- November 14, 2018
- Posted by: David Marshall
- Category: Innovation, Productivity
When it comes to innovation, some companies look for problems to fix and then fix them. That doesn’t mean they create the problems. Rather, they look for a problem or a pain point that people might have and then figure out a way to solve it. Then they market that solution and hope the people with the pain will latch onto it.
Other companies, like Apple, come up with a product and then find a market for it. The iPod is an excellent example. No one said they needed a new way to listen to MP3s or podcasts, Apple built it, Steve Jobs said “you need it,” and it revolutionized the music industry.
At Duoline, a Robroy company, we usually came at problems from the other end: customers were the driving force of our innovations, and more often than not, they told us what their need was and we tried to find their solutions.
For example, if you’re in the electrical business, and an electrical contractor says to you, “If I could do this faster, I could have a competitive advantage and improve my productivity, and beat my competition faster.” That will drive your innovation and you’ll look for a way to help that customer.
Or in Robroy’s wheelhouse, if a company had two pieces of conduit, both 10 feet in length, and you wanted to join them with a coupling, you usually had a problem. If you put couplings on both ends, you have to thread the coupling into place. That’s pretty difficult because a 10-foot length of anything is difficult to handle.
But if you could create a device that you can thread onto the end of the other 10-foot piece, and then use a ratchet wrench to thread that piece of conduit into the coupling, you’ve just saved that contractor a huge amount of time and money.
How Customer Need Drives Company Innovation
In some oil fields around the world, the oil is so corrosive that the oil or the injection fluid they use can actually eat through an oilfield tubular in 120 days. An oil field tubular is a heavy-walled piece of pipe, and replacing it every four months was not only expensive in terms of replacement pipe, but the labor and lost time was a huge waste of money for everyone.
The innovation we came up with was to create a glass-reinforced epoxy liner that was cemented inside the tubular and inhibit the corrosion, increasing the service of the tubular by as much as five to ten years, and possibly even more. (Duoline has had some liners in service for over 30 years.) So instead of changing out a string of pipe every 120 days — called a “work over” — you could make it last for several years and save an awful lot of money. The objective was to reduce the number of workovers you had to do on the well, and these liners helped make that happen.
In Duoline’s case, our innovations were customer driven. We either saw a need or they would tell us their biggest problem. Then we would figure out how to solve it for them. Nine times out of ten, the customer was closest to the problem, so they would be the ones to notice it and bring it to our attention. And since we were specialists in our product, we were better able to innovate and create solutions for our customers.
But we almost always waited for the customer to tell us what the problem was, and then we would go about fixing it for them. The rest of the time, we identified their problem first and then presented a solution. By doing it this way, we were able to hit the market and start selling immediately, since the customers already knew what the problem was and had been asking for the solution themselves.
I’ve been a manufacturing executive, as well as a sales and marketing professional, for a few decades. Now I help companies turn around their own business, as well as speak at conferences, trade shows, and chambers of commerce. If you would like more information, please visit my website and connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn.
Photo credit: Sanjay Acharya (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)