Tag Archives: product development

Customer Engagement: A Startup Secret Weapon

man with coffee, customer engagement

Never underestimate the power of sharing a cup of coffee!

By Andrew Johnson, Ph.D.

Why now
Although this may seem counterintuitive, it is vital to begin customer engagement activities long before you have a product to sell to them.  This is especially true when you have an innovative new concept and will potentially be first to market.  Failure to engage with your customers early will more often than not lead to, at best, wasting a lot of time and effort working on features that are unimportant to your customers and at worst, launching the wrong product.

The value of a good relationship with your future customers
Customer engagement is not marketing.  It is any activity that fosters two-way communication with your customers.  This is where you will find out exactly what features of your product will be most important and also who most values them (customer segmentation).   The reason that it is critical to begin doing this early is that the insights you gain from your future customers will allow you to more accurately determine the critical product specifications that will delight your customers when you launch.

Some Customer Engagement Tactics:

    • Face-to-face meetings
      This is the best way to confirm that your product and its feature set is right for your customer.  You get the most information this way and non-verbal reactions to your product or feature set proposals are worth the time and effort that this method requires
    • Phone feedback
      Follow-up phone conversations with customers that you have already met face-to-face.  This can be a good way to validate any changes to your product concept that you made based on the feedback you received from your prior prototype
  • Social media
    Start and maintain a blog to get additional and ongoing feedback.  (Be sure that you allow commenting and respond to those comments – remember this is a conversation).

    Share your concepts on a short YouTube video (2 – 3 minutes max.) and end with a question, your website and e-mail contact info.

    Consider setting up a Facebook page for the business and initially use it to drive traffic to your website and blog.

    Use Twitter to stay ‘in-the- know’ of late breaking changes in your industry by following Key Opinion Leaders.  Don’t just lurk, ask questions.

    Use LinkedIn to find new people to connect with that could become customers for you.  Once you think you know who your customer is, use LinkedIn to help you connect with them and then schedule a time for a face-to-face or phone conversation.

Get started now
Ideally, you will begin engaging with your customers prior to any alpha testing.  Start now because the earlier you start the better you will limit the costs and delays of rework.    The company leadership should be conducting these and ideally the Founder/President is part of this effort as well.

Picture Credit:  © Surkov_vladimir | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

Alpha Evaluations: Going from Great Science to Great Products

OK sign made by hand

Give your customers what they want with great alpha testing.

By:  Andrew Johnson, Ph.D.

Why do alpha testing?
Alpha evaluations, also known as alpha testing, can be a crucial way to reduce the risk of launching a product that will not be accepted by your customers.  When alpha testing is done well, this can provide crucial insights on how well your final product is going to be valued by customers and what is not.  A good early understanding of these product attributes will save you considerable effort and expense during your product development.   Essentially, this effort will tell you how to best transform your innovative science into products your customers will want (and purchase).

Alpha evaluations are:

        • Run by R&D not Product Management
          • These efforts should provide R&D with the insights they need to make changes to the product performance and/or feature set.  Further R&D may be necessary if the current prototype does not meet the performance expectations of your target customers.  Remember to keep product management in the loop during this effort though.
        • Tests of very early prototypes to gauge customer acceptance of proposed product
          • For software products, consider creating a mockup of what the software will be like using PowerPoint slides.   You walk the evaluator through what each tab and feature might be like very quickly with a minimum of up-front effort.
          •  For reagent products or kits, don’t worry about any fancy labels or packaging.  Prepare some samples and use them with your tester.  It is important not to just send them to the tester and ask for feedback but really to work side by side with them in your lab or theirs to maximize getting the most relevant feedback on your current concept.
          • For instrumentation or equipment, bring ‘bread-board’ version or other mock up prototype to tester’s lab or invite them into yours, for the evaluation.  This does not need to be ‘pretty’ and not all of the functionality needs to be in place.  You want to get feedback on the core function of your instrument or equipment to see how well they accept it.
        • A source of customer insights that will change your final product
          • Unlike beta testing, changes to the product will be made based on alpha evaluator feedback.  Be sure to get feedback on the desired (or expected) performance characteristics of your proposed product (e.g. acceptable linear dynamic range, sensitivity limits, through-put, ease of use etc.)

Important safety tip
Beware the danger of this effort becoming a research project (leading to time and cost overruns not to mention confounding your commercialization plans).  Alpha testing is not feasibility testing or discovery research.  The goal of this effort is to see if the current concept for your product will be valued by potential customers.  At this point, it is assumed that the underlying science works.  Set specific goals for what you hope to learn and stick to that.

When not to do alpha testing
Alpha evaluations may not always be appropriate.  If you are making a better version of an existing product (yours or a competitors) alpha testing is most likely not needed since you already have plenty of information on what customers like and don’t like about the current offering(s).  Use alpha testing when you can’t easily answer “yes” to this this statement.

“The design of my current product offering will meet or exceed the expectations of my customers.”

© Simonkr | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos