Sherlock Holmes

Enlisting Sherlock Holmes for new product success in mature markets

In mature B2B markets, it’s vitally important that new product developers answer the following question. Will this new product idea add to our distinctive value-creating skills?

Sherlock Holmes was a master at discovering what was in fact going on

He was a practitioner of the scientific method of thought. By close observation he discovered key information others had missed. He knew the craft of elicitation inside and out. He employed it when interviewing people to uncover knowledge they had but whose significance they had not previously understood or revealed.

Elicitation helps build a compelling value proposition to strengthen development of a new product idea

A value proposition is a strategic planning tool for success that does not guarantee success but ensures fewer lackluster ideas are developed. It helps development decision-makers steer clear of conclusions based on untested assumptions and unquestioned beliefs about prospective customers.

Using elicitation interviews with prospective customers can discover key information such as:

Customers’ latent needs

Emerging competitive products

Early adopters

Mistaken beliefs

When data from the interviews are analyzed, previously unrecognized patterns and regularities emerge. This cutting-edge information, when built into a value proposition, equips the product idea with an engine powered by a firm’s distinctive value-creating skills.

Forty elicitation interviews produce statistically noticeable information

In most B2B markets the number of people with distinctive market or technology knowledge is less than 300. The Central Limit Theorem of statistics provides a method of gathering significant insights from elicitation interviews with only 40 of these people. The theorem combines two statistical tools: probability and a simple random sample.

To apply the theorem as Sherlock Holmes would, first identify 300 people in the target market who might have market or technology knowledge. Then contact people in the sample, qualify them as having distinctive knowledge, and draw out their comments about characteristics of the new product idea and its preconceived market. Analyze the data gathered from 40 elicitation interviews. Be alert for previously unrecognized patterns  in how prospective customers view the product idea.

Thinking like Sherlock Holmes prevents “omission neglect”

Sherlock Holmes’ method of inquiry brings out previously silent information. This new information provides insight on important issues such as: latent needs, early adopters, competitive moves, and customers’ mistaken beliefs.

There are many ways to gather this information in the front end of product development. I prefer, for its speed and global reach, to gather the information through phone interviews.

Since 1985, I’ve worked with development teams to help B2B product ideas achieve the commercial success they deserve. My clients are specialty product companies and private equity firms in North America and Europe.

Contact me at 203/323-4075 or I will take the time to explore with you how I can help your team build a compelling value proposition.


(2002) Castellion, George Telephoning Your Way to a Compelling Value Proposition The PDMA Toolbook For New Product Development p63-86, John Wiley & Sons, NY, NY

(2013) Konnikova, Maria Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes Penguin Group, NY, NY

(2013) Wheelan, Charles Naked Statistics: Stripping The Dread From The Data W. W. Norton & Company, NY, NY

Since 1985 … eliciting latent needs, lead users, and growth opportunities


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