Spotting a gap in the market is a key challenge for any business that wants to stay competitive. But developing a new product or service is one thing - taking it successfully to market presents another challenge. Simon Wicks looks at how to successfully launch a new offer
The history of commerce is littered with products and services that seemed like great ideas at the time, but for which there was actually no sustainable market. Clive Sinclair's C5 electric tricycle famously failed to take off because it created a safety problem, rather than solving a transport one.
"I think all of us have launched some bad ideas," says John Fitzgerald, chief executive of BRAVE, the business support agency. "It's very easy to rush in because it seems like a good idea.
“I've seen it in both delivering services and manufacturing products - for example, making something because you like making it, rather than asking your customers first."
Market research: what do your customers want?
Launching a new product or service without proper planning could seriously undermine your credibility. If you are seen as a business that plunges into new schemes without thinking them through, customers will doubt your professionalism and drift away.
"Every company wants to get to market quickly, but you must do your market research - even within your own organisation," Fitzgerald advises. "Don't get into a position where you're launching a product, and your own people don't know about it, then say 'That's never going to work. You should have asked me.'
"Get opinions on your idea within the company first, then talk to customers and trade bodies and work it up to get the best offer you can," he continues. "Ask 'Who is this product directed at?'. You need to understand what your potential customers want."
Run a pilot, listen and learn
"Don't oversell and under-deliver," warns Fitzgerald. "If you think you've got the offer right, think through what it means for your company. Can you be sure you can meet demand? Have you got enough warehouse and distribution capacity?"
Running a low-key pilot will help you test demand and iron out problems. "Pick two or three customers who you know will give you very solid feedback and ask them to try it out," Fitzgerald suggests.
"If there are things wrong with it, you'll find out early and you haven't got egg on your face," he stresses. "Listen to their comments, make changes and push it a bit more, then a bit more."
"A lot of our buying decisions are based on the understanding that a product or service has been properly tested or is selling well in another market. If you can tell a potential customer, 'I can put you in touch with these people who are delighted with it', it puts you in a stronger position."
Knowing when a product won’t sell
Knowing when to let go of something that is not working is as important as knowing when to push something that is. "It's very difficult for most entrepreneurs to give up, but you have to have that mindset," says Mike Southon, author of The Beermat Entrepreneur.
"If it's hard work selling something, there's something wrong - whether it's the wrong market or the wrong product or service. You should never struggle to get people to understand your offer."