For any new business to launch successfully, it must develop a product/service that customers are willing to pay for above the cost to produce it, and they must develop their customers so that customers become aware of and demand the product or service that is being offered.
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Many entrepreneurs, and even established firms alike, sometimes take the shotgun approach to new product development. Somebody within the firm gets an idea for a new product that they think will be a huge it. They develop the product internally, price the product, and then go out and market it.
The biggest cause of failure for new product development, isn't the lack of developing a great product, it's the lack of fully engaging your target customer in the product development phase. After months of product development and thousands or even millions spent on developing the new product, a business finds disappointment at the end of the product cycle when sales fall short of expectations. Simply consulting target customers during your product development phase won't guarantee the success of your product, but it will allow you to discover potential problems and flaws with your assumptions that, when caught earlier rather than later, can save you a lot of money and a lot of time.
The new way of product development isn't centered around the product; rather it is centered around the customer. Know your customer and you'll be able to create a product that best fits their needs and wants. Keeping product development internal for fear of competitors finding out what you're building is a common perceived concern from those building the new product. However, when you engage your customers, you do not and should not show them what you've built and then ask them if they like it or not. Rather, before you even draw up a prototype, probe your target customers on their needs and wants first, and then go to the drawing board to draft your prototype. Validate your assumptions from primary research before convincing yourself that your assumptions are true.
Your prototype, along with your final product should be based on the initial feedback you receive from your target customers, not the feedback you received after you showed your prototype. Once a prototype is built, there are certain assumptions that are now factored into that model. Those assumptions become difficult to eliminate the farther you get in the product development phase. For instance, if you just spent 6 months developing a new type of software, only to show it to a potential customer who comes back to you and says that your product will not help them at all because it is too costly, are you more inclined to heed that advice and start all over again with a simpler product, or are you going to continue down the road you've paved for 6 months now, finish your product and try to sell it anyways?
Most entrepreneurs and established businesses tend to follow the latter because of the sunk costs associated with the product development to date. Surveying your target customers before you even have a prototype in mind can make the product development process much more efficient and profitable in the long run.