Small companies are often discouraged about product development because of the perceived difficulty, time, and expense ("...only really big companies can afford to do it!"). Sometimes it is as easy as:
- Staying close to your customers: for example, how often do you ask them what they want/need that they are not getting from anyone?
- Staying close to the ultimate product user: how often do you talk with the end users of your product, if they are not the same people who actually buy your product?
- Staying close to your sales force, if you have one: when was the last time you asked anyone in sales if they have seen anything that is better or that they like better?
- Staying close to your suppliers: suppliers are often the closest to the latest technology, materials, ingredients, international advances, and competitive improvements.
Larger companies will periodically conduct usage and attitude studies, diary panel studies, product perception mapping studies, and other product development monitoring devices. They may also employ special researchers to scan patents and new product technology publication sources and talk with industry attorneys, consultants, research firms, and industry/trade experts to keep tabs on target user needs and wants.
Informal research on wants and needs of target users. Smaller companies can often accomplish more than they think with an informal but conscious effort to continually listen to every daily contact source:
- Visit with buyers of your company's products or services. Single store owners do this every day. Other company managers should visit with key buyers at least each quarter.
- Visit with end users of your company's products or services. Single store owners do this every day. Other company managers can do this by phone, or in person with little cost or effort.
- Make it a point to write down one or two questions on target users, new product satisfaction, feedback, etc., for each discussion with sales personnel. This will help heighten their awareness about target users in their daily work.
- Ask what your suppliers know about key questions on new product satisfaction, likes, dislikes, etc. You may be surprised at the wealth of information suppliers possess on both general category target users and competitive products.