How to build better products by aligning conflicting interests

If engineers had it their way, they’d develop a wide variety of tools no one cared about. When marketers and salespeople finally have their say, the company builds a product that is commercially viable, but fails basic usability tests. Customer happiness representatives and product folk have their own opinions too, but, ultimately, successful teams work closely together to effectively prioritize needs and continuously deliver exceptional value to end users.

Below, we hear from executives and marketers about how their respective firms develop cooperative workplace environments in which productivity thrives.

Letting customers drive direction

When Thomas’ Products (of Thomas’ English Muffins fame) partnered with innovation agency Growth Engine, everyone knew the engagement could only succeed if Thomas’ R&D folk and Growth Engine’s specialists were on the same page.

According to Bryan Mattimore, Growth Engine’s co-founder and chief idea guy, it was his firm’s goal to convince Thomas’ R&D crew “to create a heartier, healthier English muffin. We had incredible resistance because in essence R&D was saying that they couldn’t create a muffin with higher whole grain (and therefore a healthier muffin), because if they did, they would lose the nooks and crannies that Thomas’ was famous for.”

A diplomatic negotiation would go nowhere since both parties had practically made up their minds. Leveraging office politics would only sour the relationship. “What to do?” asked Mattimore. By fortune, “The answer came from our leading focus groups with consumers. When consumers heard the idea of a healthier English muffin, they went crazy (in a good way). The R&D people were ‘behind the glass’ – and when they saw the reaction by consumers, they committed then and there to solving the manufacturing problem.” In due time, Thomas’ figured out how to do what had seemed impossible (and ridiculous) months earlier.

Customer demand for the product was enough to rally the R&D, marketing, production, and senior management teams to push forward with the ambitious goal of reinventing the English muffin. Now, says Mattimore, the new Hearty Grains muffin “represents over 30% of all English muffin sales.”

In this case, Thomas’ customers brought the teams together. Where there otherwise would have been conflict, we witnessed solidarity.

Ownership and perspective

People are inherently selfish. You can’t fault anyone for being so; it is human instinct. But you can influence how they may act – or react – if you make them feel invested in a specific cause.

For Ben Landers, president of digital marketing and analytics firm Blue Corona, the best products are built by teams filled with members who “think and act like an owner. When every member of a company – from copywriters to web developers – has an ownership mentality, alignment is much easier and collaboration becomes organic. [Owners are] guided by overarching principles such as continuously looking for ways to deliver more value to customers – putting customers and the company before internal teams and individuals – always.”

To empower and enable employees to play the role of proprietor, businesses need to actively share sensitive financial information – revenue, expenses, profits, etc. Landers explains, “When a key financial metric moves in the wrong direction, it prompts a directed collaboration to review the inputs driving the change and make adjustments to get things moving back in the right direction.”

Naturally, there is no easy way to accomplish this. “Getting it right requires relentless commitment and persistence,” adds Landers.

At TechnologyAdvice, a Nashville, TN based company that researches and analyzes business technology, “[the] entire staff meets each month for an extended meeting to discuss the state of the company,” says Rob Bellenfant, founder and CEO.

During the all-hands meeting, news is shared about “new hires, goals met/exceeded, office layout changes, and so on. Keeping everyone in the loop enables us to express our thoughts and collaborate between departments.” This sort of knowledge sharing is essential in engaging employees and building cohesive teams.

Technology-enabled communications

In office environments, it is easier to develop meaningful professional relationships which streamline workflows and yield better products. For distributed teams and regular business travelers, technology helps dramatically cut the distance, fostering productive and seamless communication.

Autumn Brannan, who does marketing at video conferencing provider Applied Global Technologies, says, “As an example, our Georgia headquarters uses video conferencing to connect with our team in Florida on a weekly or even daily basis. Several diverse departments such as IT, sales, marketing, client care, quality assurance, etc. are able to connect via video to brainstorm, collaborate and share content with one another.”

The result? “This allows us to improve our product offerings and enhance our brand with input from everyone.” Instead of excluding colleagues, technology promotes inclusive conversations, making it easier for teams to support each other. To some extent, communications tools democratize the way we work.

In modern-day business, most companies succeed thanks to their team’s talent. Though unique departments may have selfish – and often conflicting – interests, businesses can still successfully create and cultivate a collaborative culture which puts company goals above all to build offerings clients will love and value.

Post by Danny Wong

Danny Wong is an entrepreneur, marketer, and writer. He is the co-founder of Blank Label (an award winning menswear company focusing on luxury made-to-measure garments) and does marketing at Grapevine (a platform that drives eCommerce, helping retailers partner with YouTube celebrities). Tweet him @dannywong1190