From the desk of Chris Halliwell, Exec Director of the Technology Marketing Center.
In my post on the super book, Predictable Revenue , I discussed the growing importance of marketing in the sales process itself, starting with a finely drawn characterization of target customers, their problems, and their buying habits.
What is a Fuzzy Front End?
This phrase (FFE) refers to the process of clarifying a set of uncertainties pre-Phase Zero in the innovation (or product development) process. There's a ton of literature out there examining the fuzzy front end of innovation, much of it detailing the contribution of strategic marketing insight to paint an effective picture of trends, problems, customers and competitive advantage.
The point is made that FFE insights have huge leverage on the ultimate success of the new offer, and that sloppy thinking in the FFE can drive significant development inefficiencies, as well as cost of change, later in the NPD process.
Clarifying the Front End of New Product Sales
This post asks the question: what can we learn, and build upon, from strategic marketing contributions to the front end of innovation that will improve the effectiveness of selling and capturing the value of new products and services?
The (B2B) sales effort suffers from fuzzy thinking as well. Efficient sales and satisfied customers require crisp answers: Who are the high likely target segments and customers -- where should we "point the car" in the morning? What is the recognized problem we are solving, and what is the economic impact of our solution on the customer's business? Where is the competition's Achilles Heel? Do we know the key players, issues, and information sources that are influencing buyer perceptions?
And, just as FFE insight has has huge impact on the success of innovative development, FFE sales clarity can have significant impact on profits over time affecting both rate of growth and prices. Here is a mapping of innovation FFE insight to Sales FFE insight for you to use as a guide:
Disciplined VoC: Source of All FFE Insight
TMC continues to recommend Ed McQuarrie's Customer Visits technique for effective team insights in the innovation FFE. It works equally well for generating Sales FFE insight, however the interview questions are more detailed -- still from the customer's point of view -- and execution oriented.
Here are some examples to further explain.
OPPORTUNITY ANALYSIS: For innovation FFE we might ask, "what are your top 3 initiatives to improve your business?", where for sales FFE we would ask, "how are you managing and measuring the success of initiatives relevant to our new offer?" or "what sources of information are you using to evaluate potential solutions to your problem?"
MARKET ANALYSIS: Most (but not all) of the relevant data in innovation market analysis comes from quantitative sources -- how many buying entities potentially have the problem we have identified? Sales FFE lends itself more directly to VoC interviewing techniques that probe more deeply into hypothesized differences in buying behaviors, business model implications, and "whole product" package expectations.
COMPETITIVE ANALYSIS: Innovation FFE activities here take a look at capabilities and potential supply chain relationships for your business, and for the businesses of competitors. VoC insight during the Sales FFE enhances this analysis by asking about customers' perceptions of your, and your competitors' position. And, most importantly, detailed VoC efforts here are needed to build a model of comparative economic implications of your proposed offer on customers and supply chain partners.
Strategic Technology Marketing Should Drive FFE Insights
Do you have a Strategic Marketing function in your business? Many high tech businesses have not designated this function, or if it exists, there is often confusion about its contributions. If FFE insights are left to management "gut", they can suffer from a lack of professional discipline and tools. Even more unfortunately, FFE thinking is sometimes foisted upon the sales support or product planning teams who may lack training in strategic analysis, and who often struggle to get out of the short term weeds so they can see the forest.