How well do you know your customers? Have you undertaken a big research project recently, to gain some in-depth insights? Or have you fallen prey to the not-really-correct school of thought that "Steve Jobs didn't believe in market research, and that's good enough for me?" The truth is, neither of these approaches is right. There, I've said it. Could it be that famous marketer Steve Jobs was wrong? Yes, sort of. (And about a few things, I might add).
The truth is, getting to know your customers is an ongoing process. As you launch your business, you need to build an understanding of your targets or prospects. It's a green field. All you will have to rely on is research. From that point forward, though, you need to constantly be piecing together different layers of intelligence to understand who they are, how they work, what they want, and why they do what they do. Asking them to connect the dots won't work. It's not their job to do your work for you. (That's the kind of research Jobs was right to reject). Instead, give them an opportunity to have free-flowing conversations with you. Let them talk about their aspirations, whether they are directly related to what you want to sell them, or not. Then have some conversations with constraints. Give them things to compare, and try to understand how they select, sort, and prioritize. Look at what you can learn from "unresearch" - sales data, notes from interactions they may have had with your service workers, or your product team. See what they do with other people who sell them things. Find out what delights them when they're not at work.
Customer understanding or user experience research is more than simply testing a product or website and seeing how it goes, as a one-off. It's about building a rich mosaic from many tiny fragments of information. If you throw it all into a database, or a central file, or don't try to sort it at all, you're wasting an opportunity to create something beautiful. But if you categorize it, move it around, and look for connections, you may start to see forms and patterns that make something out of what seemed to be nothing. Find ways to sort all your customer data, and you'll usually find you have a rich mosaic of understanding, sitting right on your shelf, in your hard drive, or floating around in the cloud. And like a mosaic, look at it up close, then stand back, and observe it from a distance. I'm sure you'll discover things you never expected, that will help you create whole new customer focus, and grow your business, whatever it is that you make or do.
I'm Megann Willson, and I'm one of the Partners here at PANOPTIKA. A customer insight audit can help you and your team to use what you already know to build a solid foundation for this year's business strategy. If you'd like more insights, follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook, or sign up for weekly ideas, tips, and offers using the orange button below.
A week or so ago, we had the most refreshing experience. It made us feel amazing. Serene, even.
One of our clients asked us for less. Now, we always try to go the extra mile with our clients, and if they are new to us, and we're working on a project, we try to show them all the possible lines of inquiry we might explore, to learn more about their customers or prospects. We prefer a very open journey, but if someone doesn't know us, they might have trouble seeing how that will work out. So imagine our relief when the client called and said, "I like where we're going, but don't you think we will get a richer result if we ask very broad questions and then probe as the respondent takes it in their direction, not ours?
Yes, yes we do. Thanks for asking us that. Constraints can be useful. But questions that will take the discussion in the direction you want, rather than where the respondent wants to go, are likely to end up with you feeling like you didn't learn anything new, and simply confirm what you already belief. The lesson? Open yourself up to simplicity, if you want a richer, more meaningful result.
I'm Megann Willson, and I'm one of the partners here at PANOPTIKA. If you'd like us to help you see everything that's really important to your prospects or customers, let's talk. You can find all our contact information here on the website. And if you'd like regular insights that will spark ideas you might not have been thinking about already, you can also find us on LinkedIn, on Twitter, or on Facebook.
For news, offers, and upcoming speaking or workshop dates, sign up below. We'll message you once a week, and on rare occasions, once more.
Today's post is a short one, and not even on our usual day. Why? Because on this day, the Eve of Resolution, we're asking for nothing. We just want to thank you for reading our posts. Thanks for your business. Thanks for all the work we've done together thus far.
No offers, no special promotions, no directives. Just a heartfelt thank you and our best wishes for the fresh start we're all hoping for in 2020. On Thursday we'll be back at our desks. If you need help then, to make some sort of fresh start with your customers, we'll be ready. For now, a safe, happy, and healthy New Year to you all.
I'm Megann Willson, and I'm one of the Partners here at PANOPTIKA. My Partner in Everything is Steve Willson. You can find us on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, or by signing up for our newsletter using the button below this post.
