Increasingly, companies are using customer data to guide the development of new products and services. Here are three of the ways companies are gathering data from customers in order to design products that people truly want--and will pay for.

A/B Tests

uSell, an online marketplace for used electronics, wanted to see whether it should expand into items such as used textbooks, clothing, and video games. Using Optimizely, an online A/B testing tool, uSell created two versions of its homepage, the regular one and one that included the new items. The test showed customer interest in new items--and a negligible drop in electronics sales, so uSell went ahead with the expansion.

Crowdfunding

Sites like Kickstarter are useful for more than just raising money. They have become a valuable proof-of-concept tool. That’s how the Yves Behar-designed Ouya gaming console found its traction. In less than 30 days, the start-up raised $8.6 million on Kickstarter. The console is now sold at Best Buy and on Amazon.

Surveys

The men’s apparel company Bonobos is obsessed with helping customers find the right fit, so much so that first-time customers are encouraged to buy and return several pairs of pants to find the perfect match. By surveying customers making returns, the company discovered that one of its shirts was “poofing” in an unflattering way. Bonobos responded quickly and slimmed down the item, which boosted sales.