We've said many times, that the best way to market is to find a customer, create a solution to a problem or a need for them, and sell it to them. We stand by that. While you're busy creating that solution or figuring out how to fill the need (the job to be done, to paraphrase Clay Christensen), someone else may show them the next best option. Also, if you want other people to sell your product or service for you, by describing it to their networks, you need to know what it is that you sell. So which comes first? Customer, or product?
The first truth is this: knowing your customer is absolutely critical. The second truth is this: you need money to have a viable, ongoing business. And the third: sooner or later, to get money, you're going to have to sell something - whether that something is a product or a service. Revenue is how you pay the bills, pay yourself, fund the work, even if you're a social enterprise or not-for-profit. Remember: not-for-profit doesn't mean, "doesn't bring in money".
So how do you figure out what it is that you sell? If it's a widget, a chicken, or an egg, you've got the beginning of a description. If it's more complicated, you need to be able to distill your product (or service) description down to something even your grandma or your five-year-old nephew could explain. Why? Simple: because the more people who know how to describe what you sell and why it's great, the more unofficial salespeople you can have out there in the world, for free, generating leads for you. So go ahead. Break all those rules we've told you about customer focus, and take some time to figure out the easiest way to describe what it is you sell. You'll be glad you did.
This morning one of our connections posted a reminder that we are at the end of the quarter. Now we're bracing for the inevitable. At least one client is bound to call or email today with a panicky-sounding voice, about how they need research or strategy work, because they've just realized we are at the end of the quarter, and they really, truly, meant to get started in January.
Does this sound like someone you know? If you're in the business of customer understanding or user insights, and this happens, it can be tempting to respond by taking your hard-won budget, and doing a study that answers all of their questions...at this point in time. Will that let you see everything you need to know?
Snapshots can be really helpful, it's true. It's worth considering, though, whether a time exposure might reveal something extra. Setting up a program that opens the aperture to your customers and lets data flow in over time, can reveal patterns in ways that a single study can't do (no matter how powerful). And sometimes it can be inexpensive to do this, by giving a "camera" to each of your customer-facing colleagues.
Setting up a story bank where their pictures and observations can be gathered and shared is a really useful way to do this. (Don't know how to start? Let's talk. We can help.)
How do you feel when something doesn't go as planned? Disappointed? Frustrated? Annoyed?
What about energized, excited, or enthusiastic?
Over the past few weeks, I've been working with a client to get ready for an important strategy session. They know there are big shifts looming on the horizon, and they want to be ready. They've done the right thing by taking a proactive approach, and they've been looking at data, exploring potential outcomes, and discussing "how might we" scenarios. Yet suddenly, in the midst of a session with outside partners, key team members, and even an advisor from head office, they weren't making headway. Someone said, "Let's change the focus entirely!"
Now there are times when this might just be a tactic to avoid hard conversations, but in this case, it was because they realized they were looking at the problem through the wrong lens. Their problem definition was out of whack, and they got clarity on this because they had everyone in the room, and because they weren't so married to the facilitation method they had chosen, that they kept trying to force-fit solutions to the wrong problem. Once they stepped back and framed the challenge in a new way, they were able to very quickly devine the realm of possible scenarios, determine how they could respond to these in their own favour, and what proactive steps they could take right now, to get ready for the most likely eventualities.
The change in energy in the room at the end of the day was palpable. And as a facilitator, it was a pretty spectacular ending for me, as well.
Shouldn't you skip right to your own custom survey? We're always happy at PANOPTIKA to help you with custom research, but there's really more to it than that. Even if you're working in an industry like health, technology, or science (where we do some of our best work), where sometimes there isn't much data, there's always some. If you're a new analyst in one of these industries, or you're just getting into research for the first time (sometimes, until you start to scale, it’s easier and more informative just to ask the questions yourself), start with free or nearly free. Those public data sets get a lot of use – they’re the workhorses of the quadrant we call “the light”. The answers there are available to anyone – and that doesn't mean they don’t provide you with any value or advantage.
