Phil McKinney is the author of the new book, "Beyond The Obvious: Killer Questions That Spark Game-Changing Innovation." McKinney believes innovation is open to any organization committed to making the process happen-and it is a process.
McKinney provides a series of dynamic Killer Questions that, once answered, will help your company become more innovative. Here, the focus is understanding your current customer base.
- Who is using my product in a way I never intended-and how?
"Once a product has sold, it's pretty much out of your control," says McKinney. "So why are you assuming that you know what your customer actually likes and values about your product and how they use it?"
McKinney emphasizes that, "Who is my customer?" Isn't a Killer Question because it prefaces an obvious, easy answer, rather than forcing you to extend what you know to be true about the people who use and appreciate your products.
The person buying your product doesn't see it as an end solution. They see it as a tool that will help them solve a problem.
- Your object is to sell your product.
- Their object is to solve a problem.
Defining who uses your product in a way you never intended can unlock new opportunities you would never have considered. To potentially double your sales, get out there and investigate. "You may be pleasantly surprised," says McKinney.
- What are the criteria our customers use when selecting our product?
Do you know what your customers' reasons are for choosing your product over that of your competitor? Several years ago a computer screen's size was a key-purchasing factor. Minimal portability was needed. Now, laptops are more portable and more important on a personal and professional level. They're no longer simply tools, but an extension of a person's individuality. Companies who continued to sell computers online missed this major social shift of personalized computers and the need to by in-person. They lost their competitive advantage.
- What are your unshakable beliefs about what your customers want?
It's one thing to know what your customers want to do and another to understand how they intend to get it done. Understanding their internal philosophy about what they're doing and why they are doing it is critical. Without that knowledge, you may find that they consider your product a complete failure.
"Competing companies can have the same goals but radically different strategies for achieving them," says McKinney. He describes two opposing airlines that both understand the bottom line in their industry-getting CASM (cost per available seat mile) as low as possible. Each however reflects a different philosophy on how passengers will get from one destination to another.
One uses a large hub-to-hub aircraft, limiting the airports it can service, such as London Heathrow and Los Angeles International. The airline is betting on two things. First they're assuming a large number of passengers are simply looking to fly from hub to hub. They're also betting that passengers will be willing to adhere to the old model of international transportation and connect from second-and third-tier airports via a hub.
The other uses a small and nimble aircraft, enough to service second-tier cities, yet its fuel efficiency allows it to function as a long-range aircraft.
- Who is passionate about my product or something it relates to?
Passion makes the relationship between organization (think of …) and customer volatile. Some companies can survive it. Others misjudge the depths of their customers' feelings and can come dangerously close to dissolving because of it.
A Dutch bank enraged their patrons by paying bonuses to bosses after a government bail out. The angered customers rallied via social media and threatened to withdraw their deposits en masse. Eventually, the bank reversed its position. The bonuses were rescinded and order was restored.
- Who complains about my product?
McKinney describes a disgruntled passenger flying on a major US airline. Baggage handlers broke his $ 3,500 guitar. The passenger created a retaliative song on YouTube, which to date, has garnered over 11 million views. The airline was forced to acknowledge the passenger, but the damage was already done via the viral video.
Social media has changed the nature of the customer complaint, allowing ongoing conversations, often in real-time, visible to the public and open to anyone who cares to comment. "Your only option is to engage with the people who care enough to make their feelings public," says McKinney. "Odds are, if they've complained about what you're doing, they've also thought about ways to do it better. So ask them."
McKinney endorses the blog originated by an IKEA furniture fan. Here, people submit pictures and stories of how they've repurposed their IKEA purchases, many in ways that would never have been imagined. To see for yourself, visit: http://www.ikeahackers.net .