Most business units are required to respond to competitive pressure by maintaining or increasing market share and enhancing profitability; launching new products or services is often a key strategy behind achieving these market share and profitability goals. Marketers are most often on the front line of this battle, continually trying to develop line extensions or new offerings to satisfy the organizational demands of share and profit while meeting the desires of an often fickle business environment. The need to develop high quality, winning “concepts” for these new products or services becomes glaringly apparent. While this sounds relatively simple to do, creating a winning concept can be more challenging than first imagined and presents some unique challenges in the business-to-business (B2B) world.
Below, the five major pitfalls in B2B concept development are outlined; the hope is that, armed with this information, you can be a smarter concept developer in your next effort.
1. The concept is not driven by unmet business needs – The single biggest mistake that occurs in the concept development process is creating a concept that is too internally focused. Several factors can cause this to happen:
- First, the development engine of the organization may develop a product or service or find a technology that they see as irresistibly exciting, and then they want to “find” (or create) a customer to whom they can sell it. Typically, this becomes the “tail wags the dog” syndrome, where marketers scramble to create a compelling way to convince the customer that the offering provides them with a relevant benefit, in spite of what they may truly know about the customers’ needs.
- Second, time pressure may prevent the concept development team from thoroughly understanding the customer and his specific channel, or the amount of research is so daunting and overwhelming that they don’t give it the attention it deserves.
- And third, many organizations don’t want to spend the time and/or money to do the research to fill in their knowledge gaps or to gain the foundational knowledge they need prior to developing the concepts.
A solid concept development process cannot occur without a complete understanding of the important customer frustrations and desires and how they are important. Customer beliefs about these frustrations and desires, and whether or not customers believe that any available products or services can meet these needs are also factors.
2. The concept is poorly written – A client might have a wonderfully successful ideation session and emerge simply bursting with new ideas they want to test. However, crisply communicating these ideas into well-articulated positioning concepts is often very difficult. Although many marketing and development professionals believe that they have strong concept writing skills, they seldom have spent sufficient time with customers to easily articulate in the customers’ natural language, and they have little to no training in the art of concept writing. The net result is that many organizations are generally devoid of real concept writing skills.
Given that strong concept writing skills are among the rarest of commodities, clients often find real value by involving a trained concept writer who can bring both the discipline of proper concept structure and an objective eye. Some of the more common structural issues a trained concept writer can help resolve are: an unclear benefit, an illogical reason to believe that doesn’t support the benefit, an insight/accepted customer belief that isn’t relevant to the hero benefit, or a concept that is missing a key structural component. Regarding the objective eye, a skilled concept writer can also hear the “obvious” concept flaws, potentially saving significant dollars in research. These obvious issues could include: poorly worded concepts, a lack of customer-friendly language, or not enough of the “right” information to make the sale.
3. The concept was developed without considering the competitive environment – In order for a product or service to take advantage of its competitors’ vulnerabilities, the marketer must have a clear understanding of its competitive set. Without this up-to-date understanding, a company may find that its positioning is not sitting in marketplace “whitespace”, and customers will not consider the product or service to be a unique offering in the category. Time pressure to “get something to market” causes the development team to rush, or even to skip, this important step.
Whether through primary or secondary research, the smart marketer will take the time to become thoroughly familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of its competitors’ offerings, as well as to identify potential substitutes for its potential product or service. Also, remember that the marketplace can significantly change over time. Don’t expect that information gathered three to four years ago will give you an accurate competitive analysis, useful for today’s concept development efforts.
4. Business buyers often buy on more functional areas such as cost savings, reduced waste, or improved speed – While these areas sound relatively “cut and dry” there are many ways to articulate these functional ideas to be more compelling. Often if you have a product or service for different target B2B markets (i.e food service, health care, and automotive), the actual language to communicate the benefit may be different. For example, a product may need to “absorb quickly” in an automotive setting while it needs to focus on “disinfecting” in a healthcare setting. Since these are very different markets and buyers, the same product may need to be communicated in a completely different manner. Some emotional language can also be built in–e.g., helps eliminate the worry of a manufacturing line stopping, helps support a greener workplace with less waste. Don’t let functional needs overpower the opportunity to delve deeply into your target audience’s psyche to create a winning concept.
5. Does not motivate the sales team – This is a particularly unique challenge for B2B vs. direct-to-consumer marketing. The sales team members know how much time and effort they need to close a deal with a customer. The time to introduce and lay the foundation for a new offering is much greater than other portfolio offerings. Given that their time is often spread across a large portfolio with some uniquely different customers, sales professionals will know whether the effort will provide enough personal ROI. They may just let someone else do the heavy lifting so they can pick up the slack later with a “me too” offering.
If you are going to spend time on new B2B concept development, you should be aware of these pitfalls to ensure your marketing team is starting from a better place BEFORE the concepts are put in front of customers in any type of research. The effort will save you time, money, and sweat. The result for you? Winning concepts that your customer will love!