Every company knows that the more they understand the complex business issues behind their customers’ decision process the greater their chance of success. Any great technology company credits the way they listened to their customers as a key factor in their success. But how can you get all that great customer feedback you need when you barely have time to get to the bathroom between meetings!
Of course, you start by talking to your customers. A Customer Advisory Board is a highly effective tool for gaining important feedback from major customers while strengthening your relationships with them. A structured customer advisory board program brings consistent feedback throughout the product lifecycle.
But don’t forget your business partners. Partners are often ignored in market research, but I strongly believe that including partners is crucial. Partners, especially resellers and VARS, can provide you with a unique insight. In addition to being deeply familiar with your product and your customers (admit it, they often have better trusted advisor relationships than your own employees do) they are NOT employees of your company. This mix of deep expertise and external viewpoint often identifies issues that lie just under the radar for employees that are too close to them, or problems that are too vague for customers to properly communicate to you.
One way to get this valuable information from your partners is to add a panel of partners to your Customer Advisory Board. You should talk with partners separately, but do ask them the same questions you ask your customers and get feedback on the same topics. Another option is to start a dedicated Partner Advisory Board. A Partner Advisory Board gives partners a specific voice in your company’s strategy and has the added bonus of facilitating strong partner relationships.
WARNING: Reseller partners are very “real” with their feedback. They’ll put it all on the table – both good and bad. If you want to only hear the good things, partners are not the group to talk to! But if you resist the temptation to dismiss their negative feedback as “whiny”, you will gain important insight into what prevents them from selling more. During the best sessions, the partners freely and openly discuss issues, while the moderator encourages that discussion, makes sure any negativity is heard, and then leads the conversation into a dialogue on realistic steps to solve problems.
Really listening to your partners is absolutely one of the best ways to ensure your company’s efforts match the market’s needs.