Actually, customers DO know what they want.

Angela Spang

…We might just have a lot of reasons to disagree with them and hide behind the words from Steve Jobs: “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.”

In a large corporation any new product innovation or potential addition to the product portfolio requires a lot of people. People who need to have opinions, people who need to challenge, people who need to know, people who need to execute, people who need to update systems, people who need to be trained. The political game is played, and internal forces fight for resources. The success of a new product is largely dependant on the skills and connections of the internal people representing it.

SMEs live a different life. We obviously don’t have the reach of a large corporation, but we DO have the capability to just listen, act and implement.

We can just give the customers what they say they need.

Sometimes this means making a new product, and sometimes it just means going through our contacts and connections to find what we are looking for.

Making a new product

Yesterday we spent time with one of our suppliers and discussed how we can best make a new set of accessories for GALAXY surgical retractor. We discuss everything from design, materials most suitable, the environmental impact, recycling, packaging, weight, shipping….during the meeting I sent 3 quick WhatsApp messages to surgeons to ask for input, and thanks to the great relationships we have built, I got replies within 20 minutes: information that goes straight into the decision making process there and then. THAT is how product innovation should happen.

Design and prototyping

Next we will produce some drawings and some prototypes, and we will put them in hands of surgeons and nurses to get their view. It is important to remember that we will never treat a single patient, so no matter what WE may think, it needs to be tested and verified by the actual end user. There is so much writing and discussion about this, but I wonder how often it actually happens. It is so easy to go to people who will tell you what you want to hear and then everyone is happy, right?

Not for an SME.

The same people who wanted the product since a customer asked for it, will be the ones who roll it out to the market. If you get it wrong, there is nobody to blame but yourself. And of course, sometimes a great IDEA won’t actually make a good commercial product, for several reasons. But that is a story for another day.