Product Development: Asking the Right Questions




Product Development: Asking the Right Questions

Manufacturing companies are often looking for ways to develop new products and enhance existing ones. When this happens, they often start by asking themselves technical questions: How will it work? What materials will we use? Can we build it? How much will it cost?

There are many good reasons for this. For one thing, most manufacturing companies have staff with strong technical backgrounds that feel comfortable asking and answering these types of questions. In addition, these questions also tend to have concrete, objective answers. Finally and most importantly, answers to these questions are mandatory. A company can’t move forward with a new product if they don’t know whether it will work.

But there is another set of questions that these companies often overlook. What companies tend to miss are the commercial questions, such as:

  • How big is the market?
  • Do our customers want the features that are being offered?
  • How does it compare to competitive offerings?
  • Does the new product offer too many or too few features for the price?
  • Does it fit within our existing portfolio?
  • Is it aligned with where we want the business to go?
  • Is there a better alternative to invest in?

Unlike technical questions, these commercial questions may be harder to answer. Companies may have fewer staff qualified to weigh in. In addition, there may be a high level of uncertainty and possibly disagreement about the correct answers. The complexity of commercial questions tempts many companies to simply ignore them.

But just because a company can ignore these questions doesn’t mean they should.  Commercial questions allow companies to be more strategic by forcing them to choose what is in the best interest of their business.

Companies that forget to address commercial questions, in contrast, often end up launching new products that underperform, accepting low margins, and struggling along without seeing real progress. Often, that’s because these businesses focus on the questions they can answer instead of the questions they should try to answer.

How can a tech-focused company ensure they are asking the right commercial questions? There are a few key ways they can adopt a more commercial focus:

  • Make it part of the process. Companies should schedule meetings at key milestones in the product development life cycle to address both commercial and technical concerns. If they can’t adequately answer commercial questions, further technical development should be put on hold.
  • Invest in getting answers to the commercial questions. By talking with customers and conducting research on competitors, companies can determine which products may be most likely to succeed. It’s never too early in the product development cycle to start thinking about marketing—just ask Apple.
  • Have an advocate. For commercial questions to get priority among a sea of technical considerations, they need someone who will keep asking them. This could be a general manager, a marketing professional, a head of sales, or a product manager. A part-time marketing executive can also fill this role.

Whatever approach a company chooses, they should find a way to ask commercial questions every time they consider a new product. Doing so will help them think more strategically, create better products—and be better positioned to grow.

Are you asking the right questions during product development? Leland Smith Marketing can help you refocus.


Should You Be Exhibiting at Trade Shows?


Should You Be Exhibiting at Trade Shows?

Most sales and marketing teams carefully review their budgets each year and make changes if something isn’t working. But when it comes to trade shows, many teams seem to be operating on autopilot.

If a company has attended the same show for many years, they might think they have no choice but to continue. It’s what customers expect, they might reason. All of their competitors are doing it, so it must be worth the expense.

The truth is that these companies could be wasting money—money that could be better spent elsewhere.
How can executives determine whether a trade show is worth the cost? A trial year can help. As their next trade show draws near, companies should follow five steps:

  • Set objectives. A company should never go to a trade show without knowing what they hope to gain from exhibiting. Objectives should be specific and measurable; for example, “hold 10 productive meetings” or “collect 100 qualified leads.”
  • After the show, determine whether goals are met. Attendees should constantly remind themselves of their goals before and during a trade show. Once a show ends, they should be able to quickly assess whether the show was worthwhile, because they will have either met their goals—or not.
  • Calculate the show’s true cost and then cost per activity. After the show, marketing should calculate the shows true cost and then the cost per activity.  For example, let’s assume that exhibiting at a trade show costs a company $30,000. If the objective was to have productive meetings and they held 10 successful meetings, each of those meetings effectively cost $3,000. If the goal was to gather qualified leads and they gathered 100 leads, they paid $300 for each.
  • Evaluate alternatives.  With a clear set of objectives, a company can evaluate the benefits of a trade show versus other alternatives.  Let’s say our goal was to have productive meetings and it cost $3000 per productive meeting at a trade show.  One alternative would be to pay to fly a customer in for a tour of your facility (and golf/hunting/other afterwards).

Or let’s say your goal was to gather 100 leads and it costs $300 per lead at a trade show.  One alternative would be to hire a firm to gather prospects for less.   Another alternative would be to redesign your website so customers can more easily find you.

  • Decide how to proceed. Thinking about objectives and costs this way helps companies put trade shows in perspective. With this new knowledge, companies can do one of three things:
  • Keep going. After setting objectives and doing the math, some companies may find that going to trade shows is indeed worthwhile. New companies, for example, may benefit from trade shows in getting their name out to industry players for the first time.  Regional trade shows are often a great investment if your goal is to have meetings with existing customers.
  • Scale back. If companies are getting value out of trade show appearances, they could seek ways to cut costs. For example, they could send fewer employees, commit to attending only every other year, or choose a smaller exhibition package.  These cost cutting measures often have only a negligible impact on a company’s ability to reach its objectives.  Instead, they just reduce the overall cost of attending the show and cost per activity.
  • Spend their money elsewhere on better alternatives.  Change is hard, but it might be in your company’s best interest to do so.

Each of these choices is valid. What companies shouldn’t do, however, is let inertia make decisions for them. If they do, they risk wasting money on an activity that offers a less than ideal return on investment.

