by Lindsey Vereen|
Here’s a heresy: don’t listen to your customers. Here’s another: don’t solve problems. These heresies are courtesy of George Gilder,
general purpose visionary, the author of
Microcosm, and the founder of
. His assertion is startling, to say the least. The electronics industry has a history of being engineering driven, and to compensate, we have been admonished to
customers what they want rather than
them. Moreover, if you’ve been in this business long enough to have talked to a few marketing people, you know they’ll tell you that they don’t sell
products; they sell
While Gilder’s statements must be taken in perspective, they offer some useful advice. Your own sales folks will tell you at great length what the product absolutely has to have for them to make their next big sale. If you labor for six months implementing that feature and then offer it to them, you’ll discover that they will have forgotten they ever asked for it and now need something entirely different to make their next sale. Company marketers will do research, but in some respects
they only give a broader picture of what the sales people see. They’ll recognize that different features are important to different customers, and will prioritize them for you.
The net result is that your product soon has virtually every feature known to man. These features may not be well integrated and your product may be hard to use, but no potential customer could ever turn down your product — at least theoretically. Couple this creeping featurism with a recent comment from Michael Slater,
chief honcho at MicroDesign resources. He pointed out that most people use only a small percentage of the features of a given product. For those customers, most of the exotic features are wasted because they only access the basic functionality. Non-technical customers may easily be buffaloed by the features of their cell phone, set-top box, or microwave oven. Embedded products are supposed to be easy to use. Powerful processors and larger memory spaces make adding features easier than it once was — perhaps
If you spend too much time honing the short-range future, you may miss the big picture. Before you know it, your company will end up on the trash heap of last year’s failed super products, particularly if any market perturbations occur. Several years ago a company called Finial was working on a product that would read vinyl records optically. It was a great idea right up to the point that CDs hit the market. Here is an example of a product that was improved to the utmost only to get lost in
a market shift.
Of course there is a downside to not listening to your customer or solving problems. You still have to compete, and your product must have the features necessary to be competitive, whether customers use them or not. But by recognizing that the future may be more than an incremental change from the present, then you will be ready for it when it arrives.