When we think about marketing strategy, or even market research, we always think about one of the Four (or Five) P's, Place. Place is about distribution. How does the thing get into the hands of your customer?
Our advice is always to make it as easy for the customer as possible. The omnichannel movement has preached the gospel of having your product or service be accessible everywhere and anywhere the customer is. It sounds very caring and good, in this season of giving. But recently, we've had an experience or two that has made us pause to reflect on that.
I ordered a few items online from a large department store. I can get to said store in 15 minutes, honestly, but I was super busy, knew exactly what I wanted, and loved the convenience of having it delivered to my door, while I worked on something else. There was an online sale, and free shipping, making it even simpler. Fantastic, right? Here's the thing...
The first thing that happened was a notification that the first item had shipped, but that the second was on backorder. These were very small items, size-wise. So the first arrived within a day or two, in a box more than ten times its size. Such waste! Oh, the poor planet. The other item said it was shipping a day or two later, but took nearly two weeks to get here. Tracking showed that it went from a warehouse in the west end, to a sorting station, to another station in the east end, and eventually, after sitting who-knows-where for the rest of the time, to my door, downtown.
Now I, as a customer, was pretty patient. I didn't need these things urgently, I just wanted to save myself the time and trouble of a trip to the store. But it did annoy me that the second item travelled all around the city. How many GHGs were pumped out while that occurred? And then when it arrived, again, a box many times its size. Neither of the items were breakable. They didn't need special cushioning. The store just used the boxes they had, I guess. Either item could have easily fit in a padded envelope.
My reflection was this: I did like the convenience. What I hated, I mean, really hated, the fact that these items travelled all over the city, and used so much packaging, by the time they arrived. And I think, if I had been given a reminder or even an incentive to come to the store, I might have done it. Heck, I know I would have, since I have been to the store at least once in the ensuing two weeks. And I might not have felt so guilty at the impact my perceived savings and convenience have had on the planet.
So by all means, make it easy and convenient for your customer. But when making it easy and convenient for your customers comes at another cost, perhaps a higher-order cost that may matter to them, it's worth reminding them of that. In the long run, we'll all be better off.
I'm Megann Willson, and I'm one of the partners here at PANOPTIKA, along with Steve Willson. For nearly two decades, we've been helping our clients see everything they need to know to make better business decisions, using strategic research and expert facilitation. And today we've been married for 39 years. Happy anniversary! You can find more content from us on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook. We also share business news you can use, offers, and recommended links and reading every week. You can subscribe using the orange button, and if we're not adding value, subscribe anytime.
I'm all for taking stock - especially this time of year, it's important to see how you've measured up against your goals. Once that's done, though, it doesn't do any good to keep rehashing your old mistakes. Figure out how to go forward, and understand your course corrections, then set your eyes on the future.
This afternoon I had an opportunity to catch up with a board member I used to serve with. He was lamenting that there are always a couple of people in the organization who are stuck on "replay", always bringing up some past transgression that's long done. They're the same people who are unwilling to try anything new, or examine their own part in any so-called failures.
Does this sound familiar? Do you have team members who would rather grouse about what didn't work in the past, than to try and discover a better way forward? Ultimately, these individuals aren't helping the team. It's worth having a quiet conversation offline, to remind them in advance of the next meeting, that you're focused on the future. Here are some other ways to prime them for the right kind of action:
If you've given your best effort to be sure their voice is heard, you've done your work. Keep repeating your mission and make sure the meeting ground rules are clear. And if necessary, find a project that will consume their time elsewhere. Then, eyes forward. Face the future, and plot your course.
I'm Megann Willson, and I'm one of the Partners and Founders here at PANOPTIKA. We help our clients see everything they need to know to make better decisions for their organizations. Looking for a facilitator who can help you have richer, more robust conversations? Let's talk. In the meantime, you can also find us on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn - or you can sign up to get useful business ideas sent right to your inbox, using the handy button below.
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.
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.
Want useful advice for better business decisions, delivered direct to your inbox? (It's like a free coach who comes to you!)