Innovators Provoke

When Steve Jobs died recently, I recalled what was apparently one of his favourite quotes from Henry Ford. It seems to sum up how he felt about market research; if I asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.

Serial industry disrupter James Dyson was heavily featured in this month’s Wired. Along similar lines, here’s two fascinating paragraphs that reveal thinking remarkably alike the Apple wizard.

On the vacuum cleaner, we show the bits that really work, like the cyclones. That’s the important bit, and we want people to understand it, to know that it’s more efficient than a bag, but it also looks nicer than a bag. In the whole experience of using it, the customer can start to follow the trail of the engineers and scientists making it.

The retailers said, “You’ll never sell a vacuum cleaner where you can see the dirt.” I’m not normally one to do market research, but we did a bit of market research, and the research confirmed it: No one wanted to see the dirt. We made it see-through, by the way, to see what was happening. It was very practical. But the engineers and I loved it. So we decided to ignore the market research. Our competitors had a good snicker about it. But we persevered.

A net worth of one-and-a-half billion later, who was right?

Now, I’m not saying that you should dismiss the opinions of all potential buyers whilst developing something. But there is definitely a line across where slavish adherence to focus group offerings should not be considered omniscient.

On my selling campaigns, I’m constantly trying to refine my own sales process. Forever thinking of things that I can tweak or add completely anew. Some work, some don’t. Even if my prospect or client doesn’t seem too enamoured, I’ll still persevere with a meme because I think I’m savvy enough by now in this game to know when I’m onto a winner.

My belief is also that buyers prefer to see someone trying things or being a bit different. Especially when you tell them that’s what you’re doing. Of course, both Dyson and Jobs suffered well publicised disasters, but at least the overall trend firmly rocketed skywards. And your sales process could be in the same league.

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