Customers and innovation: how to deliver the goods AND reduce marketing costs

Ross Maher

Ross Maher is the director of Build21c, an innovation project planning and research company that helps companies innovate. His specialities include project definition and set up, and he believes the best innovation occurs through a conversation with customers, suppliers and other stakeholders. Learn more at

Are customers at the centre or at the end of your business model?

A recent study found that only 7% of companies are ‘customer-centric’ despite nearly 60% having such ambitions.

Customers are critical to innovation, and a genuinely customer-centric business enjoys many benefits, including;

  • customers that are to happy to pay full price
  • high sales conversions
  • low customer loss
  • lower marketing budgets
  • more innovation, more often, with less risk

How does a customer-centric business do this?

Their business doesn’t rely only on sales people to sell or marketing to attract new customers.

One of the biggest challenges for companies wanting to innovate is ensuring a return on investment (ROI), but in my experience, companies suffocate the innovation golden goose by making five sales & marketing mistakes;

  • spending a disproportionate amount of money on marketing to attracting new customers
  • losing money by using discounting to create customer loyalty and repeat business
  • having the sales conversation as the primary (and often, only) personal engagement between the customer and the business
  • relying on impersonal communication such as focus groups, feedback surveys and social media for all other engagement with the customer
  • expecting sales and marketing people to translate information – intelligence – to the product development team

The result of this is

  • marketing that promotes existing products in a static way
  • sales teams caught up on ‘fire-fighting’ customer problems
  • poor, or no use of, customer relationship management systems
  • uncoordinated, single purpose-only feedback that only translates to incremental product & service improvements
  • no new market insight
  • high customer loss that creates the need for more marketing (and perpetuating a vicious circle)

How do you avoid these mistakes?

Change the conversation you are having with customers from one of selling existing products to one of creating new and unique products, that once complete, they will buy. This is the central principle underpinning the crowd-sourcing model.

For your business it will mean you are delighting customers by producing the exact products and services they want. It will make their life easier because they won’t need ‘work-arounds’ nor have to spend time and effort looking for a company that does it better. And that means:

  • customers that are to happily pay full price (because it does exactly what they need)
  • high sales conversions (because they were involved in the development and it does what they need)
  • low customer loss (because iterations and new products also respond to their real needs and problems)
  • lower marketing budgets (because there is less need to find more new customers)
  • more innovation, more often, with less risk (because they money you spend innovating delivers what customers want, so they buy it!)

Do you need to start having a different conversation with your customers?

Tags: innovation, Product Development

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