The frequency illusion. We've all experienced it. (It's also called the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon). That's when you see something - a picture, a concept, a word, an idea - over and over again, all of a sudden. It seems like you're being sent some sort of message. The truth is, you may be. In our case, we've had an idea come up multiple times this week, almost like a theme. It has to do with honesty. Or more specifically, about being honest with ourselves.
Now the first time this came up, it was in Eleanor Beaton's community of practice group. Eleanor was discussing being radically honest with ourselves about our priorities. In other words, if we say something is important, but we keep pushing it aside, perhaps it isn't as important as we say it is. We need to unpack that and find out why we're dodging it. Is it really not so much of a priority? Or if it is, why are we putting our commitment to the end of the queue? We need to make a firm decision, then either drop it, or drop something else and focus on making it happen with the effort it (and we) deserve.
In the second instance, I was having a discussion with a new member of my network. We were talking about one of the reasons it can be better to hire a passionate but neutral third party researcher to have discussions with your customers about satisfaction with you and your performance as an organization. I call this the "do these pants make me look fat" rule. When I ask Steve that question, he is honest, but diplomatically so. In other words, he might be a bit too kind, even if that isn't giving me the kind of honesty I really need, to be sure I look my absolute best. (To be fair, I've trained him to know that I want the truth in this instance). In many cases, a best friend or a sister might be more willing to give the answer we need, instead of the one we want.
The third time it came up, we were working with one of our clients on a study to understand what customers and prospects want and need. They're considering a number of new offerings, and want to see how those things rate, and rank, in the customer's mind. Now we've done this sort of study hundreds of times, and nearly every time, there are features or offerings on the list that the customer has no intention (or no ability) to deliver. Then, in the worst cases, the customer says those are exactly what they want. So much that they will do anything (including switching suppliers) to get them.
Now you may think that asking a prospect or a customer or a user whether they want something, when you know you can't or won't give it to them, is letting you know where a competitor might have an edge. And you're right. But if you suspect it gives them an edge, it probably does. The other thing it's doing, is setting up an unrealistic expectation (and possibly setting the stage for dissatisfaction or disappointment). If the customer wasn't thinking of it after all, they will be, going forward. So Steve asked them, "Be honest with yourselves. Perhaps if there is anything here you have no intention of providing, whether you can't or you won't, you should take it off the list." This prompt will give them a chance to take a step back and engage their customers authentically and honestly.
What themes have been coming up for you again and again this week? What do they mean? If you need a hand getting your team to engage in some insightful truth-telling, we're here to help. Just let us know.
I'm Megann Willson, the CEO and a Partner here at PANOPTIKA, with COO Steve Willson. After more than 18 years helping our clients see everything they need to know to make better decisions and engage their customers, we've seen some interesting patterns and learned how to employ ideas that work, in multiple ways. You can also find us on LinkedIn , Twitter , or Facebook. And if you'd like to learn more about what we're learning by working with companies like yours, why not sign up to have insights delivered straight to your inbox? You can do that with the button below.
Intersections. Serendipity. Chance collisions.
All of these have played a part in our work this week. I've been travelling, speaking, and listening all week and all of it reminded me about the importance of making connections between all the things we do. First, I was the kickoff speaker at the Canadian Association of Movers (CAM), where I talked about managing your online reputation. We had some interesting and challenging discussions about what to do when a customer calls you out in cyberspace, including how apology strategies have, and haven't, changed since the time when we would all telephone customer service to get a resolution to our complaints. I also talked about how a collaborative partner can help us manage things that are challenging for us. My own talk dovetailed very well with one from Miki Ho of Beazley, who talked about cybersecurity and how to protect your company from a host of online assaults. The President of CAM's partner organization IAM, Chuck White, went into how to prepare for intergenerational workforces, as well as what to expect from growing industry consolidation (and why the need for collaboration is going to only continue to grow).
Then, returning to town, where the panel I was part of at the Women's Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub discussed networking for women entrepreneurs, morphed into a discussion of opportunities for collaboration. We were talking about hubs, which got me thinking about how nodes are actually more important. Hubs are a central place from where all the spokes radiate. Nodes, on the other hand, are a key part of any sort of network (even The Tube, like in the photo above), and they function a bit differently. Nodes are connectors that have entrances and exits. Important pathways may originate or terminate at a node, or simply pass through, but without the node, they simply don't happen. We also talked about representation, and the idea that "if you can't see it, you can't be it". And about how networking isn't transactional nor linear - that the connections were often weak ties in one area, but powerful in another.
From that meeting, I moved to the AGM of the CCSBE (Canadian Council for Small Business and Entrepreneurship), where I was happy to be reaffirmed in my role on the Board. We had yet another discussion about the importance of collaboration - in this case between our Council and the many academic institutions and practitioner sites (where entrepreneurship is born, fostered, and evolves). We hope to really be a node that connects entrepreneurs with educators, facilitators, incubators and accelerators in a host of ways.
The connections and serendipitous discoveries continued as I was representing PANOPTIKA at the Life Sciences Ontario breakfast. There was a tremendous nearly-all-women panel that included Awake Labs, the Ontario Brain Institute, Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital (one of the discussions at the movers event was a supplier's tremendous tribute to the importance of family), and the Community Living Association of South Simcoe. There it was again: representation. Family. Connections. Networks. Collaboration.
