Turn Input into Innovation

Casual feedback from your sales people and customers is invaluable when it comes to product development.

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Product development is essential if a business is to survive and grow. It is linked to the ability of a business to remain competitive and also to its longevity.

A business that does not grasp the importance of new product development will not last very long in an economy defined by innovation and change.

Quite simply, you have to adapt constantly to remain relevant. New product development may involve conceptualising a completely new line of products, or it could be aimed at upgrading existing products that a company may be selling to the market already.

Whatever the situation, the development of new products is an essential part of any business strategy.

Rewards for reconnaissance 

One of the most effective and least costly ways to engage in ongoing product development is to engage your sales team and get them to provide relevant feedback and insights from the field.

To encourage them to do that, they have to be incentivised. Incentivising your sales team – and even other members of staff – can strengthen your company, provided that the incentive plan is properly designed and executed.

The key is to make your incentive plan fit your overall product development strategy. Pick incentives that are within your budget, and make certain that your employees understand the rules.

Communicating a clear vision, following through on your commitments and honestly assessing the results will help ensure the success of your incentive plan and contribute significantly to your overall product development drive.

I’m a great believer in incentives that are both financial and prestigious. Avoid token incentives – if you are going to reward your sales team for bringing you useful feedback from the trenches, make it worth their while. For example, it’s advisable to ensure that the amount of cash handed to them is significant.

Because people thrive on peer recognition, it’s also a good idea to ensure that incentive winners receive a plaque or certificate of some sort, which is handed to them at an awards’ function. It’s also important to maintain the status of the award by presenting it annually or bi-annually (rather than every month) and to ensure that it takes place as promised.

Cost-effective intelligence

The level of feedback your sales executives receive from clients is also critical. There are a number of expensive methods by which customer input can be gathered. However, a more informal and less costly approach can be extremely fruitful.

In any industry, there are key clients who use your products and services who may be regarded as the brain power in your market. They may be major accounts, large organisations or industry bodies. As a result of either their total spend, or their influence in the industry, they have a major impact on your product development initiatives.

In addition to these representatives, there are also the people on the ground who actually use your products. By combining these two sets of voices, you can use this information to create new, enhanced products that directly meet the needs of your market.

Prompting customer input is key to ensuring that the products you develop are focused on customer needs – some of which will be obvious, and others hidden.

Careful and thorough attention to gathering customer needs will mitigate the risk of missed opportunities and enable superior design. Beyond that, interaction with customers is an invaluable exercise in CRM as it gives them a forum to present their ideas.

Casually does it

An approach that has always worked well in my environment is to host a lunch or a dinner, to which you invite your most profitable customers, industry body representatives, and even your most outspoken detractors. The conversations that take place at this type of semi-formal event can provide you with the kernel for the development of more consultative products.

It gives people in your industry the opportunity to talk about the problems they face and what you should be doing about it. It kick-starts a process of creative thinking and even competitiveness among the attendees, who often find themselves expanding on the comments of others. My team would often come out of these meetings with the most phenomenal new product ideas, and great insights into CRM.

The trick is not to be too blatant about what you’re up to when you organise these events. Ideally you want people to feel relaxed and comfortable to talk.

That’s what will give you the opportunity to create a kind of intellectual think-tank that can benefit your business enormously. On top of that, these discussions will also enable you to acknowledge customers for the role that they have played in specific product tweaks and changes – again, another CRM win.

These occasions prove that informal research can be enormously beneficial for a sales organisation, providing high-level, authentic feedback at a cost that will not break the bank.

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