Getting input from your customers and key design partners for and buy-in to new products and services is essential to creating products that meet expectations and succeed in the today’s increasingly competitive market. The reason is simple; if you don’t know the needs of your customers, how can you possibly deliver a product that meets them?
This is especially true in the technology sector where acquisitions have shifted product demands from feature sets and interoperability to how well hardware and software addresses business problems. This shift also affects how vendors select and arm channel partners. This environment creates a growing need for product managers and marketers to obtain customer buy-in on new products and to work closely with their channel partners to create and support those products.
A study conducted by Forrester Research supports this concept. Though this concept seems straightforward, there are a range of technical and process issues that often thwart product managers’ and market personnel’s ability to maintain strong, collaborative relationships with partners and customers. Fortunately there are a number of tools available to help facilitate this vital link, but they aren’t always integrated together, and as a result, must often be pieced together. Product managers and marketers must spearhead efforts to more closely collaborate within the company and put the tools to use to facilitate it.
This new focus on intercompany collaboration means product managers and marketers must create a new paradigm through which to not only listen and communicate with customers and partners more but also collaborate and create products with them. Technology vendors that master this concept will increase customer satisfaction through client, approved, relevant product while simultaneously increasing their channel partner’s chance of success. Achieving this, however, requires business leaders to overcome their reluctance to allow employees to share information and work with parties outside of the company.
Technical and cultural obstacles
There are several technical and process issues that adversely affect a company’s ability to collaborate effectively with its customers and partners, and business leaders and IT departments must acknowledge them in order to create ways to deal with them. One significant hurdle is concerns regarding data security. Companies must create a process by which IP is protected and outside design participants can view data behind corporate firewalls.
Other issues include: conflicting business models between companies or even between departments within a company; poorly adapted collaboration tools; limited input requested from partners and customers; and lack of processes in place to analyze customer and partner input, according to the Forrester report, entitled “Why Intercompany Collaboration is Important to Technology Product Managers and Marketers.”
According to the report, in order to facilitate collaboration, tech product managers and marketers need to create an environment that facilitates cooperation within the buyer and channel communities, and collaborative exchanges between the vendor and those communities. Companies must also put processes in place that foster communication between their partners and customers, which can prove very beneficial to product launches. In some cases where multiple channel partners are involved, companies should find a way to encourage collaboration between them as well. Lastly, encourage dialogue between various customers via support communities.
Tools for Intercompany Collaboration
In order to facilitate such collaboration, tools must be used that enable companies to share content and information, generate ideas, and communicate in real time in an auditable and secure manner. Traditional collaboration software, however, was developed specifically for internal collaboration.
While some vendors are working to fix this gap in software solutions, tech product managers must now piece together solutions to enable company-to-company interactions. The two vital components are: tools that allow workers to post, share and work on content with others, and tools that allow workers to communicate with each other about the content. In the latter category, these tools include: team workspaces, file-sharing sites, social software platforms (profiles, wikis, blogs, etc.), instant messaging, web conferencing, and videoconferencing.
The bottom line is technology vendors need to actively work with their partners and their customers to help generate ideas for new products and features; ascertain each constituency’s unique business issues; and facilitate the collaboration of all these parties in new product development efforts. In order to do this, tech product managers and marketers must clearly establish the goals for collaboration and identify the tools necessary to achieve that goal.
What communities (channel partners, customers, etc.) does your company currently collaborate with on new product development?