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?
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.
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.