Editor's note: Craig Lutz is senior manager, professional services, at Qualtrics, Provo, Utah. Devon McBee is senior product marketing manager at Qualtrics. Ben Rogers is head of content at Qualtrics.

In the early 2000s, two new car models had very divergent fortunes: One was highly successful and the other was a flop. In their May 2016 Harvard Business Review article, “In product development, let your customers define perfection,” Madhavan Ramanujam and Georg Tacke shared the intriguing story of two automotive industry giants, from which we’ve pulled a valuable product research lesson shared below.

After avoiding bankruptcy in the early 1990s, Porsche executives set out to turn around the storied car brand. By the early 2000s, the burgeoning SUV market became a promising target. Porsche set out on a mission to understand the market and its customers’ appetite for a luxury SUV.

Confirming that customers would welcome a Porsche SUV, the product team gathered feedback from consumers on every aspect, finding that they were willing to trade-off on a manual transmission (a staple in all Porsche cars up to that point) in favor of other iconic features that Porsche had become known for, including sportiness, power and handling. 

The authors wrote that, “The customer-listening process continued with every proposed feature. If customers valued and were willing to pay for them, they were in. If not, no amount of convincing from Porsche engineers could overrule the end user.” The Porsche Cayenne soon hit the market and was an instant success. And it later became the most profitable vehicle in the industry. 

Around the same time Porsche was launching the Cayenne SUV, the CEO of Fiat Chrysler declared, “Of all the cars I can get wrong, it ain’t this one.” The car he was referencing was the Dodge Dart, a vehicle for which the company shut down production several years after its launch, amassing a huge...