Take my word for it; this is an important question. Because getting a handle on the opportunities presented to your business is a critical matter. If you don't understand, if you don't develop a clear picture, you will make serious - perhaps business-fatal - decisions.
So, what sources do you engage to pursue the truth? Not the "truth" you would like to believe, but the real, unvarnished truth that will influence your success or failure. Question: Who do you call? Answer: Myth-busters. Okay, enough with the inflammatory rhetoric and bad puns!
Seriously, if you want to properly and thoroughly assess your business opportunities, you must tap a number of influential sources to understand your working environment. Opportunity Assessment represents a major portion of the work we do at Trilogy Associates, much of that having to do with judging the likely acceptance and commercial success of new products. And, we have time and again observed that certain of these sources really matter a lot. These sources are revealed in our pictorial and are summarized below:
Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs). These are the folks who are monitoring the pulse of the future on a daily basis. They are also likely to be early adopters - or at least early evaluators. You cannot fail to communicate with them.
Users. These people already use a competitive, or at least similar, product. They know first hand what's right with it and what's wrong with it. They have a clear understanding of unmet needs. Those are your entry points.
Non-Users. These folks don't know they need your new gadget or your new app. They often represent the largest portion of your potential market. Tell them about your new product. Ask for their reactions. Try to gage whether they would really buy it, or why they would not.
Competitors. Sure, they're unlikely to cooperate. But you must understand every competitor (and potential competitor) out there and what they offer. Start with something called the Internet. Read the trade press and the newswires. Mine their Web sites. Figure out where you might fit.
Gatekeepers. These are your "shadow competitors". They are administrators, purchasing managers, accountants, and the like. They will keep you from making a sale, and it often has something to do with money and/or the potential violation of an existing buying relationship. If you do not understand their attitudes and their influence, you're in for a nasty surprise.
Payers. In most businesses these are the users and gatekeepers. But in medical products businesses they are insurers of various kinds; in those markets they are the real buyers. They reimburse the users and gatekeepers, so their influences are magnified. But you already know that.
Regulators. These are thesurprising (or not so surprising) deal-killers. They might regulate the environment, financial arrangements, or local codes and licenses. But in medical products businesses they are the FDA and that agency's counterparts in the UK, EU, Japan and elsewhere. It's best to understand and plan to meet their approval requirements early on. But you already know that, too.
Those are the key sources of information and influence that will affect your success. Communicate with them, learn their opinions, attitudes and rules. Then - and only then -- move forward with confidence.
One piece of advice: There is often an inordinate emphasis on the quantitative economic value of a new initiative, i.e. the dollar value of the available market. Don't get caught up in that numerical game. What really matters are qualitative perceptions and subtle judgments. You will recognize the signals of success when you hear them (or not) from these critical sources.