This week, the Product Development and Management Association of Dallas held a panel discussion. The topic: New Product Development in Start-up Settings. The panel included executives from four companies based in Dallas--their products ranged from imaging systems for dental crowns to virtual identities for Internet users.
During the panel discussion, one of the executives suggested that engineers should interact with customers. That benefits flow when engineers understand your customers.
After the panel discussion, the executives entertained questions. Here’s what I found interesting. One audience member raised his hand and said, “You know, I really have a problem with engineers talking to customers. Engineers don’t have the communication skills to talk with customers. How do you overcome this limitation?”
Let’s skip past this basement view and listen to the answer given by Tom Allen, CIO of Privacy Inc.
Once a week, we have our software developers give a presentation to the rest of our company. This prepares them to present the benefits of our product to customers and venture capital investors.We didn’t have time to go into the details of their presentation methods, so here’s a couple ideas you may find yourself using during lunch and learn sessions.
In The Story Factor, author Annette Simmons tells us that a “demo” story is the next best thing to an actual demonstration. She writes about a trainer at a gym who has a tough product to sell: exercise. If everyone listened to facts, wouldn’t our nation be in better physical shape? Instead of facts, the trainer tells a playful story to show the benefits of exercise. Story is a pull strategy that works.
Gerald Zaltman, author of How Customers Think, refers to research indicating that the use of metaphor together with visual imagery lies at the heart of all major advances in science. He suggests listening to your customers to determine what metaphors they use for your product.
During your presentation, use the pull of visual and metaphor to describe the benefits of your product. Your customers will remember your product (metaphor is at the core of memory), and your engineers will start to think visually and create edges for your products.
What do I think of engineers talking with customers? I’m glad you asked. How could they not talk with your customers? If you allow narrow thinking to limit your employees, wouldn’t that create a danger for your company--and a life-threating environment for start-ups? For narrow thinking is a broken-winged bird that can’t fly past the first round of financing.