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From BetaSphere
The Five Secrets Of A Successful LaunchBy Michael Shoppel and Philip Davis Each year, millions of dollars are wasted when products enter the market ill prepared tomeet customer expectations and requirements. Insufficient customer feedback and lack ofcustomer involvement during the development process are the key reasons forunsuccessful launches. Conversely, feedback from customers in your target market is thenumber one factor leading to successful product and website introductions.
Customer-oriented development organizations have long championed the principleof active collaboration with target users during the development process. But even themost ardent promoters of bringing customers and partners into the product developmentprocess confront challenges when attempting to migrate the concept into practice.
Early access programs, alpha and beta programs, pilot programs, and field trials areexamples of customer feedback programs. These programs have both quantitative (e.g.
find and fix bugs, assess interoperability, evaluate performance, etc.) and qualitativegoals (e.g. market readiness, user acceptance, feature set completeness). These programsare logistically complex, and require a high degree of interaction with customers and yourdevelopment team. While product teams are in many cases well prepared to manage thecomplexity of developing products, they are typically untrained, unequipped andunprepared for simultaneously managing customer feedback. Successfully validatingyour product with feedback from your target market will maximize market acceptanceand minimize post launch costs. In this white paper we will explore the five key factorsleading to successful customer feedback programs. These are the five secrets of asuccessful launch.
1. Recognize the value of customer feedback during development
Return on investment (ROI) in customer feedback programs can be measured by thefollowing formula: quantity + quality + timeliness of customer feedback divided byprogram-specific costs + opportunity costs. While maximizing ROI for a customerfeedback program is a primary objective, minimizing the opportunity costs associatedwith under-executed programs is of equal or greater importance. Opportunity costsinclude unscheduled or costly follow-up releases to “fix” the product, higher thanexpected support costs, weaker than expected market acceptance, lost customer feedbackto validate and endorse the product, and lost marketing feedback to understandimportance/satisfaction indicators which drive the development of the next release.
Traditional ROI criteria: For most organizations, baseline reasons for inviting current
and prospective customers to evaluate new or next generation products and services
• Evaluating and tuning performance across multiple customer configurations and • Obtaining suggestions and requests for enhancements • Gathering usability feedback and statistics • Avoiding incompatibilities with complementary products Newer ROI criteria: Competition, product complexity, and the number of stakeholders in
new product introductions are all increasing, while development cycle time is decreasing.
These factors have raised the bar by which customer feedback programs are measured to
• Gathering feedback for use in marketing and public relations • Preparing the entire organization for the “real” launch • Creating word of mouth “buzz” among highly valued, early adopter customers who act • Preparing the channel (sales force, distributors, retailers, and product and service • Forging stronger working relationships with key customers Execution of a successful product launch begins months before the actual launch, and itstarts with successful incorporation of feedback from your target market.
2. Assign adequate resources for effective program execution
The weeks immediately preceding a product launch are typically the most hectic for anyproduct development team. There are literally hundreds of critical activities that must beaccomplished. Examples include: • Create and print marketing collateral • Notify/train the sales force and channels It is a fact of product development that customer feedback programs occur at a time in thedevelopment process when product teams are at their busiest. Customers need themaximum amount of attention and support when product teams have the least time tospare. At this most hectic time, additional resources are also required to ensure success ofthe customer feedback programs. These tasks encompass: • Program planning and process management • Target customer profiling, recruiting, and qualification • Proactive customer engagement, follow-up and feedback management • Rapid resolution of customer problems, ‘preventive’ technical support • Feedback analysis and metric reporting to the product team and management • Measurement of return on investment (ROI) Your organization makes an impression with each point of contact, from recruiting, toregular interaction and follow-up, through program wrap up. Customers state that themost unsatisfactory aspect of participating in customer feedback programs is lack ofcommunication from the product or service provider. In the words of one customer:“Give me some assurance that I’m not wasting my time. If my feedback goesunanswered, then I’m not sure if you didn’t get it, it’s unimportant, or it’s being ignored.
Raise my confidence level in your company.” Product teams find it difficult to estimate the time, resources, and intra-company (and insome cases inter-company) collaboration required to successfully prepare and executecustomer feedback programs. In addition, resources must be available to evaluateprogram results and prioritize actions. In the vast majority of cases, resourcerequirements are significantly underestimated and those resources are then siphoned fromthese critical tasks to accomplish other activities. As a result, the effectiveness of thelaunch is put at risk.
• Do you know what your target customers really think about your product? • Does it interoperate in the different customer environments? The only way to know for certain is to ask your target customers – and that requiresresources.
3. Define objectives and the right process
The ultimate success of the product launch can almost always be traced to understandingthe requirements of your target market. The amount of time initially invested in definingand prioritizing your feedback objectives directly impacts the quantity and quality ofinformation learned. This typically falls into two major categories: 1. Customer feedback objectives and2. Product team/management objectives.
Customer feedback objectives typically include bugs and showstoppers; ease ofinstallation and ease of use; testimonials; and customer assessment of features,functionality, quality, performance, and overall value. Product team/managementobjectives typically include achieving high customer participation; identifying and fixingbugs of a certain severity and priority as quickly as possible; verifying system andsoftware compatibility on real-world customer configurations; and testing internalprocesses (e.g. technical/customer support). It is critical that Marketing, Engineering,Quality Assurance, and Customer Service/Technical Support staff schedule sufficienttime to prepare a plan and establish complementary goals. With continually decreasingproduct development cycles there is no time for rework. Without a set of objectives, theprocess for obtaining and incorporating customer feedback becomes ad hoc andunpredictable.
