Finding New Markets: Middle Managers as Intrepreneurs

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If you need to find a new market for your company, get out of the office and talk to your customers. Image by kroseel

A middle manager is huddled somewhere within the forest of management cubicles and has been tasked to uncover, locate and recommend new markets and/or new products within those markets.

Like anyone when confronted with an unknown task or project, he’s faced with a really big problem: Where should I begin?

With the Internet, you can accomplish a great deal of research without ever leaving the office. Good research helps you, as a manager, to make informed decisions.

According to Darlene Mann  of Inc. Magazine, “Market research is a prelude to selling. It teaches you a great deal about what you will need to know to develop your offering for the market and whether your offering is even worth developing.

First, however, you must sit down and quietly develop what the author terms a “Market Exploration Plan.” This is an elegant way of saying, “Where do I look for new markets or products?”

Market Exploration Plan (MEP)

Use a Market Exploration Plan to determine whether there is a potential market, whether there is a new (breakthrough) product, and whether that product/market lies within the company ‘s technology and marketing expertise.

As a manager, you have a good understanding of the current industry, competition, technology (if applicable) and the current market. This strategy is useful when the new market you’re studying is a bit outside of your company’s current market – or at least a more extreme extension of the existing market where your corporation currently competes.

For instance, imagine a company that manufactures golf carts and is trying to determine if there is a suitable market for an attachment to the golf cart which transforms it into a vehicle for greens maintenance; a market segment they may not currently inhabit. The manager would have to develop an MEP that would focus on golf course greens maintenance. This may not be a suitable market for such a company, but the point is that this new market is outside of the current golf cart market in which the example company is located.

The MEP  might consider areas of expected growth that may open up because of new technology that becomes currently available.

Consider this interesting technological development which, rather than amplifying or increasing an existing market, may actually destroy it: A new technology has recently hit the art world where 3D reproductions of classic works using the technology of “Reliefography” adds three dimensional features to works of art. The technology is so precise that the conventional art world is fearful that the actual value of the original work could decline. Perhaps a marketing manager at a company operating a string of art galleries is trying to uncover new markets. This development may open up a whole new way of thinking about art and a whole new product line for such galleries.

Market & Research Resources Sources to Consider

The following resources are areas to explore in uncovering new, possible breakthrough product or market directions:

Internal Corporate Resources: Sales, Customer Service Representatives: Sales and customer service representatives are an important resource because they are in contact with clients, and usually have an understanding of the business and potential new opportunities with customers. While you can obtain useful information, in-house resources may think mostly “in the box” and may have company blinders limiting their capacity to see “outlier” markets. However, sales and customer representatives are still an important first line of exploration in obtaining useful market information.

Sales and sales support people also write sales notes about customers: These are also excellent resources of market intelligence. This is, of course dependent upon how sales management handles sales intelligence information. There are also various CRM and sales reporting software packages that may be in use containing information about the wants and needs of the existing customer base.

Existing Customers: Obviously, speaking directly to the customer base is an important avenue and a follow-up to information obtained from the field sales and support personnel. Create a survey before contacting your customer. It keeps the customer interview on track. Bring your field staff along as well – and direct the interview to products that customers would like to see that are not currently available.

The key however, is to look further afield at potential new markets and market opportunities, preferably where there’s minimal competition.

Select customers for these interviews with care, to avoid information leaks of market intelligence to competition. Of course, another word of caution is the fact that sometimes customers don’t know what they want, if what they need has never been invented. Steve Jobs was famous for ignoring customers wants, relying on his own vision, but this may not always be wise.

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