All of this, in short, is a way of saying, the connections you make are not linear. They do not just join directly from one thing to another. But in nearly every case, the idea of being a node, or a connector, and finding ways to help others with their business challenges would come back as help to you - just not necessarily as you expected, nor on your timeline. So go forth, network. Be a node.
I'm Megann Willson and I'm a Partner and the CEO at PANOPTIKA. We help our B2B customers see everything they need to know to make better decisions for their businesses. You can also find us on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook. And if you want to have insights about ways to make your business better, delivered directly to your inbox, you can use the button below.
Earlier this week, I was invited to hold a lunch-and-learn at the Regent Park Centre for Social Innovation. The topic was about Social Enterprises - and how even though their mission is to better the world, ultimately they are still enterprises. They owe it to their cause and their constituents to generate revenue. In other words, that they need to make money. We discussed money mindset, finding something to sell, confidently pricing offerings, and more; the core tenet was this: sometimes social enterprises confuse funding with revenue. The two are quite different, in terms of the impact they have on your business. It strikes me that there are many founders in other sorts of startups who might benefit for a refresher on this, also.
In short, these are the key differences between funding (be it from investors, or from lenders), and revenue (money generated from selling something - a product or a service:
Funding is the fuel. Funders provide it on their timeline, not yours. It has the benefit of using other people's money, but also the drawback: once they own a piece of your company, their power and motivations can force you in directions you didn't intend. Use funding wisely and judiciously, as it can completely obscure the reason you initially started your business.
Revenue, on the other hand, is the generator. It is the engine that creates power in your business to make decisions, to choose your direction, and to invest in the future. It provides operating costs, which funding is often not intended (or allowed) to cover. Assuming you're working at selling and you understand your sales cycle, you generate it on your timeline. You get to harness this resource, and direct its use to your chosen purpose. That means the money serves you and your business - not the other way around.
So, whether you're a social enterprise, or a pure-play for-profit company, make plans for revenue, and take control of the future of your business.
I'm Megann Willson, and I'm one of the partners here at PANOPTIKA. That means "see everything", because we work with our clients so they can see everything they need to know to make better business decisions. You can also find us on LinkedIn, on Twitter, or on Facebook. If you have a challenging customer project, give us a call and let's talk about how we can help. And if you'd like to see more content like this every week, click the button below.
Business is changing. Employee turnover is on the rise (here in Canada, we're 4th in the world). With that come a host of symptoms that make it harder and harder to build the kind of strong, connected relationships with customers that time and research have proven, work. And work especially well in a business-to-business environment. Couple that with budgets pared to the bone, and organizations are doing the bare minimum to understand their customers and find out what makes them tick. Sure, salespeople are there, talking to contacts who are active in the sales cycle, and connecting with the rest during classic slowdown periods. And billing goes on, as long as there is something to bill. And customer service will respond, if someone complains. But research, inquiry, curiosity, and simply asking questions like "What if?", "What's changed?", and "How might we?" frequently get pushed aside.
We were reminded of this when a former client contacted us out of the blue. They were interested in some deeper exploration of a customer group of theirs, and they had found a report of ours filed or in a drawer (we rarely do paper reports now, but this was long enough ago, that it is very possible). The contact was new to us, and we to them. In the time since we last worked with this company, virtually everyone who was a key contact has moved on to a new organization. When you have one or two buyers in a company, and they leave, you're often back to ground zero. We've kept connections with some of those, and have worked with them on other projects in their new workplaces. (Although that takes time, as newcomers take a while before they start bringing in new suppliers when they themselves are just building trust in the organization). A few aren't in a position to spend money because they've started businesses of their own, but have referred us to new clients. One or two have even retired. So really, this company is almost like a brand new client for us. We know some of their history. We know some history the current contacts haven't even experienced. And all they know of us is that we once wrote some reports. There's a break in the thread. That's on us. After a certain period of trying to keep the relationship going, in their time of constraint, restraint, and change, we moved on to more fruitful opportunities. (Is this sounding at all familiar?)
Here's the thing. This potential new client has done something similar with their customers. They haven't taken an in-depth, objective look at their key customers in several years. They're doing it now because their business environment has fundamentally changed - they're in a regulated industry and government policy is driving them to re-examine everything about how they do business. Some of their relationships have changed. They want to build on the research and strategy work they did with their key customers all those years ago, and find a new way forward. We'll make sure they get our very best work, and hopefully rekindle what was a fine working relationship. But we can't help but feel a little wistful because it will be almost like starting over. We'll all be making an entrance, when we could have been having an encore.
Let's pledge to avoid this in future. It's easy to use research to make an entrance, to use the knowledge to carry you forward through one, two, or even three acts. But if we make the intermissions really, really long, the audience will get disconnected from the action - and we'll never get to have an encore. Instead of continually building our body of knowledge, deepening our relationships, and asking the questions a few at a time, all the time, for a long time, we will scratch the surface repeatedly, never really making the most of what's right in front of us. So today, make a list. Reach out to a customer you haven't worked with in some time. Cultivate them like a whole new audience. And see if you can turn your entrance into an encore.
I'm Megann Willson, and I'm one of the partners here at PANOPTIKA. My partner Steve Willson and I have worked since 2001 to help our clients see everything they need to know to make better decisions. You can find us here, or on LinkedIn, on Twitter, or even on Facebook. If you'd like to have insights delivered direct to your inbox, help us be part of your encore performance, by clicking the button, below.
Megann and Steve, Partners in PANOPTIKA, are working for our clients every day to help them see everything they need to know to make better decisions in their complex business environment.
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