and non-customers. I blogged about non-customers about a month ago in “Non-Customers Are Where Important Changes Often Start.”

Let me know what you think