B2B consulting firms: the 3 main challenges of innovative products

Each day, consulting firms (whether or not they specialize in innovation consulting) seek solutions to improve the customer experience of owners of innovation projects. This is far from an easy task, because innovators’ needs and expectations are constantly changing.

Let’s take the specific example of market research studies for innovative products. To ensure that their studies are relevant and of a sufficiently high quality, innovation consultants are tasked with gathering as many qualified opinions from professionals in the marketplace, enabling them to create the right hypotheses for their clients to pursue. Access to increasingly specialized insights, sourced from the market directly, has become essential for innovation consultants. Nevertheless, this development does not sit easily with the traditional approach adopted by classic consulting firms. The stages involved in preparing and producing market research studies are too limited, particularly in terms of the number of qualified professionals who can be interviewed, and do not always enable results that meet expectations.

Here are the three main problems encountered by consulting firms when carrying out market research studies.

Innovative products: market studies that are too complex to complete

Carrying out market research studies into the market for innovative products is a particularly delicate affair. The first issue is fundamental to any market for innovation: namely that it doesn’t exist yet! The market is, therefore, defined by a lack of certainty, unpredictability, and a highly limited pool of data to gather. Other reasons relating to the methodology used to carry out these studies, which are poorly adapted to the realities of the sector (if at all): interviews with “expert” consultants who do not actually operate in the target market. All this results in a number of obstacles that regularly put up barriers to success for innovation consultants.

The first challenge that they face is to find qualified professionals to carry out interviews. Today, the majority of consulting firms buy lists of contacts, broken down by country and by industry. This preparatory phase is both long and inefficient. Every potential contact must be identified and validated as a potential reference to interview, with no certainty as to how good they really are. Consequently, consultants struggle to establish a representative sample of interviewees in order to create a cohesive simulation of the target market.

Their second challenge is to contact these experts, whether they are based in France or elsewhere. The current approach is faced with the same constraints as those faced by cold calling for sales purposes: people keep missing each other by –phone, people’s schedules are incompatible with one another, and targets decline to cooperate or seek payment for taking part in the study.

Faced with these difficulties, it seems that reinvention is needed. The process of identifying and contacting professionals must be simplified, as far as possible, while continuing to fulfil its primary function: to meet with professionals in markets that do not yet exist. Undoubtedly, access to transparent research with targeted experts whose attention you are certain to attract is the key to success at the next stage in the process: effective data gathering.

Market research that is too time-consuming

When you take a close interest in market research studies for innovative products, you very quickly notice that the major challenge that consultants face is managing their time. The production phase for market research studies is the most time-consuming of all; carrying out interviews with professionals can be particularly onerous because many tasks slow down the process while adding very little value in their own right. Once contact has been established with qualified professionals – which is not an easy task in itself – you need to create a context that encourages discussion. Mutual trust and the right interview conditions are essential if useable data is to be gathered. The amount of time taken to complete a high-quality, useable interview generally means that consultants are prevented from completing a sufficient number of interviews.

Analyzing and compiling the constituent data is another time-consuming step. In fact, it is very challenging for consultants to take a step back and generate valid hypotheses while carrying out interviews piecemeal.

Despite the appropriate level of rigor being applied by consulting firms, it seems that the methodology that is currently in use is not sufficiently well adapted to the limitations faced by the innovation sector.

It is important to create alternatives, with the aim of increasing the number of qualifying interviews so that consultants can concentrate on their true added value: creating and relating data and ideas.

Studies of the market that are too expensive

Not only do tasks that are too time consuming prevent consultants from working effectively and quickly, but the entire business model no longer seems to suit the increasing expectations of owners of innovative projects, nor even of consulting firms themselves. The idea that a market research study can slow down the process of innovation, which continually aims to become increasingly rapid, is inconceivable for all concerned. As essential as market research studies may be, they remain costly for customers while the ongoing need for business to innovate faster and more effectively has given rise to new expectations for business as usual: open-mindedness, expertise, readability with an urgent desire to reduce costs being the most important of all. Can traditional market research, as offered by today’s established consulting firms, attract startups and the new generation of innovative project owners? Not if radically more accessible alternatives make their way onto the market, and if independent, hyper-specialist consultants can be accessed via relational networking platforms, and increasingly relevant information is available free of charge.

On the other hand, traditional consulting firms are also suffering from the established business model. Backward-looking reports are not very profitable and every missed deadline directly impacts the quality of studies that are performed. Moreover, the variable aspects involved in identifying, meeting and interviewing industry professionals regularly add an element of risk that threatens budgets and even the overall outcome of the studies themselves.

As with any established system that wishes to ensure its long-term survival, consulting firms will need to renew themselves to remain on track. What are their options for moving forward? Undoubtedly, they must implement a new model, defined by a more open-minded approach that uses innovative tools, adapted to meet the needs of the innovation sector to support owners of innovation projects on a longer-term basis.

In summary, the challenges faced by innovation consultants have grown continuously. The more fast-paced that innovation markets become, the greater the need to replace traditional market research methodology with a new kind of methodology that is better adapted to the new challenges posed by innovation. More highly-connected techniques, with a greater focus on the markets of the future, are essential, both to remain competitive and to ensure that the consulting industry continues to have a bright future.
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