Sometimes the biggest resistance to innovation comes from the person who should benefit most from it – the customer. Customers can be very conservative. When you come along with an unorthodox new product or service they are often initially unimpressed. Why should the buyer take a risk with your unproven new gizmo? He knows that new products often have bugs and he does not want to be the guinea pig on which you experiment. He is familiar with the current method – why should he change?

Who would want to be the first customer for a fax machine or indeed for a telephone? It seems ridiculous now but selling the first few telephones must have been really difficult. And how about laser eye treatment? How would you find the first person to try it when there was a safe alternative in a pair of spectacles?

This is understandable and needs careful handling. Your sales people will doubtless be adept at explaining the benefits of your new products but the customer is right to be skeptical. You need to find ways to reassure him and to mitigate his risk.

At the same time you need early adopters so that you can get some traction in the market, customer feedback and positive references for your innovation. So acknowledge the client’s concerns and put offers in place to allay them. You cannot just use your standard terms and conditions for a radical new product. You have to be innovative in your sales approach too. For example you could:

  • Allow them a free trial of the new product
  • Continue to provide the old service so that they can go back to it at any time.
  • Offer a money back guarantee.
  • Provide a special service level that gives them immediate access to your top support experts.
  • Agree joint service level agreements.
  • Stress the payback and benefits they will receive and even make payment dependent on their being achieved.
  • Promise to arrange a positive PR result for them in the trade press if the trial succeeds.

Above all you must choose the right early customers. Some people love new technology and others hate it. Select the best early adopters from among your top clients. Appeal to their sense of pioneering adventure. Stress the prestige that goes with early success – for both of you. Make sure that they share in the recognition of a successful launch. If all goes well then ask them for a testimonial. You can help them be seen as an industry leader in trade journal stories and at conferences. You are in it together and it must be a win/win for both parties.

About the author

Paul Sloane is the author of The Leader’s Guide to Lateral Thinking Skills and The Innovative Leader. He writes, talks and runs workshops on lateral thinking, creativity and the leadership of innovation.