Bringing feedback from potential customers early into the design process, and targeted research to validate a potential market sector are both key factors for successful export sales, say Bay of Plenty experts.

"New Zealand businesses are very good at solving problems, but we're generally pretty rubbish at being able to commercialise those solutions and take them to market to generate profitable sales," said Dan Hansen, founder of MSM Sales Specialists, which was created to bridge the gap between a good product or service and the marketplace.

He was speaking at a recent workshop hosted by ExportNZ Bay of Plenty and KPMG, together with Blythe Rees-Jones, founder of product design and development company Vigor, and Karl Stevenson, global marketing manager for Westpac business award-winning exporter Trimax Mowing Systems.

Mr Hansen emphasised the importance of both quantitative and qualitative research to validate a market.


Quantitative research focused on hard data, while qualitative research derived from opinions and feedback from the market and from focus groups. The objective was to form a macro approach to a micro one by comparing various data sets.

"If you're taking something from a small country and putting it into a big world you really have to get specific about who is going to buy this product."

Sales and marketing teams were often keen to get out and sell, but had not run the data to establish whether or not a potential customer base for their specific product existed, he said.

"The end process is being able to determine where the markets are at a very detailed level."

Mr Rees-Jones said it was very common in New Zealand for people to jump to solutions and go straight to building the product.

"What we don't do is take a step back and think about the human aspect," he said.

"Design thinking is about starting with the users and having multiple cycles and having them involved in the process. You need to develop a hypothesis, test it and learn from the results. We go out and really spend time with people and try and put ourselves in [potential customers'] shoes."

Mr Stevenson said Trimax - which exports its tractor-pulled large mowers all over the world - placed a lot of emphasis on researching the markets it entered.

Trimax had also found it valuable to get into market quickly, using the design thinking approach, and often developed a series of prototypes to garner feedback from potential customers. Rather than spending a lot of time and money developing a finished product, they preferred to "fail fast and cheap," he said.

"We can sit around a desk with all the data and do 'what if,' but until you actually get into the market you don't know."

Trimax did a lot of product validation out in the market, and often customised a product for a specific customer group, added Mr Stevenson.

Coming up - Export Masterclass Series 2016:

* When: 8am-12pm, Wednesday, April 13, 2016

* Where: Smart Business Centre, 65 Chapel St, Tauranga

* Organisers: ExportNZ BOP

* Cost: $110+GST for members of ExportNZ & EMA / $190+GST for non-members