2 ways to use your customers for product development

Coming up with new products to sell is one of the hardest and most important tasks that a firm can undertake. Without innovation, a company runs the risk of losing ground on its competitors, which typically spells disaster.

Many companies resign themselves to a low level of product development because they believe that anything more would require a significant investment in time and resources. While these two things certainly help in the creation of new products, they are not the only ones. In fact, many businesses are increasingly turning to a much less expensive resource for product generation ideas: their customers.

According to new research from the American Marketing Association (AMA), a company’s customers can be among its most valuable resources in terms of devising, producing and releasing new products. According to the study, it is important for businesses to listen to their customers and involve them at various points throughout the innovation process.

“Any firm new to major innovation is dealing with ‘newness’ because the technology market is so unknown,” said Nicole Coviello of the AMA. “As a result, we think even large firms can learn from our study, if they are willing to break out of the step-by-step and risk averse models learned in business school.”

Indeed, according to the source, it is just as important to ignore some conventional wisdom as it is to adopt it. Contrary to what you may have learned, amateur consumers often have insights that are just as profound as development experts. What, though, are the best ways for doing this?

Ask for input
As is the case with so many of life’s pursuits, the first step is to ask for help. In this task, social media is probably your staunchest ally. Although these venues are perfect for marketing your business, they can also be essential in your efforts to progress and evolve as a company.

You can start with a simple post telling customers that you’re planning on developing a new product and that you would love their input. Make sure to create a space for them to submit their ideas, and then check that location regularly. You may find yourself sifting through ten unworkable ideas for every potentially acceptable one, but in the long run this technique is significantly more efficient and cost-effective than most alternatives.

Release demos
Once you’ve come up with a product that is almost ready for launch, it is time to lean on your customers once again. Select some of your most vocal and loyal customers, give them a version of your new product and ask them for input. As far as looking for a reliable focus group, there is often no better option than a group of your oldest and most reliable customers.

Have you ever used your customers to help you launch a new product? Share some of your insights in the comments below!

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Martin Jones

Martin Jones is a Senior Marketing Manager with the corporate Cox Communications social media team where he assists in leading strategy, campaign ideation and marketing execution for Cox Business social media & content marketing. Today, over 1 million fans engage with Cox Communications content, campaigns and Customer Care on Facebook, Twitter, You Tube. LinkedIn and Google+.