With today’s challenges to business resulting from the pandemic, it is more important than ever to work closely with customers. One of the silver linings of the pandemic is that new products are being developed on a daily basis—some of which are life-saving, like new ventilators and purification cleansing machines.
Those of us in the new product development end of the business are especially sensitive to the time-to-market needs of our customers—even to the point where we should always be prepared to provide them with not only new product introduction services but engineering and design support as well. This means that we need to have a complete understanding of our customers’ needs and operations.
We also need to establish a very strong bond with everyone involved in the project. When you consider the U.S. space program, for example, you realize that it was a cooperative effort by hundreds if not thousands of suppliers working toward that one goal of putting an American on the moon. In some ways, the journey was as important as the successful fulfillment of the goal. On a smaller scale, this is the kind of relationship you want to have with your customers—especially when you are developing new products in a time-sensitive atmosphere.
With that in mind, here eight things you need to be intimately aware of about your customers:
- Understand the business they are in. What is their market like? Who are their competitors, and how do they do what they do? What is the normal operating procedure for companies that do the same that your own customer is doing?
- How does your customer operate? What is their process from new product development? What steps does the product take from the original concept to design to when it comes to you? How long does each step take, and when in the process cycle do you come it?
- What are their design parameters, both general and specific? What checkpoints does the design face before it is delivered to you?
- What little nuances and idiosyncrasies does your customer have? This is vitally important. The more you know about how your product is used in their end-products, the better a supplier you will be.
- Don’t just learn their schedule for a particular product; make yourself a part of it. Ask them what comes before and after your role in that schedule and plan around that. You do not want to be the problem, holding up the new product introduction.
- Establish close professional relationships with your customer’s key people. Get to know them personally. How do they operate? What is their work like? What are their needs? Then, conform your products, processes, and schedule to meet those needs. This is one of the most important aspects of a supplier-customer relationship, and one that is often overlooked. Think about the adage, “Walk a mile in their shoes,” and you will become their favorite supplier.
- Share their problems. You want to be so close to your customers that you not only understand their problems but share them as well. Make their problems your problems, and help them look for the right solutions. Think of how valuable you become as a supplier if you are considered a problem solver. Talk about a customer for life.
- Keep a record of each project. Most companies do this already with their ISO 9100 and AS9001 recordkeeping but do more than this. Keep notes on every project you work on, thus creating a history of what worked and what did not, how you met and solved problems, and when challenges occurred. This is a scientific way to learn as you go, creating your own kind of homegrown AI that you can refer to in the future.
These are all ways to get to know everything about your customers and wonderful ways to become their most trusted and valued supplier—your customers’ preferred supplier.
And in the spirit of becoming your customers’ preferred supplier, there is one more thing you can do—be fearless. You should have the courage to take on projects that no one has built before. After all, when in the time-to-market NPI business, you often work on R&D projects. The keyword is “development.” The products you build will often be in the development stage, and you want to make sure that, no matter how scary, you are willing to take them on. Not only that, but sometimes those challenges could come with setbacks, so you have to be ready to absorb those setbacks and continue looking for the right solution.
With this “failure is not an option” attitude, you will definitely become the most trusted and valued time-to-market complete solutions provider in your market today.
Imran Valiani is an account manager at Rush PCB. He can be reached at email@example.com