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Patricia Seybold, in her new book Outside Innovation: How Your Customers Will Co-design Your Company’s Future, offers some valuable strategies that your company can use to implement customer-focused innovation. Of course, if you’re going to place customers at the center of your innovation initiatives, you can no longer sit in your cubicle dreaming up new product ideas and tossing them over the wall to product development and marketing. No, you actually have to engage with your customers and prospects. But how? Patricia offers these recommended strategies.

Patricia Seybold, in her new book Outside Innovation: How Your Customers Will Co-design Your Company’s Future, offers some valuable strategies that your company can use to implement customer-focused innovation. Of course, if you’re going to place customers at the center of your innovation initiatives, you can no longer sit in your cubicle dreaming up new product ideas and “tossing them over the wall” to product development and marketing. No, you actually have to engage with your customers and prospects. But how? Patricia offers these recommended strategies:

Observe what customers do: “Look… at what customers and potential customers are doing. Try to observe customers in their natural settings.  Watch how they do things, what they’re trying to do, and how they improvise or customize in order to accomplish their desired outcomes in the way that works best for them.”

Provide toolkits and guidelines for innovation: “If you want to harness customers’ innovative abilities, provide them with built-in opportunities to innovate. Give them ways to mix and match, to extend your products, to customize, to extend the capabilities you’ve provided… Encourage them to share their improvisations, customizations and extensions with others.”

Invite and reward customers for providing guidance to others: “Invite your expert customers to categorize and classify your information and your products in ways that make sense to other customers or prospects. Solicit their recommendations and suggestions for additional features and new-product ideas.”

Create customer communities and observe/participate in the online communities your customers care about: “Don’t just post a discussion form on your web site. Recruit and incent the right group of people to act as consultants in ongoing discussions with each other and with your organization… If you hear negatives, learn from them and fix the problems.”

Put a program in place to encourage and support promoters: “Even the most loyal fans sometimes need encouragement to get the word out there. Offer your customers benefits for promoting your products and services — since it’s something they’ll do naturally, anyway… If the products they’re promoting include their own contributions, they’ll be even more enthusiastic about promoting them.”

Many of Patricia’s suggestions will no doubt strikes fear into the hearts of the managers and leaders of conservative, product-focused companies. They demand a level openness and risk that some people just aren’t prepared to accommodate. “You want us to condone our customers fooling around with our products and figure out new things they can do with them? Are you nuts?” Participating in online communities appears to be risky, too. “What if they criticize our products or say bad things about our company?” But this kind of discussion may already be taking place — whether you know it or not. So why not be proactive and demonstrate how you solve their problems and address their concerns?

Such is the brave new world of customer focused innovation.  Yes, there are some risks.  But there are some potentially huge rewards, too, as this book compellingly demonstrates through its ample selection of case histories.

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