The Art of Project Management: Expert advice from experienced project managers in Silicon Valley, and around the world
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It’s Never Been Easier To Stay Close To Your Customers

If you are managing a project to deliver a new product or service, you’ll be making lots of decisions.  If you are doing a good job of keeping your stakeholders involved, there will undoubtedly be scrutiny about those decisions.

Most companies are filled with smart, highly-trained managers who make it their job to be critical and question decisions.  Unfortunately, too many of them make decisions based on opinion not fact, and definitely not on what the customer wants.  If you ever hear these words “The customer would want this,” be ready to politely ask how they know what the customer wants.  Too often, I believe decisions are made based on whoever is the loudest or the most senior.

Rely on 1 or 2 opinions is like flipping a coin

via Flickr by redwood 1

Good companies and good project managers don’t leave critical product decisions up to the opinions of a few.  As simple as it sounds, they ask their customers what they want, and they really listen.

The good news is that it’s never been easier to do that.  Just 10 ago, the primary way to collect customer feedback was to do focus groups, or make hundreds of phone calls to ask customers what they wanted.  During my time at Procter & Gamble, I worked with my research guru to put together a mail survey to ask moms (our target market) a long list of questions.  It took 2 months to develop the questions and prepare the research vendor, 2 months to field the study, and another month to analyze the findings.  Slow and expensive.  Oh how times have changed.

via Flickr by quatre mains

One the best ways for you to protect your project from being derailed and knocked off schedule is staying close to the customer.  My favorite way to accomplish this is to create a special, invitation-only online community with your best customers.  The incentive for them will be to really be heard (everyone loves to be heard!) and to meet other customers like themselves.  It’s important to avoid customers who are just cheerleaders or who have a permanent axe to grind.  The goal is to get authentic, actionable, clear feedback.  There are a lot of tools/services in the market today, many with a new social twist, that can help you achieve your goals.  I’ve grouped them into 2 categories here.

Do-It-Yourself Tools

  • CrowdTap - a quick way to get customer feedback with polls and panels and Brand Promotion
  • User Voice – a customer service tool that utilizes forums and provides workflow and case tracking
  • IdeaScale – focuses on getting the best ideas, and allowing your customers to rate them, bringing the best to the top
  • Get Satisfaction – another customer service tool with Idea Sharing, Brand Promotion, and CRM
Full Service Tools
  • Salesforce Service Cloud – a service focused on Idea Sharing & Rating
  • Jive - a social business platform with collaboration, social marketing, community, sales/customer service tools
  • Lithium – a customer network & online community platform with similar features to Jive
Both Jive and Lithium also provide actual people who can help to grow, engage and moderate your community if you can’t or don’t want to do it yourself.
I’ve found online communities to be cost-effective.  They allow you to get customer data/feedback quickly, and if done well, provide some of your best customers with a great brand experience.
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About the Author

Ken is a Marketing and Product expert with over 20 years of experience. He started his career in Brand Management (P&G), moved into Product Management (Intuit), and then Internet Marketing (Homestead, Driveway and Presto). He brings his broad range of experience and skills to each engagement and combines it with a true entrepreneurial spirit, having started his own companies. Most recently, he has been swept up in the Social Media wave and is a firm believer that it is transforming businesses for the better. Ken is the CEO of EM Marketing (http://e-m-marketing.com), and also a founder and principal at Social Wrench, a social media applications startup. Outside of work, he is a human treehouse for his two young children, manages a perpetually 2nd place fantasy football team, loves movies, inexpensive but good food, and Michigan State Basketball.
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