CEO’s Role in New Product Development

Most customers don’t really know what they want next, but one thing is for sure – they have a list of problems that they are looking for a solution for. 

These problems represent opportunities for new product development for the savvy CEO and most of the time the solution is quite simple. 

How simple was the “Swiffer”? Who wants to mess around with the pail, the water and the mop? How about microwaveable soup for one? Look what Rachel Ray has accomplished with “30 minute meals”. These simple solutions were answers to likewise simple problems that people have. 

Isn’t this what entrepreneurship is all about? Aren’t these simple solutions to problems the way that all businesses evolve? Isn’t change the driving force in our lives? Maslow sure hit it on the head long ago with his simple theory of the human search for something new once all of our basic needs were satisfied. 

Since this is so obvious and we all know about the product life cycle – why aren’t more CEO’s the driving force for new product development? Often they have turned the responsibility for new product development over to others or have become complacent with the status quo. Frequently, early success lulls the CEO and the management team into a false sense of security and they begin to believe that they know what the customer wants next. 

Once you start to “market by assumption” and assume that you know more than the customer about their requirements you are giving your competition, and especially the entrepreneur, a window of opportunity. 

Someone once said that a “desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world”. 

Business is about customers. They have the problems and you need to find the solution. As I said in an earlier column the most successful CEO’s are aware of their customers changing requirements and have come up with a solution to a problem before the customer fully realized they had it. 

Look what Apple is accomplishing with their evolving line of “i” products. How about their exciting Apple stores now generating about 20 percent of their revenues up 40+ percent over last year? Yes, it is the sleek elegant styling of their products, but it’s also about helping customers satisfy their problems by answering their questions. 

They have developed an electronic version of Starbuck’s – a gathering place for wannabe geeks. The Apple stores are brightly lit and have music hall acoustics that create a rock concert like feeling. Over the holidays there were so many people in one of the stores I passed by in a shopping mall that I had to stand outside to talk to one of the smiling enthusiastic young nerdy salesmen who dazzled me with rapid-fire answers to my questions about “how many gigs and graphics software applications”. 

Other innovative things that I noticed were a “genius bar” where i techies were fixing iPods, iPhones and iMacs, and personal trainers were giving workshops and one-to-one instructions. There were also other perpetually smiling iHeads wandering around with hand-held credit-card swiping terminals for instantaneous sales opportunities and a quick check out. An Apple store in Manhattan is even open at 2 am. 

The Apple stores are becoming known as the Nordstrom of technology. Even in an era of virtual storefronts for electronics the Apple stores are generating a growing perpetual stream of brick-and-mortar revenues. 

This wave of new products from Apple is also generating a myriad of accessories from a host of entrepreneurs. The latest is the Juice Pack, a thin battery that slides onto the back of an iPhone that generates extra power to allow up to eight hours of talk time or 24 hours of music listening time. It also acts as a hard nonslip case for the iPhone and recharges with the same cable used to charge the phone. 

Was all of this so hard to imagine? Don’t you have questions about the iPhone, iPod, iMac? Don’t you want to be greeted by happy enthusiastic knowledgeable sales personnel? Don’t you want to buy a product and check out quickly? Don’t you want accessories to make your iPhone, iPod, iMac look and perform better? Don’t you want personalized one-to-one instruction? 

Remember the Ghost-Busters theme “who ya gonna call”? Well now you have the answer – the Apple store. 

What are you doing about new product development for your business? What are the natural questions your customers have?

What simple problems do they have that you can solve for them? 

If you do not have the answers for these obvious questions you better restart your business model. Who is in charge of new product development strategy at your company? YOU ! 

If you are struggling with new product development issues email me and maybe we can start a dialogue to find ways to determine what kinds of problems your customers have that you can develop simple solutions for.

An entrepreneur himself, Bob has spent most of his career involved with starting, growing and selling businesses. Having held managerial positions with IBM, Pfizer and Exxon, he draws upon extensive organizational experience with large and small companies in advising CEOs of growing firms. He is available online to answer questions from Chief Executive readers, as well as offer workshops, tips, books to read and a monthly online column about common issues facing CEOs of growing firms. Bob has been featured in USA TODAY for his work with Inc 500 firms and is associated with NYU’s Stern Graduate School of business in their Center for Entrepreneurial Studies where he is a Venture Mentor, Marketing Strategist and Business Plan Reviewer.

He is the author of GUIDEBOOK TO PLANNING – A Common Sense Approach to Building Business Plans for Growing Firms, which has recently been reprinted. He is a past contributor to Chief Executive and one of his articles was featured in The Best of Chief Executive. Email Bob at: [email protected]


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