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MTI² Program on Customer-Centric Ideation in Amsterdam: Five Key Highlights

The “Customer Shoes” Imperative

At MTI² we believe that market success requires companies, managers and teams to constantly be willing to step into the shoes of their customers, current or future. Yet, this simple motto is more easily said than done . As we wrap-up the insights and learnings from our recent three-day workshop on customer-centric ideation we came back believing even more deeply that market succe ss is a choice. A choice that starts with the willingness to learn about customers and their needs and guiding one’s actions – be it new products or services, new business models, new ways to reach them… - towards those needs.

Three Great Days

The focus of our three days in Amsterdam was clear: How can leading companies implement a customer-centric vision and generate ideas that are aligned with the needs of their customers. A fantastic group of energetic marketers and innovators helped make these three days very inspiring. We had a diverse group of participants from industries such as pharmaceuticals (Merck), food ingredients (Corbion), event services (Informa Markets), scientific publishing (Elsevier), closure solutions for the wine & spirits (Vinventions), IT (Caesar Group), and baby products (Joone).

The three days offered a unique forum for all participants to share their experiences with customer-centric ideation, both challenges and successes. We also explored a wide variety of tools – personas, jobs-to-be-done, customer journey, idea napkins, etc. – and directly experimented with applying such tools to participant’s specific contexts.

The energy and feedback was fantastic, and their feedback consistently praised aspects we always value at MTI² and try to bring to our own programs. “I found the frameworks, the tooling, the mix of practical and conceptual elements, and the case study discussions very useful,” said one participant. “I had very high expectations, but you have fulfilled those at a very high level… I will definitely recommend my senior managers to ensure that our people are more exposed to this type of tools and insights and are more trained in customer-centric ideation, this was for me a key learning…,” said another participant.

Our Five Key Takeaways from this Program…

Customer focus is everyone’s job, not only the salesperson or marketer’s job. Managers can only generate long-term value if they place the customer at the center of their decisions. This may seem trivial, but as we discovered, it is far from trivial. For instance, one participant, a seasoned manager in her industry left us as feedback: “I am interested in the effects that taking a customer point of view will have on my future work. I usually almost never meet my end customer in my everyday work, so I never really had the customer point of view in mind…”.

Simple tools = huge insights. Simplicity pays off. We discussed and used very simple tools that could literally be tried and used in the same day. Some of them were just a “napkin” where ideators can summarize an idea by clarifying the customer pain points to be addressed, how the proposed solution addresses them and how will such solution fit with the customer’s day-to-day life. But it's impressive how such napkins help unlock creativity… Even though we have worked with the tools before, both us and participants were surprised by the impact such simple tools can have. The critical value of tools is twofold: To create structure in otherwise highly unstructured and complex tasks and to translate one’s idea or insights into actionable roadmaps. In the words of another participant, the tools offer a practical framework that we can “apply easily at our own companies” or, in the words of another participant, “the workbook that was handed out gives me an opportunity to apply these insights in my daily job”.

“The mixed audience was a big plus. Exchange with other participants was named as one of the most useful elements of these three days.”

Cross-pollination and diversity trump ability. We deeply believe that feedback from someone outside your industry is often times even more valuable… and that’s what we again observed in this program. “The mixed audience was a big plus,” said one participant. Another told us “the dynamics of this group were excellent… without expecting it, we did learn a lot from each other as everyone had a very open mindset…”. Several others mentioned “group discussions”, “diversity of perspectives” or “exchange with other participants” as some of the most useful elements of these three days. Again our program pays homage to Scott E. Page’s diversity trumps ability theorem. In our case, the group diversity was definitely a plus that more than compensated the lower experience with each other’s industry backgrounds.

Make your customers happy, but not too happy. Another insight from our three days is that – despite the critical importance of understanding and satisfying your customers – the greatest predictor of long-term success for companies and ventures is, typically, their capacity to combine superb value creation with a business model capable of extracting part of that value to the company or its investors. That is the only way to make the value creation sustainable in the long-term. For example, one participant told us that “value creation is a necessary but not sufficient condition for success… and that was great to discuss and see”. Indeed, at MTI² we deeply believe that value extraction is at least as critical as value creation, and are deep believers on the design and implementation of winning business models that create but also extract superior value...

Ideas are only valuable if they inspire (and create value for decision-makers). “Tell the truth, but make the truth fascinating.” These words are from David Ogilvy. Participants in our program also shared with us feedback that shows that customer value creation and value extraction are just the beginning of any successful ideation or innovation journey. Along the way, ideators need to persuade key decision-makers. Decision-makers who will only unlock the resources and support the ideators need to make their ideas come to life (i.e., to market), if they are convinced of the value these ideas create for customers and for the company. That requires a special type of craftmanship: To explain why a certain idea is a fascinating one for the company. Several participants highlighted the importance of communicating our plans and ideas in a persuasive manner and praised the opportunities we had, in the program, to practice persuasive pitching and presentation of ideas. For example, one participant said that “in essence, we are often very passionate about the things we have to tell, but we oftentimes forget to translate how those add value for the customer but also for the person you are talking with”. Another participant said “we often have complex problems that require the involvement and support of different business units, and so you need to translate your case to the audience you are addressing… so I liked very much the pitching sessions where we could make it very simple”.

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