Public data sets or their slightly more expensive cousins, syndicated data, (which is not public, but is available to purchase by anyone who can pay), are a great foundation. They let you get the “lay of the land”. In “The Light”, you’re setting yourself up for deeper questions, making sure you don’t waste time and money on custom projects, if the information is already out there. Doing a good audit of the data you already have in house is where you can start to use data in ways that others can’t. Think sales data, observational research where you see how customers use your products (or the competition’s), and interviewing everyone in your organization who interacts with your customer or prospect. Where an outside consultant can help, is by assisting you in shaping the questions that you’ll use as you move to what we call “The Shades” - positioning or perception research is a good example. It can help you see where customers put everyone – not only you and your product or service, but your competition. And it can help you get ready to develop insights that are only known to you and your team. Not sure where to start with something like that? We’re always happy to jump on a discovery call. You tell us your questions, and we’ll work with you to lay out a plan to get the answers you need.
Sometimes when we work on research with a client, they are very familiar with a specific kind of tool, or they have a strong understanding of how to understand a certain kind of data. Surveys are a good example. Most of us like the certainty of surveys - we can understand the statistical value of the data, the numeric nature of data makes good charts, and it can be organized and displayed in incredibly beautiful and insightful ways. When you use a survey, you're a collector of data. Oh, you might add a few open-ended questions, but the bulk of everyday survey work is about things you know, and figuring out whether you can make a great discovery by connecting them, or organizing them in different ways, or by gathering new (but finite) facts. How many trees are in this photo? How often does the river overflow its banks? At what time is the light best for a photo like this one?
On the other hand, when you use qualitative research, it's more like being an explorer. You don't bother to guess what might be around the corner - you explore. You might do that observationally, by taking a walk in the woods or along the river's edge, and taking photos, or making notes. Or, you could ask the person in the photo why they're here. What led them to this spot? Have they explored here before? Are there things that might have been helpful on their journey so far?
The thing is, it's difficult to be a collector and an explorer at the same time. The first requires precision, a certain fore-knowledge, and many data points to validate. The second requires a sense of wonder, an openness to the idea that the answers my not be easily quantifiable on a chart, but delivers a richness and depth of understanding that is hard to see in a pie chart. Both are necessary, and each kind of understanding of your customer, your market, your operations, deserves your attention and care. When you have big questions that need answering, think about whether you need to be a collector or an explorer, and it will help you decide how to structure your research in a way that matches with the hat you're wearing for this project.
As the holiday season approaches, companies (and especially your sales team) start thinking of ways to thank, or give back, to your best customers. You can send them cards. If their corporate responsibility code allows it (and yours does), you can send them tokens of your appreciation. Some companies send sales incentives, wrapped as "gifts" and tied with a bow. (We're looking at you, Black Friday).
Here's are a couple of gifts you can give to customers and prospects, all year long: active listening and empathetic engagement. How can you do that?
Visit them at their workplace, and ask them what problems they're trying to solve, and how they're trying to solve them now. Not what problems they're trying to solve with the tool you have on offer, but simply an opportunity for you to walk a mile in their shoes. Save the solutions for later.
Ask them questions in a way that's easy for them - let them answer in a way that's comfortable, conversational, and that allows them to say, "that isn't even the right question!"
Make it easy for them to contact you - however they want. Let them call, write, email, engage through social media, or even send a carrier pigeon (ok, maybe not that). When they do, respond, even if you don't like what you're hearing, or if your answer must be, "we're sorry, but that's not a problem we're able to solve". (Bonus points if you can point them to someone who can).
If your team needs help asking hard questions, needs training on how to choose the best research approach to solve their problem, or wants a facilitator to help bring it all together, we do those things. But for today, we'll just wait patiently and ask, what's up with you, and what problems are you trying to solve these days?
Are you having difficulty knowing which move to make next? Maybe you've even undertaken a number of rounds of research, and yet the way still seems unclear. Sometimes when this happens, it's because more than one course of action seems reasonable. Other times, it's because every possibility comes with risks that make some of your team (or you) uncomfortable. What can you do?
In these situations, it's important to get back to basics. Clearly identify the decision you need to make. Then, list only the answers you need, in order to make that decision. Don't get side-tracked by "nice to know". It's rare that you can make a strategic move on one set of data, or using one sort of research tool. More likely, you'll need to combine several screens or frameworks. The good news is that this doesn't always have to be costly. Setting your priorities and conducting an audit of data you already own, will allow you to focus your resources on only sourcing the "mission critical" answers. Setting a plan in advance as to what frameworks you'll use to guide your decision, depending on those answers, is the final piece of the puzzle.
If you'd like a second set of eyes to help you create a custom set of screens that work for you and help you see everything, let's talk.
Megann and Steve, Partners in PANOPTIKA, are working for our clients every day to help them See Everything. Here are some of the things we see.