Every day we hear how business is changing with an ever-increasing level of customer interaction through the Web, social networks and mobile apps. We hear about the evolution of marketing, customer service and billing – but how has this increased level of customer engagement changed new product development?

The recently released CMO’s Agenda™ report from CMG Partners delves into this topic by interviewing a number of marketing, product and innovation experts about how they investigate new product development (NPD) by listening to their customers.

There has been a common model of exploration that product innovators use to examine the Market, the Customer, the Competition, and the company’s Capabilities, what we call the M&3C’s. What we found in our most recent research is that for many companies, the balance between the M&3C’s has shifted to the Customer as a primary source of intelligence for NPD. Through several in-depth interviews, we found that by maintaining a continual conversation with the customer and leveraging insights from Big Data, many companies are transforming and improving their NPD process.

Six of the methods detailed in the report include:

  1. Product Advisory Councils
    Product councils can be an effective method of tapping into a firm’s power users and most engaged customers for new product insights. Ravi Shankar, VP of product marketing for Informatica, describes their approach, “Last year we ran about five different product advisory councils. These are key customers who are leveraging our product in a very successful manner.” This practice is credited with keeping Informatica consistently ranked in Garter’s Magic Quadrant among enterprise data management providers.
  2. Key Opinion Leaders
    Key opinion leaders can be customer experts, industry gurus, or writers and media personalities. Most often their independence is key to their level of influence, so their endorsement must be earned. K2M is a manufacturer of highly specialized spinal correction devices and they work with a set of select surgeons whom they call Key Opinion Leaders. K2M works very closely with these customers to gather practical and conceptual feedback on their ideas, concept, designs and prototypes. As a result, K2M feels they develop better products, and foster positive relationships with influential advocates for new products.
  3. Crowd Sourcing
    Crowd sourcing can be spontaneous or deliberate. With crowd sourcing, companies take advantage of broad interaction with the public, usually over social and digital media. Companies like Lego and Dell are renown for their specialized websites that elicit votes and comments en masse for product usage and new product ideas. Through crowd sourcing, companies can operate with a version of “beta testing” to gather input from their potential market and shape their product and its launch.
  4. Social Listening
    Social listening can be an efficient tool to capture real-time feedback for a new product or service. Patrick Vernon of University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School described a very agile approach presented to his class: “A visiting CEO once outlined their approach to social listening. After launching a release at 1:00 AM, they would watch Twitter and people would either complain about it or love it, and based on that input, the company would iterate. By the time the rest of the world woke up, this company would already have something like the fifth iteration of their product.”
  5. Customer Interaction Data
    Chris Jo, general manager and head of global services for Samsung, says his team leverages data and interactions with customers in multiple ways, “We have a unique channel, the Samsung app store, where people can comment on our product and we can actually engage with them through comments. It’s not just one way, we strive for two-way communication so we make sure that we really understand what our customers want.” The value of this interaction comes when a company responds by continual product refinement based on customer feedback.
  6. Customer Forums
    Thomson Reuters Tax & Accounting has recently gone through a transformation in its market approach. The main change was to collaborate more closely across functions, but the company is also becoming more proactive about capturing early customer and industry feedback. CMO Tobias Lee explains, “[Our customer forums are] a hybrid of a controlled release and a show-and-tell. We hosted a series of customer forums to gauge reaction and interest, but also to validate whether we were directionally correct with our approach.” Their new approach has led Thomson Reuters to design products that are better designed to meet the customer needs identified through these forums.

The wide range of customer engagement and interactivity available today should be a prime resource for input into new product development. Make sure that your product marketers are looking to customers and prospects to identify and validate opportunities – whether those opportunities are explicitly voiced or implied – through careful study of customer motivations. Our research for this recent CMO’s Agenda found that by creating and fostering a continual conversation with the customer, marketers and product developers could better conquer the challenges of today’s market.

Read the full CMO’s Agenda™ report by CMG Partners today.