Defining the Right Process: A process that is scalable, unobtrusive to the product team,
and highly responsive to customers provides product teams with the greatest leverage and
flexibility. An ideal program minimizes product team overhead and interruptions while
maximizing customer participation, feedback, satisfaction with the process, and
ultimately the quality of information received.
The scope of your program (number of participants, their geographic distribution,anticipated technical support requirements, product fulfillment logistics, frequency ofupgrades and revisions, product complexity, feedback management processes) establishesyour requirements for management and support resources. Even the simplest programstypically require a substantial time investment by a minimum of three to four teammembers to be effective.
Defining a process for generating the greatest quantity and quality of feedback fromcustomers is arguably the most difficult task, as it requires the greatest ongoing commitment of time to execute successfully. Methods for managing feedback andproblem resolution typically include: • Proactive, outbound telephone support • Web-based surveys, bug tracking, and feedback management Most organizations have traditionally employed a combination of the first two methods.
Web-based communication offers a host of new benefits to both product teams andcustomers, and the case for making the Web an integral part of customer feedbackprograms has become extremely compelling. On-site feedback collection, due to its cost,is typically reserved for the most technically sophisticated, high-end products with fewcustomers.
4. Recruit motivated evaluators from your target market
Selecting the appropriate quantity of target customers with the right characteristics is acrucial step in setting up and carrying out a successful program. Recruiting a sample ofcustomers whose system configurations and usage patterns reflect the target market forthe product or service should be the goal of any customer feedback program – it is theonly way to capture real world, pre-market product feedback and customer experienceswhich cannot be duplicated internally by any Quality Assurance team.
The first step in developing the appropriate testing group is to define a matrix of targetrequirements, which includes qualifying criteria such as: • Knowledge, experience, and usage level • System configuration and usage environment • Availability/desire to test and provide feedback The number of target customers to include in your program is a function of the type ofproduct or service, the aggregate amount of product/service usage you need formeaningful results, and the selection criteria defined above. There is no magic formula.
The objective is to create a sample no larger than you can adequately manage, and nosmaller than will meet your matrix coverage requirements. In general, you will want toinclude the largest number of target customers that can be effectively managed andsupported.
Incentives: While incentives can support program objectives and serve as a form of
appreciation, their success varies depending upon the type of feedback being elicited, the
type of product or service being evaluated, and the incentive being offered. More
important than offering incentives is recruiting target customers who are motivated to use
the product or service, and to provide high quality feedback at the frequency desired. No
form of incentive will make an enthusiast out of someone either marginally interested or
pressured into participating in a customer feedback program.
Your best incentive plan is a commitment to offer easy to use feedback mechanisms,personal recognition, appreciation, and time for quality feedback. Feedback to customersequals feedback from customers. Current or prospective customers need to feel theirefforts are being well spent, which means they need acknowledgment and support.
Because customers are generally not being financially compensated for their feedback,they reasonably expect greater interaction and technical support for their contribution tomaking your product or service better.
5. Systems and best practices for managing customer feedback
The acquisition, analysis, and distribution of customer feedback are three of the mostchallenging areas of customer feedback management for product teams. Success dependson process, people and technology.
Most technology companies have not yet made investments to establish an infrastructurefor effectively communicating with customers during product development. This isreflected by industry average participation rates of less than 15% during customerfeedback programs. For most programs, particularly those that are open to everyone (suchas public betas), the overwhelming majority of users who obtain or use the product orservice provide no feedback at all.
By contrast, programs that employ advanced feedback management systems and providethe support staff necessary for proactively communicating with customers canconsistently achieve participation rates in the 70-100% range, producing substantiallygreater feedback than industry norms. The good news is that product teams canmeasurably improve participation and productivity, independent of the product or serviceunder evaluation, by focusing on communication and innovative feedback management.
Feedback acquisition, analysis, and distribution: A central goal of effective customer
feedback programs is the collection, analysis, and distribution of meaningful data in real
time. For collection, this means actively soliciting feedback from customers, as well as
providing mechanisms that make it convenient for customers to give feedback. For
analysis, this means quantifying and qualifying feedback to inform product team and
management decision-making during development. And for distribution, this means
presenting structured, organized, actionable feedback as it arrives to feedback
The most important element of being able to process feedback quickly is having pre-defined metrics and categories (e.g. bugs by severity and priority, suggestions byimportance, and measurements of customer progress ranging from installation toachieving specific usage levels). The customer graphical presentation of feedback duringdevelopment can provide a wealth of information to the product team and management,and can objectively represent product performance and customer sentiment at a givenpoint in time.
The benefits of high return, customer feedback programs are numerous and compelling:maximize ROI; validate compelling feature requirements; minimize post-launch supportcosts; provide proven quality and performance; increase testimonial feedback, usabilityand target market acceptance.
Given the number of market, technical, and operational risk involved in new productlaunches, and the financial returns for managing those risks successfully, customer-oriented development organizations are reevaluating their processes for planning andexecuting high ROI, highly leveraged, and professionally managed customer feedbackprograms. Customer feedback is essential to achieve a successful product launch! BetaSphere Profile: BetaSphere is the leading provider of web-based software and
customer feedback solutions enabling companies to obtain feedback from their target
market for products and services during the development process. Leveraging its web-
based software, Feedback Management Server (FMS), and feedback management
expertise, BetaSphere has streamlined the process of seeking feedback and has bridged
the gap between customers and development teams. Since its formation in 1996, the
company has managed more than 275 customer feedback programs and has expanded its
database of evaluators who participate in client-sponsored programs to over 50,000.
BetaSphere’s solutions are used by both startups and Fortune 500 companies worldwide
including Palm, Xircom, Excite@Home, Sun, Motorola, Hewlett-Packard, ReplayTV and
FedEx. BetaSphere is a privately held company headquartered in Palo Alto, CA.
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