"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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It's the Friday before a long weekend. A deadline is looming. You only have today to make a decision about your big launch. And goodness only knows no one wants to be working on Labour Day. Fortunately, the usual naysayers didn't make the meeting - they've already headed to the cottage. Everyone at the table has been carefully selected because they're committed to getting the work done. You've set the end time for 3pm so you can submit the recommendations and all be on your way. What could possibly go wrong? Here are some last-minute checks to make sure you get finished on time.
First, congratulations on the time constraint, maybe. Time constraints do signal that this is not the time for endless discussion. But they can also mean that people who need a lot of time to express themselves, may simply shut down or acquiesce, instead of giving valuable feedback.
Does everyone know the purpose of the meeting? If you haven't set a clear agenda stating that this is a decision-making meeting (as opposed to an information/status update meeting or an idea-generating meeting, even the best people can arrive with the wrong idea, dragging out the conversation because they feel like they weren't heard at the last meeting.
Do you have as much information as possible, readily at hand? Save time by running around looking for data or feedback you've already gathered in advance. Make sure it is already assembled in one place, and that a copy has been forwarded to the attendees in advance of the meeting, in case they need more time to process.
Did you gather that information collaboratively? In the video on Mind the Product's blog, Tricia Wang points out that you are not the voice of the customer. None of you. And while we try not to use never, always, all, none, and everyone in a collaborative environment, we're with her on this one.
Did you appoint a decider? The thing about urgent decisions, is that they must be made. Sometimes, even in the face of indecision. There may also be someone who can ultimately overrule whatever you decide. They need to be in the room. If they can't (sound of screeching brakes), you may just have to push out the deadline.
If you've done all this, and someone is still arguing, filibustering, or sulking in the corner because they're not being heard, it's time to step back and start over. And if the team can't agree that this is a decision-making meeting, that decision may just have to wait for Tuesday, because you've got bigger problems to solve.
I'm Megann Willson and I'm a Partner and CEO here at PANOPTIKA. I'm also a researcher, strategist and facilitator who works with clients to help them hear the voice of their customer, figure out how to use what they've learned, and make better decisions. You can also find me, and my partner Steve Willson, on Twitter or LinkedIn. Want more News You Can Use delivered right to your inbox? Click the handy button, below.
Modern marketers need modern methods.
Am I right? You might think this article is going to spend lots of time talking about building pipelines and creating conversion funnels, using social media to generate leads and attract prospects with content, mining data to unearth new insights, and more. Do read on, and see if you're right.
Do you remember last week's post, about how something may resonate with you, and then suddenly you're seeing it everywhere? Sure enough, that happened to me. (I checked my bias, though, and validated - these things do work).
First, I was speaking with consultant and coach Debbie Adams of PeopleCan about how, despite the many tools we have at our disposal, some of the best and easiest sales come because we've already impressed the customer, and we aren't listening carefully enough to realize it's time to stop selling. I also overheard a conversation between two business women and one was asking the other about getting new customers, when privacy regulations seemed to be making it harder and harder to use email. "It's easy, said one. I phone them." Cold-calling is sometimes most effective because it's simple and unexpected. And it makes you take time to think about the person on the other end of the line, before you begin - at least if you do it well. (For more info on how to do that, check out The Phone Lady - she works with entrepreneurs and enterprises to help them get better at using the phone). Lastly, to use Steve Willson's favourite F1 quote: "Get in there, Lewis!" In other words, go to where potential customers are. Have conversations. Engage. Show them you're a real person. You'll be pleasantly surprised on one-on-one outreach will help build momentum in your business. So, in short, three tools that are underused and can freshen up your sales numbers?
Oh, and one more tip about the customers you've already found? In this post by Devin Haman, he says that you can come up with more things to sell your existing customers, by proactively fixing problems today's proactive customers may not even have discovered yet.
I'm Megann Willson and I'm one of the Partners at PANOPTIKA. We work with our clients to help them see everything they need to make better decisions - using better data, a better approach, or better metrics. If you need help deciding which metrics will work best for you and your team, so that you can find, serve, and keep more customers, we can help. You can also follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. For more news you can use to help you or your team to make better decisions, click the handy button, below.
"We'd like to investigate this. Oh, and it would also be great to find out more about this. And a few members of the team thought it would be really interesting to explore this."
When your product is new, or your team is new, or you're just getting started with your business, you want to know everything. Any market information could be useful. All customer insights might be relevant. As a consequence, we often meet new clients, new teams, or founders, who want to look at a really big basket of questions. Sounds fair, doesn't it? They have a lot to learn. So what's the issue?
The issue is that the other shoe usually drops, right about then. The client says, "And we really want you to do a deep dive on this."
