If you develop an innovation it’s safe to make one assumption.
You aren’t doing it to just make a living.
You aren’t doing it so you can be another “me too” in the marketplace.
You’ve identified a problem where you think you could create a difference in people’s lives.
Through your innovation, you ask your customers to be someone else because the real impact of your innovation is this: like turning flour and yeast into bread, you transform customers.
If you want your customers to become someone different, it makes sense to ask this simple question from Michael Schrage: “Who do you want your customers to become?”
Your customers are striding into their own future
Schrage based his idea on this premise: Your customers are constantly changing. They learn. They adapt. They ask questions and try to answer them. They are “dynamic collaborators and authors of their own futures.”
Many of our B2B marketing practices misunderstand the potential for the impact of innovation. Our talk of “solutions that merely please, serve, meet the needs/ specs, or delight customers” doesn’t go far enough.
The point of innovation is not to satisfy or even delight, it is to transform customers.
Customers don’t just adopt your innovations, “they alter them, adapt to them, and are changed by them.”
Successful innovators ask users to embrace— or at least tolerate— new values, new skills, new behaviors, new vocabularies, new ideas, new expectations, and new aspirations. They transform their customers. Successful innovators reinvent their customers as well as their businesses. Their innovations make customers better and make better customers.
Henry Ford didn’t just make automobiles, he turned people into drivers.
The airplane didn’t just move people more quickly to another place, it changed how we think about geography and distance.
Improved medical scanning technology didn’t just give the doctor a better picture, it opened up whole new areas of therapy and prevention.
Starbucks doesn’t just serve good coffee. It converted an entire nation of Folger’s and Dunkin’ Donuts coffee drinkers into cognoscenti of customized, fresh-brewed exotic coffee.
“The Ask,” a lightweight and high-impact method for alignment
The purpose of The Ask is to “offer a lightweight but high-impact methodology for aligning strategic, marketing, brand, and innovation leaderships around customer transformation.”
How do you put The Ask into practice? How can B2B software companies incorporate The Ask into their discussions of strategy, innovation, and marketing?
Invest in the human capital of your customers
You invest in the human capital of your employees because your future depends on their future. Make the same investment in the human capital of your customers.
Here’s an example: When you write blog posts, create videos, and develop tools to educate buyers who are early in the buyer’s journey, it’s not just to help buyers move to the next stage in buying cycle. You are investing in the human capital of your customers. You are creating an asset.
It’s only when they fully understand the problem (that your innovation knows how to fix) and the consequences (of not fixing it) that you create opportunities for new growth.
When your buyers are educated enough to have the context to make a decision, only then can they evaluate your innovations and the value they would bring to your customer’s organization.
The education and trust-building you conduct early in the buying cycle are not marketing expenses, they are an investment in the human capital of your customers.
When you start to ask who your customers want to become and why, “you will rethink how to align key brand, marketing, and innovation investments with your customer’s future.”
You’ll revitalize your strategic view of your investments in innovation and marketing.