I was in Canada last week, visiting potential clients as well as attending a user group meeting of a meat specific software solution provider. I actually talked all week with about 10 companies about cutting and deboning yields. While it was fun, it also was very interesting.
User groups can be pretty powerful if they are constructive and not destructive. In addition, I think it is very important to have customers join in the discussions on how vendors can improve their software products. Based on a strong base package, that was already available in the standard software, customers were exposed to the available features and asked to provide additional requirements and insights to make the software even stronger.
Unfortunately there are limitations with this approach. One of the key problems for advancing solutions between software vendors and meat packers is communication. It is probably easy for a meat packer to describe his problem and opportunity, and it may be still easy for the software vendor to understand it. Developing a vision and a way to an optimized solution of the challenge does require both parties to think abstract about the problem, thinking analytical to understand the solution discussion and have a very good mathematical talent to follow all thoughts presented. If one of these talents lacks, the parties may discuss endlessly, they may even discussed a possible solution, but they were not able to agree that this is the right solution. At the end, a software vendor can do what he believes is right based on the discussions with his clients, but this is not a guarantee that it is going to be right once the solutions have been created. The clients cannot confirm that the presented solutions will work for him well, until he gets the final result and tries it out.
This very same issue is actually occurring in sales presentations as well, but here software vendors can better control what is going to be discussed. If you make a solution nice and simple to show, that is what people seeing it will remember. If you will show them all the detail, they will not remember that the system can do a lot, but will remember that the system requires a lot of doing.
It is important to find a simple common denominator in communication between customers and vendors. If they find a common platform and a common language, they can both drive their business to a great success.