Try the independent sales reps who represent your company in the marketplace. Instead of wasting time touting his company's products at meetings with his manufacturer's representatives, Ed Muldoon, chairman of Bivar, a $7.5 million electronics manufacturer in Irvine, Calif., tries to benefit from the reps' field experience.

Recently, five longtime manufacturer's representatives attended a two-day Bivar conference at a hotel. Prior to the meeting all five sent surveys to other Bivar representatives asking for input such as product ideas and market analysis.

At the conference, the group came up with new product ideas, mapped out the market, and critiqued Bivar's sales-and-service support. Then the conference participants created a plan to put their ideas to work. Though the meeting was not cheap for Bivar, Muldoon claims it was worth it, since the feedback was applied immediately--and will result in new products and marketing strategies.