Today bringing new products and services to market quickly offers companies and brands a variety of benefits. And risks of maintaining a slow and deliberate approach increase. Several methods to speed time from concept to market are in practice. One that’s shown consistent success is “Piloting”, (AKA “test-and-learn” or “test-and-tweak”).
When piloting, early prototypes are shown to customers to get their initial reactions/feedback (1) – unlike formal market testing. Development teams then work in an iterative way, continuing to put new versions in front of customers. The ability to work in close cooperation with customers to fine tune the product/service prior to final preparations for commercialization provides huge advantages.
Appropriate For (2, 3)
Working closely with key customers to test and refine products/services has been used by Amazon and other high-tech firms for several years. However, the practice is appropriate for companies across industries.
Example: Schneider Electric uses a “test-and-learn” approach across 90 countries, multiple lines of business and thousands of employees quarterly. They attribute substantial performance increases to this method.
A development team needs thick skin to be able to hear and respond to candid, direct and honest input from customers at very early stages. Often customer input includes things that would have been different – had the concept/prototype been shown to customers later in the development.
There are widespread benefits, many specific to a given industry or company. There are also several common benefits:
- The ability to refine while there is still time. In traditional market testing, a complete – or nearly complete – product is used. At that point, it’s too late to make substantial changes. Marketing strategy and resource allocation are some elements still able to be altered at that time.
- The next BIG IDEA can come from customer input on a product/service currently under development. New opportunities are often additional means of generating revenue with new products and services. Piloting serves as a type of ideation – providing new ideas for the development team.
- Investors/Stakeholders perceive greater value. When they are able to see, touch and interact with products/services at such an early stage it makes them feel more invested, engaged and motivated to support this and future initiatives.
- Commercial success is far easier to visualize. The question of “How can we make money with this?” is addressed early, providing guidance for the opportunity’s scope and how to market the product/service. As well, setting final strategy, procuring resources, signing on partners, etc. can begin earlier – shortening the time until revenues begin coming in.
- Utilizing a piloting, testing at prototype stage with customers helps position your organization and development team as innovative. Brands willing to engage customers at early stages of development along with confidence to include customer input into the final product/service are viewed as innovative brands.
Consistent success in today’s marketplace requires being open to new ways, becoming comfortable moving much more quickly, and using a far more open process. Piloting is one way to increase your odds of success – regardless of size of company or industry.
Using the “test-and-learn” approach, Schneider Electric increased revenues by cross-selling energy solutions, improving customer satisfaction by rerouting customer service, and increasing call center efficiency by consolidating call centers from 145 to 45.
Innovative thinking, a team approach and willingness to embrace different ways to bring your product/service to market more quickly and bring a product/service that already has had customer input all increase the likelihood of success. Piloting or “test-and-learn” has proven successful in a variety of industries. It’s likely to help you and your team as well.
- Ringel, Michael, Taylor, Andrew and Zablit, Hadi, The Rising Need for Innovation Speed, bcg.perspectives, The Boston Consulting Group, December 2015
- Dreischmeier, Ralf, Close, Karalee, and Trichet, Philippe, The Digital Imperative, bcg.perspectives, The Boston Consulting Group, March 2, 2015
- Fort, Tucker, Partner at Smart Design, Tasting As You Go – The 5 Benefits of ‘Piloting’, Entrepreneur, May 18, 2016
- How quickly does your company get from concept to “on the market” for a typical product/service? How does that timeframe compare to your competition?
- If you haven’t substantially decreased your “time to market” in the past few years, it’s definitely time to do so now. Piloting is one successful method. There are others that also offer significant benefits. Find the method(s) that work best for your company.
Evaluate the “fully-burdened cost” of a failure at market. Then analyze the cost savings of bypassing now unnecessary components of getting from concept to market. That combined amount will provide you with good guidance on how much to invest in new ways to get customer input and feedback early, staff that manage this much quicker process – from concept to customer receipt (and beyond in some cases), and other related costs to execute a far more innovative, faster and profitable way to get to market.
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