Director of marketing innovations. It’s a grand title. But what do you actually do?
It’s my job to help come up with new product ideas at SolidWorks. I do that primarily by identifying opportunities based on customer needs. You can innovate in two ways: you can come up with the technology and try and wrap a product around it, or you can come at it from a different perspective that involves talking to customers. The latter is what I’m about.
Essentially, I look for opportunity in frustration. When engineers and designers get upset about things related to software, then my frustration radar kicks in and I start listening intently. My role is about articulating those opportunities, coming up with solutions, creating prototype software with the team of developers and then selling it internally. And every now and then I get to release a product. That’s the nature of innovation. You have a lot of false starts and failures, but also some great successes.
That’s a lot of listening. How do you actually go about teasing out the annoyances that engineers have with your software?
A The easiest way is through a series of surveys and interviews. It’s important to spend time with customers, so I do as much as I can face-to-face. I look for frustration. People enjoy talking about their problems.
I will ask them which part of their job they dislike the most. Which part do they find the biggest drag? I want to learn about these things, because for a company such as SolidWorks opportunity comes from just about anywhere in the working day of an engineer.
But SolidWorks has tens of thousands of users around the world. With so many customers, how do you see the wood for the trees?
A It does require a lot of patience. I listen, but I also try to direct the conversation. It’s about dissecting in real time what the person is telling me. Frustration comes when engineers have something that they need to accomplish, but there’s something out of their control getting in the way.
So it’s my job to press them on what they need to achieve, and to find out what prevents them getting things done. It’s that sort of line of questioning.
There’s no specific approach that works each time. It’s organic and it comes from observation.
When you think you have spotted an annoyance or grievance of note, what are the processes you use to sell that internally within SolidWorks?
A The most effective way is to get a couple of developers to work with me to build a prototype that illustrates the key components of what we are trying to achieve. We come up with the concept and we validate it. Then we do customer surveys and interviews. After that, we spend several months building a prototype before testing begins.
Then we put it in front of executives and say “this is what customers are saying, this is what the product looks like and this is the business we built around it”. The more tangible I can make the proposal, the better. The less I leave to the imagination of the executives, the better.