Preston Smith's Corner

Should we depend on Sales to keep our customers happy?

January 2005 Quick Tip

The “standard solution” to product development is to have sales or marketing people work with customers in the field while highly paid design engineers work in the laboratory without distraction so they can develop new products quickly. This solution has its strengths. It does allow developers to concentrate, it keeps them from “confusing” customers with “strange” ideas, and it exploits the broad field exposure that sales and marketing people receive.

The biggest problem with this is that the developers are making thousands of small design decisions daily that accumulate toward a product that either delights or frustrates customers. For instance, have you ever tried to use a strange DVD remote control with 50+ buttons to simply pause and restart a film? Do you think that its designers ever studied novices like us trying to use their remote?

Thus, it is essential to find some way for your product designers to experience regular, direct contract with the customers using your product. I find that each company doing this well finds a unique, clever way to connect with its customers. For example, Boeing invites customers (airlines) to move in and sit with the design team throughout development. A small company developing building security alarms sent the team out to watch their product being installed. A maker of construction equipment schedules design engineers to answer customer support calls for a full day each quarter.

Suggestion: look at the nature of your products and customers – and their proximity to you – and create some way for your designers to maintain regular contact with them (rather than copying another company’s method).

(c) Copyright 2013 Preston G. Smith. All Rights Reserved.

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