Collective Bargaining – In this strategy, customers unite for the greater good. There are two implementations of this strategy. One quite compelling. Customers, many whom competed with each other, organized what one member called a
“union”. The group staged both joint and individual campaigns to make their needs known.
Their approach targeted product development, technical support and the CFO. They purposely stayed away from sales or marketing. As one member said, “We wanted to separate ourselves from the whiners and complainers. We felt if we took a technical and financial approach, we’d have a better chance of being heard.”
This approach is not for the meek or paranoid. It requires a well-defined charter, support from the most senior levels of management and ethics beyond compare. The results, though, were quite remarkable. Within three years, this group became a formal gate in the product development cycle of two strategic vendors. These vendors state the addition of the group to their PDP delivers an invaluable competitive advantage.
The second tactical implementation of this strategy is much more common: Leverage the existing user groups. We found this to be moderately effective. User groups are typically owned by sales or marketing and as such are almost as disconnected from the PDP as the customer. According to the product development teams we spoke to, user group feedback is often filtered to the point it isn’t informative enough to be useful.
What these three approaches share is the belief that customers are not hapless. Customers who proactively sought to get their needs met did so with a clear intent. If their vendor partners chose not to listen, they had other options. While for the most part they did not make threats, they did make it known their requirements were critical enough to their business that they must be met—ideally, by the current vendor.
They made it clear they considered themselves a partner in their vendor’s business and, as such, expected a commitment to mutual success. In essence, they change their role from the last step in the supply chain to a component of the value chain.
Anne Zink is founder of AZtech Strategies and go-to-market strategy consultant for the high tech industry. AZtech is dedicated to developing multi-channel strategies based on customer expectations, channel input, and industry expertise. AZtech specializes in bringing emerging technologies and services to market.