Friday, October 31, 2003
Are you struggling to create and keep profitable customers? Columns for Sales and Marketing Management who wants to build business relationships.
Whether you offer a hard product or service, just listening to the customers desires isn't going to produce a profitable product. Often customers want things that aren't practical to produce, it will take creative ingenuity to provide what customers want while keeping costs low enough to be profitable. Involve your employees in product development (especially those close to the product) and you can increase internal buy-in while gaining a commitment to quality that customers
At the point you incorporate customer feedback into product improvements, consider suggestions from your staff, applying appropriate weight to each. Since your people should be experts in the solutions the product affords, give at least as much consideration to their ideas as you would for your better customers. Employees often have improvement wish lists that would make implementation faster, production less expensive, or even make the product more desirable to customers.
Your product (re)design team must consult someone from sales, marketing, production, support, and engineering. While each of these groups have other unique values to contribute in the product development process, they especially contribute in the following ways:
- Sales provides feedback on positioning and customer demand. After the product is produced, these people will be expected to sell it. If the design can take into consideration common objections or design features requested it is more likely to sell well. This level of buy-in gives sales the insights they need to guide customers to the solution best for them (possibly even capturing customers just outside your current buying audience.)
- Marketing translates features into tangible benefits and can help with presentation. Collateral materials and other tools used by the sales team to sell a product are produced by marketing. These people know a lot about what customers are comfortable with, benefits they desire, and know how to make a product look better (on a publicity and presentation level, too.) Involving these individuals gets promotion ideas on the table early help smooth out wrinkles experienced at product roll-out.
- Production shares ideas on reducing costs or addressing implementation issues. This group implements, integrates, or creates the product. Probably the most diverse group, ranging from front line craftsmen to software developers, they will have the most experience with the product internal features. This group probably already has ideas that can reduce your cost, time to implement for customers, or simplify the configuration to make the product produce better results.
- Support provides insights about problems with the existing products. Often the last group to be consulted in product design, the support function of your company must address any defects and deal directly with the least appreciative customers. Learn from your past mistakes by talking with this group; find out what isn't working, and other frequent issues limiting the results your product is supposed to produce. Involving these people could help your product solve more
real problems, while reducing your own costs related to field support.
- Engineering helps translate ideas into the procedure necessary for production. The other groups may introduce abstract ideas or have suggestions that don't seem feasible, but it's the responsibility of engineering to make these things possible at a reasonable cost. This group will also know about materials or best practices that can improve the quality of your product, reduce manufacturing time, and increase the likelihood of successful product implementation.
Traditionally these groups may have issues with each other, avoid the common mistake of letting these groups fight over details. Consider non-confrontational ways of evaluating the product design including viewing the product in a homogeneous group, written or survey based feedback, meetings of representatives only, informal idea sharing environments, or using a moderator to focus discussions. Don't let poor internal relationships hinder progress in the product design process.
Another common mistake is saying, "This won't work for us, we provide a service." Remember, services are products too, if they weren't how could you describe the process of implementation required to replicate your efforts. If you can't package your services into quantifiable products, then you're probably making other mistakes causing you to waste money.
Use this design time to improve business process. Getting these groups together at product design is a great time to iron out inter-relationship communications issues that often arise. If there are any logistical problems related to the production and delivery of the new (or improved) product, then while each group is together, it is best to address these issues throughly.
Go beyond customer feedback when improving your products by involving your employees, and you'll produce profitable products your customers will buy. Encourage dynamic feedback from every part of your organization that interacts with your customers or products, you'll reduce costs and increase product value. Where will you start today?
Justin Hitt helps executives build profitable relationships with customer, employees, and strategic partners. He can be reached by phone at +1 (877) 207-3798 or on-line at https://iunctura.com/
Last update: 04/08/2004; 2:37:39 PM.