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Why the Obvious Customers for Your Product May Reject It

by Paul Forsythe

in Business Tips

I’d like to tell you about a long discussion over some coffee with a regular and usually successful inventor. He had ended development of a promising new product because his company had been unable to market it to the organisation that was by far the largest potential customer..

For obvious reasons, I can’t reveal the details other than telling you that it was a technical solution to a problem involving Health Care. He had been fighting opposition in the Health Care system that can either make an innovative new product a success, or kill it

Innovation in Health Care is particularly difficult because there are powerful forces at work

For example :

  • Practitioners with personal and financial interests in treatments that might be replaced
  • Financial issues – who will fund its development ? Is the innovation cost-effective ?
  • Accountability – demands that innovative treatments must be effective and safe, and regulators that err on the side of caution
  • Customers (Patients)asked to accept new treatments that benefit only the surgeon

The subject of the Health Care industry is too large to deal with here. There are also huge differences between the UK where I live and the USA. If you’re actually considering this market I suggest checking out articles like this one by Regina Herzlinger at Harvard Business School
http://hbr.org/web/extras/insight-center/health-care/why-innovation-in-health-care-is-so-hard

Although the product offered savings and security of supply to the Health service as a whole, with hindsight, it’s possible to understand why the invention met such resistance :

  • It was an alternative to a technique that surgeons were trained in. They personally didn’t normally experience a problem and had little incentive to change
  • Their existing technique could be used in situations when the invention might fail
  • It made little difference to the patient’s experience other than the operation scar might be less visible than normal

It wasn’t difficult for them to argue against having any involvement with the invention
It demonstrates why you must ask an additional question before you invest significant time or money in developing an innovative new product :

Does it offer a really significant advantage over the existing solution ?
Does it offer a significant advantage to whoever is making the decisions ?

In my view a cost saving alone isn’t enough unless it’s so large that the market can’t ignore it and the existing players cannot match it. If there is no significant advantage, you must either change the product or look for another market.

Taking this particular invention as an example :

  • If it requires less skill, some treatments could be performed by nurses rather than surgeons
  • It could enable more treatment of injuries or wounds before removal to hospital
  • Reduced scarring would be of interest for cosmetic, if not general surgery
  • It could be of interest to vetinary surgeons who could sell the new method to owners
  • The technology has possible non-medical applications

Sadly, the inventor is no longer involved with the business and we won’t be able to explore these possibilities. I’ve presented them though because the story shows four points that are vital for successful product development :

  • Uncover the real needs of your customers
  • Understand who will make the real decisions
  • Ensure that your new product offers real advantages for them
  • Be prepared to seek new opportunities for your product

If you would like to discuss this subject further, please contact me via the link below and also receive my report “Ten practical tips to find original answers to any business problem”.

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