Customer collaboration is key to building successful products

The days of the "build it and they will come" mentality are long gone. With the needs of customers continuously evolving, in a climate of reduced spending and even fiercer competition, companies that don’t put their customers at the heart of their product development are poised to fail.

And a lot of companies talk a good game about customer-centric product development. However, few are taking a truly collaborative approach with their customers when it comes to product innovation. 

So, what does it really take?

Start with a clear understanding of their pain points

Too many companies look at customer pain points through the lens of achieving product market fit, rather than designing a solution that solves or alleviates specific challenges their customers face. This is because it takes what is arguably the most difficult skill in business: listening.

Not that your (prospective) customers will make this easy for you. A successful product will address a market-wide issue, not a niche. So, it’s important that you don’t just listen to those that shout the loudest. Taking the time to draw out the concerns of your least forthcoming will pay dividends. 

Work out how it needs to work

But it’s not just about the problem you’re solving. Considering how you will do this seamlessly for them is key – if you’re going to ask them to uproot their existing infrastructure to introduce your solution, that’s demanding a whole lot of faith. Understanding the technology they have in place and how you can integrate into it and augment it will be key to positioning your product as a solution, not another potential headache.

Test and refine

Collaborating directly on product development with your customers can feel risky when you only have a minimum viable product (MVP), you may be worried about revealing your secret sauce or what lurks beneath. But the insights and data that you can draw from real use cases are immensely valuable. Bring them in when the solution is ready to be trialled with end users in a real business scenario. You’ll immediately find out what works and where the sticking points are. And what’s more, when it’s ready, you’ll be launching with an advocate in the market that can testify to its benefits.

So much more than a sale

When the product is brought to market, the customer-centric approach isn’t over and done. The success of the product depends on the implementation; that means ensuring it’s set up to achieve the organisation’s desired outcomes and that those using it have the knowledge to guide it to that goal. Not only do customers value this support in ironing out any early issues, but you can authoritatively commit during your sales process that you have created a solution and not just another product.

Make customer success a priority

Continuing to nurture relationships with your customers post-sale not only sets them up for the best opportunity for success in the long-term, which in turn improves customer satisfaction, but you can constantly learn from customers who are in deployment to understand what new features and products your customers need from you next.

If your customer success team recognises a trend where of wanting to do more with your product or wishing your product could also help them resolve “X problem”, this can be fed back to the product team and built into the roadmap. These engaged customers then also become great partners to test and refine the MVP of these new features with.

Have them inform your sales process

Happy, well-nurtured customers are primed for cross-selling – after all, you’ve just solved that problem they’ve been grappling with for years, so why shouldn’t they trust you to solve another challenge they’re facing.

But beyond up- and cross-selling, insights drawn from close customer relationships can help inform new use cases to attract new customers. Take a data analytics platform, for example, while bought to solve resourcing issues, a customer might also discover a new use case that can help improve commercial sales. Learning from customers who are pushing the boundary of your product in this way will help you create more sales opportunities.

There’s a reason we call them “solutions”

Successful products aren’t those created as an end in themselves. They need to be a means to an end; a means to solving a problem or seizing an opportunity. So don’t try and find the product that no one else in the market is selling. Find out what is keeping your customers up at night and what their business goals are, then build the solution hand-in-hand with them for their success and yours.