April 15, 2014, 1:02 PM

Quill turns to its B2B customers for new ideas

Coming in April is a new section of Quill.com that will let customers and Quill employees submit ideas and exchange ideas.

The era of relying on focus groups and other research techniques to capture consumer sentiment is being left in the rear-view mirror. The prevalence of social media has led to greater openness from customers, who now share opinions, ratings and feedback with their peers and the companies they do business with.

Some very successful consumer brands have taken the bold step of handing over not just marketing, but even product creation, to their consumers via crowdsourcing. Harley-Davidson Inc. let consumers make its ads and influence its iconic bike designs. Starbucks Corp. relied on consumer feedback to restore its once-legendary in-store experience by soliciting and implementing customer ideas on everything from in-store Wi-Fi to cake pops. Dell Inc., McDonald’s Corp. and Frito-Lay North America Inc. are other successful and reputable companies that realized they didn’t have all the answers and benefitted by turning to their customers.

This type of innovation is infrequently seen in the B2B space. But we’re trying to change that by launching Quill Ideas, a crowdsourcing platform that we hope will revolutionize the way we solicit, evaluate and implement ideas to better serve our customers.  In broad terms, here’s how it will work: Beginning in April, a site will launch within Quill.com that will let both our customers and employees submit and evaluate new ideas for our business. Ideas that gain traction within the community will be systematically brought to the relevant executives in our company and evaluated regularly by a dedicated innovations team.

We’ll incentivize engagement by applying principles of gamification–think about the way consumers earn badges  to get special deals through social media channels like Foursquare—and also by providing regular evidence that we are listening, and that what we’re hearing is making a difference.

The result, we hope, will be a sustainable flow of ideas, as well as a closer relationship with customers who will have a greater say in how we serve them. We’ve always been fortunate to enjoy a rare level of trust–our average customer relationship lasts longer than 11 years. We believe including our customers in the process of innovation will further deepen our connection with them, and drive more meaningful new ideas to market.

Sergio Pereira is president of Quill.com, the business-to-business division of Staples Inc. that serves small to mid-size companies.

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