Manufacturers loves engineers. Mechanical, electrical, chemical – it doesn’t matter. In fact, everyone loves engineers. We all love the way they think and problem solve. We especially love their analytical minds and their ability to troubleshoot. Problem solving and their appetite for all things technical are not only loved but coveted by the best companies in the world. We secretly marvel at their ability to pour over diagrams and translate data to bring products into the world. In fact, I love engineers so much that I’m proud to say that some of my best friends are engineers. Moreover, engineers make great data analyst and project managers.
However (you had to know there was going to be a “however”), there is a dark side to this unrequited love for engineers. Companies sometimes involve them in customer acquisition. Hear me out. Although they should be part of product development they require market data to frame their thinking as some engineers have a predilection of developing new product based on what they think is good engineering.
Let me explain. You see, the same traits that make good engineers can sometimes hinder their ability to take a step back to understand what the market truly wants and desires. Without properly procured market data, the engineer may make a product that is kick-ass from an engineering perspective but without a clearly defined buyer. Have you seen this dynamic before?
While helping dozens of companies with their customer acquisition and retention efforts, we have seen this dynamic far too often. are often brought in when a company relies on an engineer to develop a new product. The product is typically well-engineered (which you’d expect), innovative, novel and technically sound. Subsequently, senior management feels good about the new product and supports its launch with an abundance of resources. Sales projections are optimistic in nature; projections which ca never be met in that the product has no chance.
Where it happens
This dynamic usually plays out in engineering-dominated middle-sized manufacturing companies. The culture of these companies is derived from engineering excellence. Engineers are often the most valuable employees – sometimes rising to executive-level positions throughout the company. Their words are so credible, they resonate as gospel to anyone inside the company. And sometimes their words have the same weight when it comes to product development, thus leading companies to develop products for other engineers.
Of course, there are exceptions to the rule and countless examples of engineers developing a product that sales beyond expectations. We always hear about these exceptions and trade shows and industry events. What you don’t hear, however, are the collective groans from senior management who’ve green-lighted a product that is collecting dust on a shelf.
There is a fix to this problem, however. Try to identify the target market based on data. Ask the target market if they value the proposed product’s features and benefits. We find that smart companies usually work with a third-party to conduct short one-on-one interviews, facilitate focus groups, and write and distribute surveys to assess their interest. Use these insights to inform the product.
Sure, there is a cost for these activities. But how much does it cost to develop a product with no market?