Most companies think they know how their customers view them.  Most companies think they understand what their customers want.  Most companies are wrong. Fact is, most companies are still chasing the next big deal opportunistically.  They rely on gut feel and promises of new growth and revenue rather than relying on existing customers to help them navigate the pathways to growth.  It doesn’t have to be this way.

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Should customers dictate the direction of a product line?  Definitely not.  Should customers get a voice at the table?  Absolutely. I classify product inputs in 5 classes:

  1. Fault Correction (Technical Support) – These features help your tech support team do their job better.  Ideally implementing these features means that customers don’t encounter the problems in the first place.
  2. Necessity (Must-Do) – This input includes all the un-sexy aspects of a product that make it work.  Need a new feature to satisfy a federal safety regulation?  It gets placed in this bucket.
  3. Market Driven (Growth Initiatives) – Hopefully your product team is focused on what the customers need most and what they need next.  This is the team that should be spotting and jumping on chances to innovate.
  4. Opportunistic (New Deals) – No, this doesn’t refer to FDR’s plan to bail out society from the Great Depression, though you may think so given the importance your sales team may attach to it.  Phrases like “we’re losing deals left and right and can’t sell anything until this feature is implemented” are clues that you are in the land of opportunity.
  5. Responsiveness (Customer Feedback) – Your customers have needs, and you can either meet those needs, or have your competition meet them.  Your choice.

The sooner and more successfully you engage in meaningful conversations with your customers, the more closely aligned 3, 4, and 5 will be.  When that happens, your Product team delivers more value to the Sales team, which in turn delivers more value to the customer, which creates more value for the company. It’s tough to escape the common pitfall of chasing the latest deal/fad and it involves trusting the Development and Product teams.  But without a model that relies on facts, you may as well be reading tea leaves or consulting an Ouija board for direction.  The pivot point is that by communicating with customers about their goals and objectives, your company can get ahead of the panic-curve and deliver innovative solutions which capture new market share while driving additional value to existing customers. How do you use your customers’ input to shape your future?

Tea Leaves, Tarot Cards and Customer Service
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