Finally, consider this: a trade show lasts only a few days while an updated, relevant website lasts far longer.  And a one-on-one meeting with a potential client leaves a much bigger impression than a few minutes of small talk at a trade show booth.  Exploring these alternatives may help you reach your overall objectives better than what has historically been done.

For companies worried about life after trade shows, our advice is this: do the math and then select your best option to connect with customers.

Questions about trade show tradeoffs? Contact Leland Smith Marketing for answers.


Should You Focus on Social Media or on Good Content?


Should You Focus on Social Media or on Good Content?

“Does my company need a Twitter account?”

“What about LinkedIn?”

“How often am I supposed to post?”

Many companies are asking themselves questions like these. When it comes to social media, it seems like there are countless options out there, from established platforms like Facebook and Twitter to relative newcomers like Snapchat and Periscope. It can be hard to keep track.

But these companies have the questions backwards.  David Ogilvy, the iconic advertising executive, once said, “Consumers decide to buy or not to buy based on the content of your advertising, not its form.” Generations later, this wisdom holds true.

Instead of wasting time publishing to many platforms, companies should focus on content. No matter what marketing or sales materials they produce, they should make sure their content is clear, helpful, and compelling. They should also keep in mind that once they’ve developed high-quality content, they can replicate these messages across their print media, website, blogs, and yes, social media profiles. Good content can go anywhere.

No matter a company’s industry or current familiarity with social media, they should plan their communications by starting with their customers. And the question they should be asking is, “what do my customers want to know about?”

Companies should have at least some understanding of who their customers are and what kinds of information they seek. (If they don’t a 3C Needs Map is a good place to start.) For example, if the key buyers of a company’s products are equipment end users, they may be interested in reliability and service plans. Maintenance workers may want to know about spare parts availability. Design engineers may have questions about increasing speed to market.

From there, companies should ask themselves where their target customers are likely to search for answers to their questions. By reading industry publications? By asking their peers? By doing an online search?

A company should also think about its own capabilities. What makes it different? Where does it excel? How does this compare to what competitors are doing?

With this knowledge in mind, companies can then begin to answer their questions about whether to invest in social media. If a company’s buyers are young, tech-savvy individuals who get their information online, then sharing content via social platforms may be the way to go. On the other hand, if a company is fairly confident that their buyers are not interested in social, then they shouldn’t worry if they choose to ignore it.

So before setting up a YouTube channel or developing a Twitter strategy, companies should take a step back and think about what their customers really want. Then, they should proceed with their customers’ needs in mind.

Need help understanding your company’s customers? Contact Leland Smith Marketing to learn more.


When Not To Hire A Marketing Coordinator


When Not To Hire A Marketing Coordinator

When a company is ready to take the leap and add marketing resources to grow sales, it can be a frightening commitment. Most companies want to start small and see where things go. As such, they allocate only enough money for an entry-level coordinator to work on growing the business. Most companies then search for an entry-level marketing professional to whom they can assign full-time responsibility for business growth.

But before taking this approach, companies should ask one question: do I currently have a marketing strategy? If not, they should hold off on extending an offer to an entry-level marketing coordinator.

Entry-level employees

Entry-level employees are best used to help a company execute a strategy that it already has in place. They can help support sales growth and may be the best financial bet in the long run if the company expects to have many ongoing marketing needs.

On the other hand, due to their relative inexperience, these employees may require more direction than a company can handle. Entry-level workers tend to be oriented more toward tactics and execution than big-picture thinking, so if a company doesn’t yet have a marketing strategy, this hire may not be able to give them what they need. They may also end up frustrating ownership with questions that no one knows the answer to.

Entry-level employees aren’t the only option. Another route that companies should consider is hiring a part-time marketing executive to develop a growth strategy and execution plan.

Part-time marketing executive

A part-time marketing executive works with a company to create a growth strategy from scratch that uniquely fits their business. This is the best bet if an owner or president does not have a sales or marketing background, or if the company currently lacks a plan or the time to develop one.

The process of developing a strategy includes doing market research (see how Leland Smith Marketing does this). Working with a part-time expert can put a company on the fast track to sales and marketing readiness. And best of all, the company doesn’t have to keep this person on the payroll after their work is done.

What happens when the marketing plan is complete?

A part-time executive can help a company determine the best path forward. Based on a company’s needs, they will typically come to one of three conclusions:

  • The company can handle its needs internally from now on with existing resources.
    With a marketing plan in hand, the company can execute it by dividing responsibilities among the sales force and office staff.
  • The company needs a full-time marketing professional.
    They have a plan, but now need someone to execute. Here is where a marketing professional (entry-level or more experienced) can really shine. The company will be able to answer his or her questions and provide clear direction, using their new marketing strategy as a guide.
  • The company needs freelance resources.
    Full-time staff aren’t likely to have all of the skills a company could ever need. From time to time, they may need help with photography, web design, copywriting, or other skills. This is another way part-time marketing executives can help: they can connect companies to trusted resources they’ve worked with in the past.

As with any new initiative, companies must know where you’re headed before they get started. If a company already has a clear marketing strategy and a plan for how to execute it, a junior level marketing coordinator may fit the bill.

However, if they need help developing the strategy, a part-time marketing executive can help. He or she will conduct research, provide recommendations, and create a plan for maintaining the strategy—while the company stays focused on what they’re best at.

Other questions about marketing partners? Contact Leland Smith Marketing to learn more.