Six Steps to Bring New Technology to Market
Read time: 6 minutes
Bringing a new technology to market can be difficult. How do you find the right market segment? How do you work rapidly and efficiently? How do you keep management informed of potential pitfalls?
Try following this six-step approach:
1. Label your animals
Think of technology development as your jungle animals, the exciting stuff that isn’t yet fully understood. Product development is your farm animals. You know what farm animals are supposed to do and whom they’re supposed to do it for. It’s well laid out.
Technology leans on science. Product development draws from customers and their needs. Eventually, things need to flow from technology to product so that your project can satisfy market needs and add money to the bottom line. Then you take that money and turn it back into knowledge. If you don’t separate the jungle animals from the farm animals, this gets really confusing.
2. Attempt to kill your project
Astro Teller, the former head of Google X, used to say, “We spend most of our time trying to prove we’re wrong. We run all the hardest parts of the problems.”
That’s the right mindset for product development: cheer about trying to kill your project.
The wrong mindset is to fear telling your boss that the project might die because of red flags.
It’s better to scout those land mines. Nobody steps on a land mine they can see, and land mines are a greater danger in unfamiliar terrain. These are not happy thoughts. You want to spot them early so there are options to get around them without slowing down later.
3. Choose an attractive market segment
In 1965, when DuPont invented Kevlar, this amazingly strong fiber, it pursued the wrong market. It wasn’t until 10 years later that they found the right fit in bulletproof vests.
Just because you’ve got this cool technology doesn’t mean you can go out and try to sell it everywhere. You need an attractive market segment, or cluster of customers with similar needs, to target with product innovations. You can be effective and efficient when customers have similar needs.
Picking the right market segment could be tricky. Imagine you have a company, Acme Composites, that makes ingredients that could go into wood coatings. If you go out and interview everybody who makes wood coatings, you find that kitchen cabinet guys want grease resistance while the gym floor folks want impact resistance. You can pick one of those market segments and determine if it’s attractive. How big is it? How fast is it growing? Does its future look bright?
Market segmentation is the right approach for technology.
4. Make assumptions about success and test them
Now, we’ve separated the jungle and farm animals, and we’ve selected our first target market segment. How do we go after this market segment?
Let’s talk about the certainty matrix, an essential tool for this type of analysis.
Filling out the certainty matrix starts with a brainstorm about everything required to make the product a success. All those assumptions get categorized into buckets like “internal capabilities” or “customer outcomes.”
Recall your company, Acme Composites. Your first foray into market segmentation, which combined the fibers with wood coating, was successful. Now you think you can innovate in a new market segment by taking a little bit of recycled plastic and recycled wood and putting it into consumer packaging. Just think about the potential benefits.
You’re going to brainstorm a lot of possibilities here under market dynamics. Dynamic number one might be external regulations, and dynamic number two might be industry standards. Another dynamic could be about convincing the whole supply chain to change in unison. The folks making the box blanks with those little wavy floating things in them must be able to use your composites. People stuffing things into boxes like Amazon, people at FedEx, must be able to use it. The consumers must be able to open it.
Rate these assumptions against criteria like market impact and certainty level and sort them into a color-coded scale. Make green an assumption that offers certainty. Yellow requires caution and more investigation. Red is a danger assumption with very high impact dynamics and very low certainty.
If you’re successful over time, you’ll take a lot of that red and yellow and turn it green.
This type of analysis leads to a checkpoint plan for your team. They can chase down and get rid of the assumptions that could end up being land mines.
Certainty matrices offer your management the clearest way to assess risk in the market and to set expectations accordingly. It’s a highly effective communication tool. Perhaps the management will see reason to move on from the project, or maybe indications are that it will be a success that requires investment.
5. Talk to potential customers early
Most new products fail because of inadequate market analysis, not technical capabilities. Therefore it’s crucial to focus on that commercial risk early.
You can do this through a combination of discovery interviews and quantitative preference surveys. In discovery interviews, you ask potential customers about their problems and, perhaps more important, hear ideas for improvement. Try to go deep on their favorite ideas.
Maybe your potential customer will tell you that they want to get the line moving faster and cut down on defects. Maybe they want help to make their product sell better in China. They may not tell you how to do it, but that’s not their job. It’s your job to figure out the solution.
In the quantitative portion, you’ll drill down on the best of the ideas gleaned from the interviews.
There’s magic here. You have eliminated most commercial risk. You know exactly what to work on. We do not create value in our laboratories — we create it when the customer’s outcome is improved.
6. Rinse and repeat … ?
The last step is to test the next market segment, right? Maybe not.
If your first foray was a glorious success, obviously try a second.
Should you stop if you failed? That depends on why you failed. If customer outcomes in that market segment were not properly addressed with your technology, then move forward, because that was just about that market. If you fail because the market wasn’t growing fast enough, a tough competitive landscape, you couldn’t meet some of the regulations, or if it was just about that market, then go ahead and try again.
If you failed because of internal capabilities — you couldn’t scale, you couldn’t achieve ideal results — probably stop.
That’s the way this six-point system works. There’s no guarantee this is going to make you successful with every technology commercialization, but this approach helps find the best market for your technology as quickly as possible.
About Dan Adams
Dan Adams, founder of The AIM Institute, is the author of New Product Blueprinting, the Awkward Realities blog, and the popular 50-video series B2B Organic Growth. He is a chemical engineer with many patents and awards, including a listing in the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Dan has taught his B2B innovation methods to tens of thousands of B2B professionals globally, lectured at many leading universities, and is a popular industry keynote speaker.