To Develop Innovative Products, Update Your Situational Awareness. Here’s How.
Product and organizational leaders can always rely on a dynamic business, tech, and regulatory market to challenge product innovation. So prepare to engage early with a process that provides unique insight into your business environment. How do you keep up on market timing and relevance? How do you spot a market shift with your customers? And how do you better align your organization and products with your market?
Developing B2B technology products fit-for-market and which customers will see as valuable is a process. And one ideally driven by applying a strategic approach to acquiring an essential situational awareness. On a battlefield, situation awareness, or situational awareness, is commonly referenced for knowing the environment in which you operate. In a business setting, I apply it to mean knowing your market, customer, and organizational environment.
While the term has also been used to explore other areas, like operations and crisis management, it is an approach I find potentially helpful to companies developing B2B technology products and services, as well as to organizations implementing such solutions to better serve their customers.
The following perspective is based on years of hard-won experience and observations from various roles in the business and technology arena having led development in Internet service infrastructure, supported sales, and presented business proposals to senior management; as well as having been a startup founder, professor of business and IT, radio frequency (RF) content developer and trainer; and presently in management consulting focused on product strategy and transformation in the data-connected cargo space.
I’ve learned that since individual business functions tend to be interconnected, where a fluctuation in one area can affect activity in another, engaging with a strategic process early to raise your situational awareness can be invaluable to innovation-minded product and organizational leaders. While the following illustrate some thoughts for consideration, they are not however meant as a directive. I strongly prefer trying to help others by presenting analysis and context that help them chart their own direction.
Tune Into Your Market. A major part of having an innovation-focused mindset is that not only do you remain closely in sync with your market, but also that you revisit ideas and projects for timing and relevance. Likewise, organizational flexibility, as a market response strategy, can also be helpful particularly when operating in a dynamic business, technology, and regulatory environment.
For example, an area widely covered over the past several years is a market challenge IoT manufacturers have faced on whether to develop pure-play (hardware) products, where they risk becoming a commodity or build products focused on delivering specific services tailored to a specific market. This area has also been a hallmark of the related hardware-as-a-service (HaaS) conversation. Pairing current market knowledge with what you can accept on flexibility can be influential on both an organizational and product level.
Be Curious. Practice tinkering on both a business and technical level as a routine. Gather ideas, challenge their assumptions, and look for key trends. Likewise, practice testing technical processes and functions for useful application. While “value” may not readily surface under this exercise, the point of having worked through some process on this level can serve you well when its opportunity arrives.
Perform a Product Stress Test. Conduct an internal assessment on your existing products relative to their technical capabilities and market applications. Doing so can shed potentially valuable insight on areas requiring attention as product design scalability, operational efficiency, and application limitations given your view of current market direction.
Develop in-house talent. Create an appropriate training strategy for management and technical teams to develop and maintain onboard expertise. At varying times, management needs to communicate with customers and vendors on product performance issues. And technical teams need the required skillsets to develop products and keep up in their field. As well, both should be able to comfortably convey ideas and feedback to one another and to key stakeholders.
Poll Your Customers. Use the relationship that you’ve built to call up customers and ask “how are things”? Ask about how your current product is working for them. Is the price right? Is the service right? Listen for any new features requests, ask how they will be applied, and in what markets will they need to operate? Evaluate requests for reasonableness in technical and cost expectations. Importantly, knowing the market ahead of the call can help you better filter the feedback, including whether any feature or product request is a one-off or, more broadly, signal a greater market shift.
Embrace A Sense of Purpose. Connecting more closely with the end application of your customers can help inspire a positive do-good company culture, and better align product strategy with the customer environment. In some cases, doing so may also lead to uncovering potential new market opportunities. Take, for instance, the food cold chain infrastructure challenges in emerging markets. Research analysis I’ve conducted on this conversation shows that over 40% food loss that occurs in the post-harvest and processing segments, forward-looking companies (in IoT and logistics arenas) interested in creating innovative partnerships in these markets can potentially expand market presence while also serving to reduce the food loss.
Time spent on updating your situational awareness can play an important role towards developing innovative products fit-for-market. The key is to start somewhere: get up to speed on current market trends, and connect with your sales teams on their overall customer interaction experience. They’re on the front lines of communicating with your customers. Assistance on these and other processes should be readily available in-house; if not, retain a professional.
Sal Yazbeck is a technology strategist advising companies on product innovation and transformation in the data-connected cargo space. He also works individually with business leaders who prefer to receive personalized trusted remote advisory access on days and at times of their choosing. He has worked across several industries, and has taught at both university schools of business and technology. Connect with him on LinkedIn.