In a recent HBR article on developing software with the customer in mind, Jeremy Korst and Kimberly Whitler pointed to Microsoft’s much-maligned 2012 Windows 8 launch as an example of what can occur if technology companies fail to listen to their customers’ needs.

They state, “Windows 8 is a classic study of a brand with an inside-out paradigm. Smart and capable engineers believed they knew what consumers needed, so the product was developed in extreme secrecy. Few people outside the Windows engineering team had any input, and there was little consumer feedback solicited…Microsoft engineers built what they could—not what they should.”

The result was low customer adoption, negative reviews, and an overall sense that the company had missed the mark. Microsoft turned things around three years later with the release of Windows 10, the most quickly adopted Windows version in the company’s history. A key part of the Windows 10 development strategy was adopting a more customer-centric approach, inviting marketing and other departments to participate early on in the process.

The HBR authors offer the following tips for organizations to embrace this outside-in mentality:

  1. Increase marketing’s role in shaping future products and innovation. The authors write, “Marketers are trained to convert insights about the market, consumers, and competitors into product strategies that can drive growth.” By augmenting the traditionally inward-focused perspectives of engineers and other technical roles with this knowledge, marketers can help ensure that the proposed product will actually serve a market need before the company allocates any resources to its development.
  2. Lead with an outside-in perspective. In order for an outside-in approach to truly be successful, it’s important that the entire company adopts a customer-centric mentality—and that starts at the top. The C-Suite must endorse this shift and provide the support necessary to make it happen, whether it’s training initiatives, market research, or new hiring. 
  3. Focus on your target customers, not on all customers. The HBR article urges, “Avoid the temptation to cast a wide net by marketing products and services to every customer segment under the sun. This scattershot approach not only doesn’t work, it creates churn.” Rather, companies should define their target customers, determine their respective needs and pain points, and remain hyper-focused on product strategies that address these issues.

Writing about Windows 8, the authors state, “This is not an uncommon story in the technology world. Under mounting pressure to continuously innovate and introduce new products faster, many tech companies take an inside-out approach, where future products are developed by engineers in a vacuum…To be successful long term, technology industry leaders need to guard against their tendency to put the product on a pedestal.”

Following the steps outlined above can help tech companies do exactly that, and ensure the customer remains at the forefront of product development efforts. You can find the full HBR article here for more information.