Even the best products don't stay as your best sellers forever. You constantly have to come up with new product ideas to keep your business fresh and competitive. But, the road to every hit idea is littered with mediocre to bad ones. If you're lucky, one of them might sell.

In my company's industry of retailing instant drug and general health tests, we try to be one of the innovators with a steady stream of new products. We believe in order to be relevant and grow, we have to be the ones that lead and come up with ideas rather than be followers.

The ability to quickly and efficiently test a new idea to see if it's worth following is something that can set your company apart from competitors. The basic steps from idea to product are:

  • Come up with product ideas.

  • Choose which ones to dedicate resources to for testing.

  • Test product ideas for viability and opportunity.

  • Pick the good ones -- keeping development and production costs in mind -- that show some promise.

  • Re-evaluate and do it again until you're down to one or two to put into production.

As to where you should look for new product ideas, the short answer is everywhere. New product ideas are everyone's business, not just sales, purchasing or marketing. Anyone in your company can come up with ideas and should have access to the process of product idea development.

Try these four places for coming up with new product ideas.

1. Customer Inquiries

Your customer service team is in an excellent position to cultivate product ideas (or tweaks to existing products) from their customer service calls. They may not be thinking about new product ideas, though, so let your customer service team members know the key role they play. Train them to constantly be on the lookout for good product ideas and share their conversations about product inquiries in a way that can contribute to the process. Empowering your team and asking for their feedback is key.

2. Suppliers & Manufacturers

Having excellent relationships with your suppliers and manufacturers will serve the process of new product development. Dedicate time to discussing general industry trends with them and share your customers' inquiries and feedback with them.

Your manufacturers may already have new products that could be useful to you that they are not mentioning since they are more focused on answering your questions and selling you what you ask for. Open communication with them can be a gold mine for product ideas.  

3. Sales Team Members

Like your customer service team, your sales team are out there talking with customers and potential customers everyday, so they are hearing what people want to see in products. Usually, they are pretty vocal about sharing what they've learned from their conversations with potential customers, but you should set up a formal process for them to share their ideas. 

4. Industry News and General Market Trends

Keeping up to date with your industry and the trends that shape it will always serve you well. Reading and watching news specific to your industry will help you formulate product ideas and you can take it one step further and be a content creator and share your knowledge with others. Obviously you don't want to give away your ideas to competitors, but I've personally found that writing about the industry we're in helps to facilitate new ideas.

You'll need an internal process where you can collect ideas and give an opportunity to all the stakeholders in your company to meet and bring those ideas to life by specific actions including the aforementioned testing and vetting.

Learn to mine the minds of your team and partners and you'll never be without solid product ideas to pursue.

Published on: Oct 29, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.