Most organizations strive to keep their product developers locked up far away from customers. After all, you never know what an engineer or designer might say. Those R&D guys tend to be coldly straight, to the point and struggle with the concept of “spin,” which can be kind of scary. They also deeply understand the product, its special nuances, performance profile and underlying technology platform. It is also in their power to change these attributes. For these reasons customers love to talk with these “factory” guys. They feel like their gripes and suggestions are making it unfiltered to the source, and if they can garner some great tips for using the product, all the better. It’s worth considering how you can unlock your R&D team to drive adoption of your products.
Key Customer Collaboration
To build stronger relationships with key customers, consider opening a communication channel between them and your R&D organization early in your product development cycle. Invite them to collaborate with R&D in needs-finding, feature definition and requirements-building. This collaboration will build loyalty, a sense of ownership and a willingness to adopt and buy your company’s new products.
Thought and Opinion-Leader Development
In many markets, product adoption is driven by thought or opinion leaders who vet new products and serve as trusted references to their colleagues. Exposure of these individuals to your R&D team provides them with a means to build a deep knowledge of the inner workings of your product and positions them to be experts among their colleagues. The R&D team is uniquely positioned to drive deeper understanding through theory of operation explanations, discussion of design trade-offs, presentation of test results and demonstration of product performance envelopes.
Closely related to employing R&D to develop opinion leaders is education of the general user group. While the need for deep understanding is not as great as with thought leaders, there is competitive advantage to be obtained by leveraging your R&D team to deliver more technical information about your product to the general customer base, especially those in the “early majority” of the adoption curve (1). Delivery means can take the form of articles, seminars, video conferences and presentations at educational meetings. Many companies find that in the course of delivering this information, they identify potential new product champions and opinion leaders that can be cultivated.
Who Has Time For This?
R&D managers under pressure to deliver new products may resist having their precious resources co-opted to the above activities. After all, this sounds like sales & marketing’s job along with their product specialists. This is certainly a valid concern, but there is much to be gained for R&D; unfiltered information access, opportunity to identify un-stated needs, first-hand knowledge of use environments, enhanced profile in user and technical communities and finally a real chance to influence the adoption of the products they worked so hard to create.
(1) For more information on Adoption Curves see Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers, Harper Business, 1999.
Tom Kadavy provides product strategy leadership as the Director of Medical Technology at Stratos Product Development. Stratos helps clients rapidly and cost-effectively create relevant and compelling technology products, ready for market introduction.