Sometimes a phone call with a new market research client begins like this:
Client: "Do you do focus groups?"
Us: "It depends. What do you need to understand?"
It might also include some of this:
Client: "I've got a deadline to meet. How fast can you get this project finished?"
Us: "How fast can you do your part in framing your needs and doing your prep work?"
When we're asking these questions, we're doing two things. The first is to narrow down as precisely as possible, what the client really needs to see in order to take an action or make a decision. (That's why we say we help you see everything you need to know to make better decisions. You don't need to know everything. Just all of the relevant things. Secondly, we need to do the most important thing, and it's this: we need to make your customer's experience with market research as comfortable, even delightful, as possible. That means not pushing them so hard that the process is frustrating or annoying for them. It means working to timelines that work for them, not only for you. It means having them say (to us, if they're a live interview or group, or in comments, if it's a survey), "Wow, that was really interesting!", or "The time went by way faster than I thought, that was fun!"
Why does that matter? It matters because your reputation depends on it. Even in double-blinded research (much of what we do keeps the client anonymous to the respondent, as well as the other way around), the person doing the answering will speculate about who's doing the asking. And they'll make assumptions about the organization they believe is doing the asking. So if we have them take time in the middle of their workday, or in their busiest week, or we nag them incessantly to participate, it reflects badly on us, and very possibly, on you. If, at the end, they feel like they're being treated like some sort of lab rat, it's not happiness-making. Reputation management and customer relationships are as important in research as in everything else you do.
So the next time you're planning to do customer research, we're happy to use a variety of methods to get the answers you need. (Often we will recommend that you combine one or two, for precision and richness in what you learn). And we hope you'll take our advice when we also recommend ways to make it as pleasant as possible for the most important customer of all - yours.
I'm Megann Willson, and along with my partner, Steve Willson, we're PANOPTIKA. We've spent decades getting to know our customers, and yours, and we're always happy to help you find more ways to excite them, delight them, and keep them coming back for more. You can find more content from us on Twitter, LinkedIn, or even Facebook. And if you'd like ideas, offers, and opportunities delivered straight to your inbox, the button below is where you can sign up.
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.
I know, we're a day early. But since many of you are already eating the candy, and I thought I could use one more pumpkin-and-costume graphic, with puppies, we're posting a day early. This week I had a lovely time with connections and colleagues from the Toronto Product Management Association, where I was sharing a facilitator's-eye view of meetings and how to make them work for you. My first rule: treat your colleagues like you would treat your customers - give them and their ideas the same level of respect and consideration. No one likes meetings, for sure, but there are some key things that make them run more smoothly:
*The Ivory Taboo Tower is a "secret parking lot" out of the room, or on a discreet wall, where people can note topics that are taboo to talk about, and yet are having an impact on getting things done, agreeing, or moving forward.
I'm Megann Willson and I'm one of the partners here at PANOPTIKA, along with Steve Willson. We help you and your company to see everything you need to know to make better decisions, so you can find, understand, and keep customers. You can also find us on Twitter and Facebook, and if you'd like more news you can use, delivered straight to your inbox, click the handy button below to sign up.
"We don't have enough information to make a decision!"
"Everything is so unclear!"
"We need more research, but we don't know where to start."
"Of course we have a research objective. In fact, we've got five or six of them."
Often when we hear clients expressing these things, we work with them to discover that it isn't a lack of information, but a lack of clarity about what they know, and don't know, about the problem. If you're dealing with this in your organization, and you have limited resources, the last thing you should do is invest in more research (yet). First, you've got to wade through the complexity and ambiguity and sort out exactly what you need. And a sorting activity is an excellent first step. Here's how you can get started:
Sorting exercises may seem simplistic, but there's a reason these are one of the first things we teach to babies, and then to kids learning to read, and later, to people who are programming, filing, organizing, or creating an information architecture. They help us get to the gist of what we need to know, to make sense of the world. And they can help you do better research, more efficiently, and for less time and money. I'm sure of it.
My name is Megann Willson, and with my partner, Steve Willson, we run PANOPTIKA, where we help our clients see everything they need to know to find, understand, and keep customers. You can also find us on LinkedIn, on Twitter, or Facebook. If you'd like more news you can use to grow your business, subscribe to our weekly updates, and the occasional offer, using the link below.
"Make a u-turn as soon as possible!"
