Writing is a process that distills thought. Corporate innovators are often asked to prepare detailed plans. Companies employ a variety of planning tools and they can be tremendous aids in working through the necessary thought processes. Every lone inventor seeking funding who has approached professional finance people to get a project financed is aware that he or she is expected to come with a written business plan. The thought process that goes into the writing is more important than the document itself. The fancy business plan with all its detailed financial projections becomes useless about five minutes after the business gets going, assuming it was any good to begin with. Things change and unless the plan is regularly rewritten or revised, it is very unlikely to match reality for long. It would be like having a football coach writing a detailed set of projections for an upcoming game then expecting the game to match the projections. It won’t happen but it can be quite beneficial to engage the thought processes.
This can be taken further by writing a book with a view toward possibly publishing it. The best way to learn about something is to be in a position to teach it well. Thinking about what would need to be written to communicate to a larger audience than one a business plan would normally be targeting takes the process to a higher level. Writing the business plan and also writing the book on the customer, the industry and the business requires a thorough understanding and generates additional material that can be reviewed and evaluated.
Everyone has heard or read enough about the importance and need to listen to and understand customers. People tend to do a fairly good job of this aspect of knowing the business. There is much more to knowing one’s business than listening well to customers but that is a great place to start.
Listening to and understanding customers directly is usually although not always better than relying on second hand data in knowing one’s customer and industry. There are some areas where substantial business can be done without direct knowledge of the customer but that is not typically the norm. With few exceptions, listening to the customer is extremely useful and important.
Listening to and understanding a competitor is also important. A goal of listening is to gather enough market intelligence to develop an accurate picture of the market, competitive landscape and one’s place in it.
But don’t just listen. Analyze the data and think it through. Learn 100 new things about the customer or prospective customer. Call it the Strategic 100. Do likewise for each of the competitors. If that wasn’t so hard, then rank and take the top 10 items from each list, and do a second round to obtain the original list and another 100 item list focused around the top 10 items. Call it the Focus 10/100.
The real keeners who love this type of analysis can do it again and, as long as they don’t end up with analysis paralysis, will have a very good idea of where the customers are and what is the true competitive landscape. Although this is hard work, at the end of it, one will be able to answer the following questions and many others. “Could you tell me a hundred ways to identify your target market?” “What do customers love about your product?” “What do they love about the competitor’s product?” “What do they hate about yours?” “Theirs?” “What 10 things from each of your main competitors are you going to steal or copy?” This can be taken as far as is practical. Whether thinking in terms of copying best practices or stealing key employees and customers, there is a range of options. A market player can rest assured the best from among their competitors are doing similar things.
Written analysis is very important and can be quite time consuming. It is important to be careful to not get caught in the analysis paralysis trap. This is where one becomes so busy going around asking questions, learning stuff and writing that the actual business does not get done. Beginners often experience this. An effective way to go about it is to develop good intelligence gathering habits and systems as part of the marketing and sales process: Learning by doing, learning while doing and doing while learning. Efficiently rendering the intelligence into well organized and well written content can be hard work but the process should prove to be a worthwhile and rewarding one.
Not all people write equally well, and while rendering intelligence into a useful document may be an easy task for one person; it could be a daunting one for someone else. Fortunately, there is nothing wrong with getting help. Most inventors, whether corporate or individual, do not write their own patent specifications and claims, leaving it to patent agents who are skilled in this type of specialized technical writing. Likewise, help can be brought in to prepare business plans, whitepapers, speeches, articles, books, etc. For many lone inventors, the costs of hiring outside help becomes a barrier, so by the time the patent writing has been paid for, there isn’t enough money to hire anyone to help write business plans and the myriad other written materials that are required in the process of bringing an invention to market. Learning how to write well enough to get the job done should become a priority for those who cannot recruit or hire others to do it.
Substantial market strategy and market research work should be done before any money is spent on technical development. The further along the technical processes, the harder and more costly it becomes to change course. Doing a solid and thorough job of the customer, industry and market strategy and research work up front makes it easier to direct the technical development in the optimum direction. Fewer course corrections can result in substantial performance improvement of the technical effort.
Knowing the business well enough to be able to write a book about it and then actually writing the book is a good way to overcome inventoritis. This should be done before any technical work is started. Well managed companies have processes for doing this while engineering-driven companies often do not and create products for which there is no customer and no sales. Applying substantial resources up front toward knowing the customer, industry and business well enough to publish a book on it is an excellent way to overcome inventoritis and navigate toward a successful innovation. Even if your business fails, you can still sell the book.
Peter Paul Roosen and Tatsuya Nakagawa are co-founders of Atomica Creative Group , a specialized strategic product marketing firm. Through leading edge insight and research, sound strategic planning and effective project management, Atomica helps companies achieve greater success in bringing new products to market and in improving their existing businesses. They have co-authored Overcoming Inventoritis: Happy About® Not flushing Away Your Innovation Dollars now available.