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How to Engage Customers in Product Development

Monday, July 1, 2013
The Society for the Advancement of Consulting® has asked its global members to comment on how best to engage customer in new product development. "We are a global association of top consultants," notes SAC CEO Alan Weiss, PhD. "and we regularly ask our clients and our members what they are seeing. Here's a representative sample."

Lisa Nirell, founder of EnergizeGrowth® in Washington, DC and author of EnergizeGrowth NOW: The Marketing Guide to a Wealthy Company, recommends three key strategies. "First, when I work with my clients on something as simple as structuring team meetings, I encourage them to track how often they put their customer first while making marketing decisions. Customer-centric cultures share one thing in common: the entire company is oriented and incented around customer success."

Second, Nirell cautions companies to "be mindful of pressure to close business at any cost. These pressures will undermine your customer-centric commitment and sabotage long-term profitability. For example, companies should avoid succumbing to unique customization requests just to close that end of quarter deal."

Finally, Nirell advises that "while enrolling customers in key decisions and gathering valuable feedback, tell customers how your own stakeholders are going to take action on that data. Your customers want to know that their input is valued beyond the one-time interview or advisory board meeting. For example, EMC Corporation distributes companywide mirror surveys to assess employee's perception of how well EMC is managing the customer experience."

Dr. Maynard Brusman is a San Francisco Bay Area executive coach and consulting psychologist. Maynard is the president of Working Resources, and an expert in strategic talent management specializing in executive coaching and leadership development.

Dr. Brusman notes: "Steve Jobs was known for his ability to create products customers like even if they hadn't been involved in the creation process. However, few people have this genius and have to rely on other ways of product creation.

"A product is often defined by the product managers with input from a few internal teams, and in some cases with input gained at user and focus groups. Social Media create a fantastic opportunity for listening and engaging with customers as an on-going process. The agile approach often used for much software development fits well with this approach. The mindset needed is that product creation is a collaborative effort between customers and an organization."

"As a global business consultant and former supply chain executive, I find that merely satisfying your customers with excellence service and communication is no longer enough," points out Lisa Anderson, President of LMA Consulting Group, Inc. in Claremont, CA. "Instead, you must involve your customers in designing ways to collaborate for success. For example, one of the best new product introductions I've seen which led to significant revenue increases was a collaboration of cross-functional internal resources, customers and suppliers. Collaborate to thrive in today's new normal!"

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