Was she really shrieking at us, the GPS woman? It started to sound that way when we toured Lyon, in the middle of a city-wide tram-track upgrade. Every direction was the wrong direction. Or was it? One day out of a magical vacation a few years ago, we found ourselves in GPS hell. The GPS was not helping, since every one of her directions led us to another detour, or blocked road, or "no exit" sign. Finally, Steve suggested we just shut her off and stop listening. (Perhaps not as gently as that sounds).
We did it. And what happened? Nothing. We took a few twists and turns, saw parts of the old city, Vieux-Lyon, not meant to be on our route, and eventually, we took a beautiful waterside walk. Then we went on our way. Drove to Beaune. Bought some wine. Went back to our rented maison. Made dinner.
What's the point of all this? It's that few things are as urgent as they seem. It is rarely too late. Any direction can end up being the right direction. So the next time someone is barking directions and contradicting them in short order, switch it off. Step back. Think about the outcome you are really trying to achieve, and head in the direction that experience, understanding, instinct and any material fact (like a compass heading, the sun, or data) tells you is right.
I'm Megann Willson and I'm one of the partners here at PANOPTIKA. Steve Willson and I work every day with clients to help them get answers and to see everything they need to know to make better decisions. And sometimes our advice is to stop asking for more answers, and trust what you've already learned, including the data that's right in front of you. You can also find us on Twitter, on LinkedIn, and occasionally on Facebook.
"Plans don't work out."
"No business plan survives first contact with the customer."
"If you want to hear God laugh, tell her your plans."
Have you heard these? We know we have. Usually from people who don't want to invest the time in putting their plans to paper. Here's what we also know: committing to a direction in writing, clarifies and solidifies your thinking. It lets you get clarity on:
1. Where you want your business or product to go
2. What actions you believe it will take to get there
3. How you want your customers or stakeholders to react
4. A set of benchmarks you can use to measure, adapt, and adjust as you implement
That last part is usually the part that gets forgotten. The plan isn't a stone tablet. Just like the blueprint for a new house is only the beginning of what that place will need to become a home, the plan is a starting place. When you have a bias for action (as I do), it can feel slow, cumbersome, and frustrating sometimes. But it can also provide great clarity as you work through it. Used right, it lets you document your learning as you go. It becomes a body of evidence of your experiments, hypotheses, and assumptions, and it can help build critical thinking and the ability to "see around corners" - keeping you in business for a long time.
I'm Megann Willson and I'm one of the partners here at PANOPTIKA. We work with clients to help them see everything they need to do to make better decisions for their business, so they can find, understand, and keep their best customers. Since 2001 we've helped hundreds of companies with thousands of business challenges, and we can help you, too. What are we seeing? Follow us on Twitter, on LinkedIn, or set an appointment for a no-obligation conversation about what you're trying to solve in your business.
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This week I was reading The Magic of Thinking Big, by David J. Schwartz. It's not a new book; in fact it was written in 1959. And although the tone may seem a bit old-timey, much of the advice is as valid today, as when it was new. Schwartz is a big believer in goal-setting, and in the importance of setting out with a plan. He also alluded to a problem we see in the research and consulting business, which is the gathering of data for data's sake, and an over-emphasis on keeping vast repositories of information in our heads or at our fingertips, as a way to "add value" to ourselves. But machines can do that. Here's what Dr. Schwartz said: "More and more we rely on books, files, and machines to warehouse information. If we can only do what a machine can do, we're in a real fix."
It's not the data (however big) that helps us make better sense of the world, understand our customers better, find new markets, sell more, or grow our businesses. It's the synthesis of the data - what we do with it, how we shape it, where we find connections - and our "knowledge goals", that make a difference. Knowing what we want to do with the answers, how we want to use them, and why they're important to us, will help us have a richer understanding of the people we're investigating in our research. Before adding yet another question to an overly-long survey, or jumping in like Columbo with a "just one more thing" query, ask yourself these things:
If you have good answers for those, and you're still comfortable asking, by all means, go for it. Then use what you've learned wisely and do something excellent for the person responding. That is why you're asking, isn't it?
I'm Megann Willson, and with my partner, Steve Willson, we've been helping PANOPTIKA's customers see everything they need to know to make better decisions for richer customer relationships, for over 18 years. You can also follow us on Twitter or connect on Facebook or LinkedIn. And if you'd like to join our community to have the conversation come right to your inbox, there's a button below that will do the trick.
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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