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.
We hear a lot these days about learning from failure; fail faster, fail often. That's often a good thing, as long as you are learning why you failed. Back in my Engineering days we referred to this as "Root cause failure analysis". The theory being that if you understood the failure, you would not repeat it.
I propose that we turn our faces to the sun and conduct more "Root cause SUCCESS analysis".
It's human nature, when we win it's because we did a great job, we got everything right, it's all because of me!
But what if it's not? What if you won because the competition didn't actually play in this game? What if you won, but you left a lot of money on the table?
It's important to look at your success through the eyes of your customer because you and your team are inherently biased. In addition, you surely do not have all the information you need.
So hiring someone to help you with your "Root cause success analysis" in a good start. Ask us for more information if this makes sense to you.
Look at those fresh new messages and materials. So exciting! New initiatives to launch. Shiny new toys to play with. But winter has dragged on, and your spring-themed campaign seems ill-timed just yet. The tools and techniques you've been using seem tired and trite. Or are they?
Marketing and sales often encounter a kind of ennui with their campaigns just before the change of season - and especially if the season doesn't seem to be changing as fast as it should. The common refrain is, "Our customers are tired of this! We've told them all about this already!" The reality is, you are not your customer's only focus. (There, we said it. Right out loud.) So while it may be true that they've heard your message, and that they're not sure you'll have anything new to say, this doldrums of delivery that you're in, is something you can change. In fact, it may not be that they are bored at all...it may be you who is just tired of sounding enthusiastic about the same old message. What are you to do?
Bear in mind that in sales, marketing, customer service...nearly anything that requires you to be customer-facing, attitude is altitude. Look for ways to recharge your batteries so you can put one last push on, before spring really does arrive. Start integrating a few new spring pieces of clothing into your wardrobe. Get a new haircut. Launch a new fitness routine. Begin a course that will make you sharper for the upcoming season. All of these will give you a feeling of accomplishment that will lift you up.
Next, check your assumptions. Visit clients and get a recap of their recall of key messages you've delivered this cycle. Make sure you correct any misperceptions so you're starting from the same page when new selling models or tools are introduced. Consider any knowledge gaps as you visualize who is ready to receive the message of your next campaign, and who can use just a bit more personal attention to get them there.
Lastly and most importantly, remind yourself and your team of your achievements. Consider a celebration and final team incentive challenge as you wind down winter and get ready for spring. Because although it might not seem like it on a stormy day, the sun really is on its way.
Do you have a big idea for a new business? Big ideas are fabulous, and they can provide you with a big payoff. On the other hand, they are often also riskier, more time consuming, and require a larger investment. So what can you do?
One way to manage a big business idea, is to dream big, but to think small. Consider your idea (a new restaurant, perhaps?) and think about whether there are mini or even micro versions of that idea. Using our restaurant example, you might think about a much smaller bistro space, and figure out whether you can make a decent margin using that business model. Or for an even smaller investment, a small catering operation with a rented kitchen might get you on your way, or even a #foodtruck or #foodcart. If you can start with one of those tinier businesses and have a plan to scale, you can reduce your risk at the outset, and build as you go.
Do you have any other big ideas you'd like to shrink down to a more manageable size (or have you used this approach successfully)? We'd love to hear your story.
"We've seen our customers do this a thousand times".
So what? You've assembled a thousand observations. Although it is valuable evidence, this doesn't make it an insight. Let's dig deeper.
"I'm buried in data. How can I make sense of it all?"
"When should I do research?"
"What's the right way to answer these questions?"
Does any of this sound familiar? Over and over, we hear product managers, marketers, even CEOs, asking these questions. Over the past 17-plus years, we've helped hundreds of them get clarity by working backward from their end goal. This is the question we ask, to get started:
"What decision do you want to make?" or "What action can't you take now, that you'll be able to take if you have more clarity?"
