Listen to Your Customers

by Mike Carnes, Technology Commercialization Counselor

In our last newsletter, we discussed the importance of determining who your company’s true customers are and how that knowledge can help you prepare a strong commercialization plan. This issue, we’re focusing on techniques used in primary market research with the goal of identifying solutions your customers need, want and are willing to pay for. These techniques can also help you identify additional problems and gaps in the marketplace – which your company might be able to address.

It is critical to talk directly to your customers as you move through the product development process. “Voice of Customer” (VOC) analysis lets you gain insight from customers about unmet needs in various market segments. This information can help you match your technology capabilities and attributes to those needs, offering customers their preferred solution and giving you an advantage over your competitors.

Companies often use VOC to decide if a particular product, or line of products, will resonate with customers. VOC also lets you strengthen your relationships with your customers by demonstrating you are interested in their needs. This is especially true if you are careful to avoid focusing the conversation on a “sale” and instead focus on gathering market intelligence.

Before starting a formal VOC process, you must develop a plan to ensure the conversations provide the information you need and meet your goals. To capture the most information from customer interviews, it can be helpful to establish a list of specific questions each customer will be asked. Be careful to identify any assumptions you have made in product design and focus on validating those assumptions by designing appropriate questions. You may also decide to develop questions that highlight each market segment you intend to target; this can help you learn whether certain features might be more or less appealing to certain markets. Creating a pilot questionnaire and testing it with a few key customers gives you the chance to use their feedback to refine your process before taking the questionnaire to a larger customer group.

VOC allows your customers to help you determine whether your assumptions about their needs and your solution are on target. Early VOC can also point out critical flaws and allow your company to pivot and develop a more appropriate product. Ultimately your products, your value proposition and your company will be strengthened by the VOC process.

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