This study recognizes that collaboration with customers for new product development may bring important financial benefits to firms, but at the same time may seriously hamper explorative learning. Many firms are approached by customers with requests to develop new products for them. While such requests may strengthen customer relationships and result in short-term financial gains, it may force a firm in technologically undesirable directions. As a result, many firms struggle with the dilemma of, on the one hand, responding to customer requests, and on the other hand, safeguarding the long-term competitive position of the firm. Firms with strong customer ties are particularly prone to this dilemma. Drawing on opportunity recognition literature, capability monitoring literature as well as goal setting theory, the authors have developed a framework arguing that Strategic Value Assessment (SVA) can help resolve this. SVA is defined as an a priori business evaluation of the value of a particular innovation collaboration, based on anticipated long-term strategic benefits. It helps innovative firms to focus on collaboration with customers with lead user status and to develop intense relationships, allowing for more effective knowledge transfer and learning. The framework is tested using data collected from a sample of 136 business-to-business firms in the Netherlands. The sampling frame was a panel of small and medium-sized high-tech enterprises. The study finds positive direct and indirect effects of SVA on explorative learning. In addition, the findings show that the intense collaboration/learning relationship is positively moderated by customer lead user status, and negatively moderated by customer dependence. The findings suggest that SVA is a useful heuristic for managers to utilize opportunities for innovation involving collaboration with customers.