Most often, if you can answer one (or both) of these, you'll be in a much better position to map out the research you need. When you've answered them, you'll know:
You'll be able to decide whether you can sort this out yourself, or if you need help. You'll know if the answer needs to be quantified, with numbers (such as for a forecast), or if it needs a qualitative approach (getting your engineering team to see customers' frustration as they try to use feature X). And you'll waste less money, time, and effort getting something that's useful, practical, helpful, and actionable.
Whatever your questions, we're happy to work with you until you see everything you need.
Do you have a global business, or are you considering expanding or exporting? You might know that we've been travelling this past week - to the UK and Germany. One of our favourite things to do when we're in a new market or a foreign country, is to explore an ordinary activity, and ask, "what's different here"?
Above is the condiments collection at a Sainsbury's cafeteria. The breakfasts were similar, with a few different menu items (even here in Canada the big breakfast doesn't differ that much from the Full English Breakfast). But this collection of condiments was very different than what we might receive with the average cheap and cheerful breakfast here at home. Some of the things that reminded us that every market develops in response to customers, not the other way around, included:
Condiments collections are adapted to local tastes, even in quite similar jurisdictions. Payment options varied from country to country. "Contactless" - the equivalent of our debit "tap" - was popular in the UK, but didn't always work with foreign cards like ours. In Germany, debit isn't an option in most places unless you have a local account. And although many products on the shelves were easily identifiable, even under new brand names, once in awhile there were packages and presentations that completely confounded us.
So what's all this got to do with you and your customers? Just a friendly reminder, that it's about what *they* want, not about what you want to give them. Do yourself a favour, and make sure you consider the small subtleties that put the local in your global offerings. You'll be glad you did.
Does this sound familiar? For me, I’m always surprised when I hear this, although I hear it over and over again. The easiest business to start is one that solves a problem, one that people will pay to have solved. Whether that’s creating delicious homemade cakes that make the person celebrating feel extra-special, to measuring air quality and helping clients to put systems in place to improve it so they can breathe better, or even providing custom home renovation services for someone with ideas but who’s all thumbs – businesses that solve problems or challenges are simply easier to sell. That’s because you don’t need to invest as much time educating the customer as to why they would want to solve that problem in the first place. They’re already actively looking for a solution!
Of course, the next step is a bit trickier: you also need to have the wherewithal to solve the problem. If you’re not a baker, or an environmental scientist, or handy with tools and building materials, none of our examples are going to be a fit for you. So what CAN you do? This is an area where mind-mapping can come in handy. The mind-map is a great tool for capturing a lot of free-flowing, uncensored ideas. Set a timer for 15 minutes – no more. This is more work than it sounds, and by then you’ll need a break from thinking. Get yourself a large piece of paper, or a white board, or a large expanse of wall and a stack of sticky notes. Start by writing down all the things you can do, that solve problems for people. Capture everything. Don’t try and narrow it down yet. What sorts of things do people ask you to do already, because you’re good at them, or you know how to do them in a unique way, or because those same people don’t know how to do them for themselves? Keep writing. If one “job” makes you think of another, great. Write that one down too. Just keep going until the timer tells you to stop. Although it might be tough to get started, I’m pretty certain you’ll be on a roll as you move toward the end of your 15 minutes. Ideas always bring more ideas.
Now, go get a drink of water, or a cup of tea, or take a little walk. Then come back to your mind-map. It’s time to start sorting. Which ones do you really like doing? Which are you uniquely qualified to do, more than most people? And here’s the million-dollar question: which will people pay you to do? Often the things you’re best at, or that are most enjoyable, don’t obviously intersect with what customers will pay for. It’s up to you to find that intersection between work that works for you, and work that’s lucrative enough to make a living. So while I never advocate working at work you dislike every day, if something feels like a real calling, AND you feel like you’re fairly compensated for doing it, you’ll be much more likely to stick with it when your business hits its inevitable valleys.
Do you have some ideas that look like they might actually be the start of a business? Great! Next time let’s talk about ways to see whether customers really will pay what you think they’ll pay – or in more technical language, defining and validating your value proposition.
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.