The Case of Finding the Final Decision Maker

Josh suspects his R&D group’s eagerness is mistaken.

Josh’s Problem

In his company (xyz-corp), Josh decides which product concepts to develop. A satellite manufacturer’s buying agent caught the attention of Josh’s R&D group. He said, “Your cost-saving, flexible waveguides can replace the remaining rigid waveguides we use.

Josh sees no evidence for the buying agent’s suggestion. But, the R&D group considers it a cool opportunity to extend their flexible technology. A technology that has lowered the cost of installing satellite components.

Supplying flexible waveguides to the satellite industry is profitable for xyz-corp. His VP encourages more sales to this industry. Josh needs to move with firmness through this internal minefield.

Josh’s Solution

Josh is familiar with my B2B customer research system1.  He suspects the satellite industry has barriers, besides labor cost-saving, when buying crucial components. Josh contracted me to find and understand why those barriers exist.

Understanding the Barriers to Complete Replacement of Rigid Waveguides: Executive Summary

Background

Waveguides3 are pipes with a rectangular cross section.They carry RF (radio frequency) signals from one point to another. The waveguide guides the RF signals around inside the pipe as invisible waves and controls their direction.

About 9,000 artificial satellites have been launched. They handle billions of radio frequency (RF) transmissions2

My first task was to build a list of 210 knowledgable individuals in the satellite industry. Then I chose, at random, people on the list and cold-called them. Each respondent heard that the client was working on an innovative RF transmission interconnect. “This concept cuts the design and installation time in latest satellite designs by up to 90%.”

Respondents were not interested in the client’s innovation.

Barriers to greater substitution of flexible for rigid waveguides.

1. Flexible must beat rigid’s superior transmission in high capacity RF bands

“When we work at the Ku band we can use flexible for the curve, often a mixture of rigid and flexible. When we go to Ka band we have to do it with rigid. Can’t stand the transmission loss in flexible.”
     Director, Bus. Dev. / Gov. Systems … ATCi (Antenna Technology Communications)

 

“Rigid waveguides dominate the market for connecting the amplifier to the downlink antenna. In a satellite we need low power usage. So you want to get the most bang for the buck by taking advantage of rigid’s good tradeoffs on high power with low loss.”
     Engineer/Scientist P5 … Boeing Satellite Development Center

2. Rigid waveguides combine low weight with superior RF transmission

“A rigid waveguide is a hollow tube 1/10th the weight of an equal flexible waveguide. It costs $29,000 to put 1 lb. into orbit ($29k/lb.) so you want the weight of the waveguide as low as possible.”
     Senior Staff, Spacecraft SensorTechnology … MIT Lincoln Laboratory

3. Final decision maker on buying transmission components

Antenna designers rule the roost on decisions to replace critical transmission components. Talk to Erik who has the final decision in our shop.”
     Aeronautics, Program Manager … Lockheed Martin 

“Antenna design is an art requiring trial and error. When transmitting or receiving, for space applications you want low loss and low mass. And rigid waveguides in the Ka band are not heavy.”
     Erik, Antenna Design Engineer, Commercial Space Systems … Lockheed Martin

“The aerospace industry, particularly the part I’m in, is very risk sensitive. They prefer to use a proven 50-year-old, rigid waveguide technology.”
     Member, Technical Staff … NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Outcome

Josh, his R&D group, and the VP understood why the barriers for complete replacement of rigid waveguides exist. They stopped investing in the R&D development project.

Lessons Learned

In project management, the identity of buyer’s final decision maker is often kept hidden from suppliers4.

Endnotes

  1. Rule of 30 Customer Research System
  2. Satellite Wikipedia, accessed 02-29-2020
  3. Waveguide (radio frequency) Wikipedia, accessed 02-29-2020
  4. Finding Hidden Decision Makers: . A Blind Study keeps respondents from assuming the role of a price negotiator. Elicitors put these knowledgeable individuals into the role of the Professor. 5LK
  5. More posts on the value of finding hidden decision makers.