Mad Customer Scientists: The Value of Customers in Innovation

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Mad Customer Scientists: The Value of Customers in Innovation

Part 6 in the Perfect Prospect Model Series

 

This series is based on a concept of measuring customer value as a means of identifying and focusing on your BEST customers (and then using that knowledge to pursue the PERFECT prospects).

 

Over the last twenty years, I’ve built some great products and features. But I’ve also built some terrible ones. The difference between the successful and failed products can almost always be correlated to whether we had great customers co-innovating effectively.

 

When sales or marketing look at their target market data they hone in on a group of companies or individuals that would value what we’re selling and our unique differentiators. For product management and the executive team that are looking to advance the business in a competitive landscape, they’ll be looking for those innovator customers to help them take the company to the next level.

 

When I was a Director of Product Strategy for a global software company, I made sure that everyone was clear what a customer co-innovator looked like. Here are the four things that make some customers so valuable as partners.

 

Co-Innovator customers use our products in a way that fit our current or long-term vision

 

A company can develop their solutions and services in millions of ways. What distinguishes successful companies is often their focus and clarity of vision. They are willing to listen to the market but the market alone doesn’t dictate their direction. And with a strong vision of where they want to take their products and to whom, a truly valuable co-innovator customer joins the journey to help it along.

 

Not too long ago, I was working on a next generation product. As the product manager, I went to some of our existing customers looking for co-innovators. I found, what I believed to the be, a perfect candidate. They were a smaller company with a big brand name and the department I was working with was full of smart, entrepreneurial people. Not only did they “get” what I was describing quickly, they started asking really thoughtful questions and making relevant suggestions right away. The potentially surprising thing about this customer was that they were one of our smallest accounts and that worked in our favor as they weren’t demanding financially or operationally.

 

Co-innovator customers are able to see and represent the market, not just their own personal needs

 

When co-innovating with customers, we must always be careful not to end up with the wrong relationship. There are two types of customers that innovate with companies. The first uses a co-innovation relationship to essentially help them get a custom solution that better meets their needs. The second recognizes that they are contributing to a market-wide solution and that they will get some benefits naturally as a member of that market.

 

This second group, who are your ideal co-innovators, would say things like, “We need something that does X, Y, Z but, really, we are probably the only ones that do it that way. Most people in our industry would just need X.” These customers understand their needs and processes and can objectively see how they compare to others.

 

Co-innovator customers are committed partners in the process

 

When you are looking to build and launch new products, you need co-innovators that are committed to and engaged in the program. Watch out for customers that are excited to participate but end up overwhelmed by other projects and initiatives. It will help if you are clear about the level of time, resources and output you need from them but they should be working on their side to honor their commitment to the project.

 

In some cases, your customer co-innovators could be providing executive guidance rather than hands on alpha testing or other project work. That’s great, too, as long as they are clear about what they can offer and they deliver on it.

 

Co-innovator customers share their story

 

Finally, one of the most important things they should be delivering as a co-innovator is their name. They should be committed to providing feedback to you but also to the market in the form of testimonials, examples, ROI results and more.

 

So what VALUE do these customer co-innovators deliver to your business? It depends on your frequency of new development and your need for co-innovation. With my software hat on, I can safely say that we ALWAYS needed co-innovators. They helped us to vet our ideas and provided real ROI results that we could use in our marketing. They were generally champions and helped with marketing as well. It was because of them that we could launch a product that hit the mark the first time. In some cases, that saved us millions in failed or irrelevant development and in others it gained us millions in sales.

 

Who are your co-innovating customers and does everyone in the business know how valuable they are to you?

 

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Julie Holmes is a sales & marketing advisor, speaker and Whole Company Selling leader. She works with B2B companies that want to sell more and increase their customer lifetime value by helping everyone in their organization understand and share their value with prospects and customers.

 

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