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Agile product development was the hot topic at a recent meetup hosted by Vision Critical in San Francisco. The event attracted leaders in UX, product development, CX and marketing from the Bay Area, and featured an informal panel discussion moderated by Tyler Douglas, chief sales and marketing officer at Vision Critical.

The night sparked inspiring conversations about the role of customer intelligence in accelerating the product innovation cycle. Here’s a look at three agile innovation strategies offered by the night’s speakers.

  1. Engage with your customers for decisions, both big and small.

Lori Iventosch-James, a market research pro who has led teams at Adobe and Intuit, shared her thoughts on the importance of understanding the customer journey in driving innovation.

During her time at Adobe, Lori oversaw the management of the Adobe Customer Advisors, the company’s insight community of 5,000 customers. The community, according to Lori, helped Adobe foster a “constructive feedback loop” that helps everyone in the company infuse customer feedback in all aspects of the business.

Adobe, best known for its premiere creative products like Photoshop and InDesign, needed to get closer to its customers as it explored new subscription models while enhancing customer retention. Anticipating customer needs was critical to besting competitors.

One remarkable example that Lori shared was how Adobe consulted its insight community before acquiring the stock photo company Fotolia. Adobe engaged with its customers to test market interest and opportunity, product usage and people’s willingness to pay for the service. Potential bundling and pricing scenarios were also explored.

The acquisition was completed January 2015, followed by a very successful product launch last June.

As this example demonstrates, customer engagement has a role to play not just in tactical decisions but also when big, strategic issues are at stake. No decision is too big to involve your customers.

RELATED: To learn more about agile innovation, check out The Enterprise Guide to Innovation

  1. Look for customer insight, not just feedback.

Brian Burke, director of global feedback at eBay, revealed some of the things that the e-commerce giant is doing to better understand the end-to-end journey of its customers: people who sell on the site.

According to Brian, eBay regularly engages with an insight community of sellers to validate new features and improve their experience on In one example, eBay reached out to sellers to explore whether the way subcategories in its electronics section make sense. Currently, sellers are able to mark electronic items as “used,” “for parts” or “refurbished.” Further testing is still required, but engaging with sellers early revealed that the company might need to rethink how it thought of the problem in the first place. Armed with concrete customer feedback, the company is set to test more categorization options for its sellers.

According to Brian, the biggest advantage of having an insight community is that it allows eBay to gain quantitative data. In the past, anecdotes influenced decisions about the seller experience. With an insight community, the company is able to make more confident decisions because it’s hearing from a more representative and broader base of sellers. Ultimately, this means eBay isn’t just hearing feedback—it’s gaining customer insight for its business.

  1. Leverage agile tools to accelerate the product development cycle.

LinkedIn, one of the biggest and more popular social networks in the world, recently stepped up its game in customer intelligence. In addition to traditional ways of listening to customers, the company recently launched an insight community to get a more holistic understanding of its users. Davis Schneider, senior product marketing manager at LinkedIn, shared how the company’s insight community is complementing other customer intelligence programs and how it’s helping accelerate innovation.

Since launching in January 2016, the company’s insight community has already fielded dozens of studies, with its product organization leading the charge. According to Davis, the insight community offers invaluable benefits, including the ability to quickly get actionable insight. The company already monitors customers through social media analytics, help desk tickets, and other similar methods. But with an insight community, the company is able to dig deeper and get a deeper understanding of its users.

Davis says the information the company is getting from its insight community is “always directional,” enabling key stakeholders in the company to make more confident business decisions.

And because members in the community are highly engaged, the company is able to turn to its users for quick feedback. The community is helping the company fill its need for agile and reliable insight—a competitive advantage in the tech space.

Final thought

Whether it’s decisions about acquisitions or it’s about improving app features, many tech companies are realizing that they need to engage with their customers in order to make the right call. And as the meetup’s speakers demonstrate, customer intelligence software can provide an agile tool for companies to get solid insight on customer preferences, behaviors and motivations. Success in tech is not just about the technology itself—ultimately, thriving in this space requires an understanding of your customers and ensuring that your technology fills their needs.

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