Designer. Disruptor. Startup Mentor. Digital Innovator.

Innovation Can Begin with Your Unsatisfied Customers

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I once worked at a company where we made closed loop motion control devices – very complex components used in machinery that controlled the motion of manufacturing equipment down to the nanometer. A typical customer would be hard drive manufacturers that need to create tracks in hard drives in order for the hard drives to store information. When I first joined, the motion control devices we made were able to create 10,000 tracks per inch. Only one of our competitors were close.

During an annual offsite, the team created a three-way product development roadmap system between Sales, Marketing, and R&D. Sales would forward to Marketing any emails citing potential customers’ reasons for not purchasing our products (needed a smaller size product, needed a linear version when we only offered a rotary version, more feedback options, price, etc.), as well as complaints from current clients on why they were dissatisfied with the existing line. They also created a spreadsheet where they added the same data from phone calls they received.

This was shared with Marketing, who gathered all the data and created monthly reports which were shared with Sales, R&D, and upper management. Each quarter, all three teams met to review the reports and the roadmap. We would re-prioritize certain requirements. We would schedule new features to the software. This enabled the Sales team to know when new features were coming out and match them up with those clients and prospects who were looking for those features early – critical when manufacturing is engineering new machinery for new products they will be producing. These meetings were critical to ensuring we were developing products clients needed in their future as well as today.

This also enabled the Sales team to act as a partner instead of as just a vendor. For example, if a printer company was planning on making a portable printer that would be used in your car, the manufacturer doesn’t recreate the wheel. They will use components from vendors to design and assemble machinery to produce these new printers. The sales lifecycle is long, and depending on the industry, may require regulatory approvals, etc. If components are already approved, it helps them move more quickly. By gathering this data, and proactively planning, we could act as enablers and make it much harder for them to convert to a competitor at a later stage.

At the time, our only major competitor was a very large hundred year-old company who had barely changed their offering since the ’60’s. We were taking market share away from them industry by industry. R&D created something entirely new based on our three-way product development roadmap system – a series of products our competition would never be able to manufacture – motion control systems that could handle 100,000 tracks per inch.

MicroE Systems Full Page Advertising Launching Motion Control Systems Handling Up to 100,000 Tracker Per Inch -Ten Times What the Competition Could Offer, Essentially Cornering the Hard Drive Manufacturing Market | ibuildcompanies.com by Jeanne Heydecker

We started with the electronics market, then cornered the medical devices market, avionics and other critical industries where exact motion was critical.

We went further, based on this prospect/customer feedback data, and challenged R&D to do something about the size of the product line. While we had created something that changed many manufacturing sectors, there was more to do.

We developed an industry leading product line that was no bigger than 1/4″ square, literally unheard of and considered impossible. This got us noticed by GSI Group, who purchased the company for USD $54MM. They then merged with Celera Motion to become part of a much larger organization.

Innovation can come from anywhere and expensive focus groups and independent marketing consulting firms may not be necessary if you leverage what you probably already have: prospects that never became customers and customers who are not happy with your existing offering. See it as a challenge. It wasn’t hard to set up. It didn’t cost a fortune. It simply required documentation, communication, and empowerment of teams to work together to build innovation into their daily work.

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