Changing customers

What customer segment will emerge in five years that doesn’t exist today?

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At HP, we have an Executive Briefing Center; where our large corporate clients come to be briefed about the latest technologies and products that are either in development or about to hit the market. Now, technically this service is for them. We are offering them information and opportunities to stay ahead of the newest advancements in technology. But, as is my way, I tend to see this as an opportunity for me, too. I get in there, and I ask these executives questions. I’m always curious about their priorities—the things that are the most important to them right now. Not just in terms of HP products, but more generally. What’s going on in the organizational structure of their business? What’s new? What’s changing? For good or bad?

Changing customers

When we break for lunch I’ll use this time to get my finger on the pulse of what matters to them, both as individual businesspeople and as representatives of their company. If I’m lucky, I’ll hit on something important—perhaps a shift in the unique characteristics of their customers.

In late 2008, I started to notice something very interesting. Executive after executive—from wildly different businesses—mentioned that they were experimenting with ways to provide new employees with computers to use in the workplace. Some were going to the extreme of assuming that it’s not the company’s responsibility to provide the tools its employees need to do the job. These businesses are making the radical shift to deciding that a laptop is more like a car or a cell phone. It’s something that an employee needs to be part of the modern workforce—something, in other words, that the employee must offer as part of the value package they bring to an employer.

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I wondered if I had stumbled onto an early trend. I asked the next five clients I worked with at the Executive Briefing Center, and they all acknowledged that they, too, were looking for ways to change personal computer ownership. For me, five customers with the same idea was validation, and as soon as I got back to the office I hashed out the idea on paper. Clearly there was about to be a huge and unexpected shift in how corporations would be buying IT, and yet it had never popped up on anyone’s radar screen. By acting quickly, we’d have enough of a lead to be ready to respond in a few years, when this change had gone through in a widespread fashion.

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Now, the interesting thing is that in situations like this you can often get a ton of pushback from the very people who should have jumped at the chance to move on your insight. With any radical idea you will see the corporate antibodies come out of the woodwork, giving all the standard reasons why the idea will “never happen.” Remember, the fundamental assumption of the corporate antibody is that the future will be the same as today.

Your customers are going to change. It’s that simple. Don’t ever turn down a chance to be on top of that change, just because you don’t want to deal with it. And if you get pushback, push harder. Have faith in what you are learning by asking the Killer Questions. Don’t let others’ hesitation keep you from pursuing the changes you and your company will need to make to be ready for the unavoidable changes in your customer.


Sparking Points

  • How are you anticipating shifts in your customer segments?
  • How have your customer segments changed over the last five years?
  • What are the people who will be your customers in five years excited about today?

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