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In this article, we’ll look at three ways to engage customers and create products they want to buy right now.

If you have an idea for a product or service but are uncertain about launching something new during the pandemic, rest assured that people are still buying. They are looking for solutions to the unique problems they are experiencing today, and if you have the solution they need, they will buy it. The biggest challenge for business owners right now is breaking through the noise.

Now more than ever, customers are being bombarded with countless choices, which means that in order to select your offering, they must have some level of connection with you. The same customers have too many choices and with the higher uncertainty, they are careful on what they buy and who they buy from. Trust and connection is becoming a critical consideration during purchase/investment decisions now than pre-pandemic.

Another challenge is ensuring that your offering actually matters right now, given the new set of circumstances your customers are experiencing. Customers want a clearly stated and provable value proposition before they buy. This is especially true in complex offerings, digital offerings, and high-priced offerings.

Engage Your Customers Early

The first step toward creating solutions that your customers want is to engage those customers in the early stages of product development. There are many benefits to this strategy.

First, you get the client’s attention. This is premium and allows you a deep advantage to learn. Second, you learn from reality. If the customers do not like the solution or do not believe there is enough value for them, you will know. If they do like or, even better, advise you to improve your solution and add more value, you can then amplify what you are doing. Third, engaging customers allows you early market entry and sales. If you are successful, it provides the referrals you need to create traction. Finally, you learn faster. Innovation is time-bound and there is always a race to market. The quickest way to market is to build a customer base during solution development so your early adopters eventually become your brand evangelists.

How To Engage Your Customers

There are three stages during which you can engage your customers: product definition, product development, and product validation. Depending on the customer, nature of relationship, and resource needs, the customer may not be available to work with you in all of the stages. It is important for you and the customer to understand which stage you are in, outline the benefits for the customer and set proper expectations at the onset.

Stage 1. Product Definition: In this stage, you need to understand the customer’s needs and wants so you can properly incorporate these aspects into your product. The customer must trust that you will be confidential and that the data they share and the time they invest is going to be used to create a solution for them. This does not necessarily constitute a commitment for a solution, but it is important for the customer to understand that they are helping seed a potential solution for themselves and others in their industry. Some customers may ask for compensation, exclusivity or some other form of benefit in exchange of the information. In this stage, you must answer these questions:

  1. What are the customer’s needs/wants? What is the job-to-be-done?
  2. What is the right way to deliver the expectations of the job? (Consider functionality in the right form such as channels, timing, design, etc.)
  3. How will we measure the impact of the job done? Or what does success look like?

Stage 2. Product Development: In this stage, you need to develop your product collaboratively with your customer. The key here is working as closely as possible with your customer. Around the world, everyday, there are many products that never get adopted by the customer because companies develop solutions in their own “caves” and introduce them to customers as a surprise. In many cases, the offering fails because it does not meet the need the way customers would like, and customers do not feel valued because they have only been treated as buyer, not a collaborator. Customers want to be part of creating their own solutions.  In this stage, you must answer these questions:

  1. Now that we know what the customers want, what is the best approach to develop the new product quickly?
  2. How can we develop iteratively and incrementally with customer involvement?
  3. How do we develop a profitable product?

Stage 3. Product Validation: In this stage, you need to validate the market viability of your product. The true metric for validation is customer usage and economic exchange for that usage: the customer believes your solution addresses a need they have and is valuable enough for them to pay for it. There are two forms of payments: direct, where the customers pays you directly or though a distribution you have defined, and indirect, where the customer buys through someone else who also serves your customers, such as advertising models in social media platforms. In this stage, you must answer these questions:

  1. How are the initial set of customers responding to the benefits from the product?
  2. How are we collecting the feedback from customers, both qualitative and quantitative (including how they respond to the product experience)?
  3. What is right price for the value we are offering, according to initial customers with the product you take to market?

Engaging customers in product development can be a complex endeavor, but for those who want to have competitive advantage and long-term relationships with customers, it is a necessity. The next time you are thinking of building a new product or service, reach out to multiple of high-value customers, and ask them for collaboration in one or more of the stages. Inevitably, at least one of them will say yes. Start engaging them early and you will surprised what will happen to your product: it will be better, more valuable, and more profitable. Products are made great by customers loving them because they were part of creating them.

About the Author

Dr. Evans Baiya is an internationally recognized and trusted guide to business leaders and innovators. Using his 6-stage process, he helps the businesses identify, define, develop, verify, commercialize, and scale ideas so the businesses and individuals can learn, grow, and thrive.  He is the co-author of the award-winning book, The Innovator’s Advantage and co-creator of The Innovator’s Advantage Academy, a detailed step-by-step innovation training. Learn more at TheInnovatorsAdvantage.com.