The fact of the matter is, giant companies who can afford massive amounts of data, may be able to afford to be wasteful with their investigations. They may be able to "go deep" on a lot of different topics, all at once. If you look carefully, though, you'll usually find that there are many teams, each going deep on a topic or two. If your company is small, you risk learning a little about a lot, and a lot...about nothing.
How can you mitigate this risk? These four steps that can help:
I'm Megann Willson and I'm one of the Partners at PANOPTIKA. We work with our clients to help them see everything they need to make better decisions - using better data, a better approach, or a better frame of reference. You can also follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. For more news you can use to help you or your team to make better decisions, click the handy button, below.
According to psychology there are three types of Empathy; Cognitive, Emotional and Compassionate. My brother, the PhD Psychologist, could explain this better than I can, but here goes…
Cognitive is about perspective, knowing what another person is feeling or thinking. It lacks the emotional component of the other two types and so is easier for us rational humans to understand and use.
Emotional empathy goes a layer deeper and is that sense you have about feeling someone’s pain or suffering. It’s the feeling you get when you see the advertising for starving children or displaced persons, then you go on with your normal activities.
The final layer is Compassionate empathy, where we not only feel the pain, but are compelled to act upon it. Mother Teresa is a model we could use to demonstrate the extreme of compassionate empathy.
Look around you these days and what you see is a whole lot of self-interest, a zero-sum attitude, in order for me to win you must lose. Empathy is the tool you can use to escape this destructive cycle and create a space for abundance.
So, in business, which of these empathy models do we want to employ? To steal a phrase from “A League of Their Own” and mangle it: “There’s no crying in business”.
When preparing for a meeting or negotiation, employing Cognitive Empathy will allow you to explore the thoughts, constraints and motivations of the other person. Ask yourself and your team questions such as:
What constitutes success from the customer’s perspective? Who do they need to influence to get a decision made? How can you empower them in a way that creates value for them with little or no cost to you?
This is a different way of thinking, so you may need some help along the way. At Panoptika we have the experience and the frameworks to help you and your team develop these skills and create more wins.
We feel for you!
I'm Steve Willson and I'm one of the partners in PANOPTIKA. We help clients to see everything and make better decisions.
You can also connect with us on Twitter, on Facebook, on LinkedIn and on Fridays we share news you can use with our community.
“Ugh, management by committee. I just couldn’t get them to make a decision. It was like herding cats!” Even if you think of yourself as a decisive person, working with a team can make choosing seem much harder. There are so many more opinions to hear, and so many more options that may be put on the table. Add to that, money, impact on people, fuzzy objectives or incomplete information, and you can end up with a real headache on your hands. We’ve discovered five essential steps to keep every decision-making process on the straight and narrow.
We've said many times, that the best way to market is to find a customer, create a solution to a problem or a need for them, and sell it to them. We stand by that. While you're busy creating that solution or figuring out how to fill the need (the job to be done, to paraphrase Clay Christensen), someone else may show them the next best option. Also, if you want other people to sell your product or service for you, by describing it to their networks, you need to know what it is that you sell. So which comes first? Customer, or product?
The first truth is this: knowing your customer is absolutely critical. The second truth is this: you need money to have a viable, ongoing business. And the third: sooner or later, to get money, you're going to have to sell something - whether that something is a product or a service. Revenue is how you pay the bills, pay yourself, fund the work, even if you're a social enterprise or not-for-profit. Remember: not-for-profit doesn't mean, "doesn't bring in money".
So how do you figure out what it is that you sell? If it's a widget, a chicken, or an egg, you've got the beginning of a description. If it's more complicated, you need to be able to distill your product (or service) description down to something even your grandma or your five-year-old nephew could explain. Why? Simple: because the more people who know how to describe what you sell and why it's great, the more unofficial salespeople you can have out there in the world, for free, generating leads for you. So go ahead. Break all those rules we've told you about customer focus, and take some time to figure out the easiest way to describe what it is you sell. You'll be glad you did.
It’s Shrove Tuesday, or as some like to call it, “Pancake Tuesday”. Originally, on this day, Christians made their confession in preparation for Lent, the days that lead up to Easter. They were forgiven for their sins, or “shriven” – hence, “Shrove Tuesday”. They also finished off any tempting foods – rich fats, eggs, cream, and so on – as they prepared to emulate Christ's 40 days in the desert. Pancakes were an easy way to do that. Nowadays, all that remains for many people is the idea that today is a day for pancakes.
Why all this religious explanation in a blog where we usually talk about research, strategy, and customer understanding? Because just like Shrove Tuesday, what you tell your customer about yourself (the preparation, scorekeeping, and effort) isn’t the most important part of your story – what your customer believes about you is. That’s what they’ll communicate to others, and that’s what will impact the reputation of your company, your brand, or you. Give them your best, make sure they know your true story, and maybe they’ll remember more than the pancakes.
Learning about the technical specs of a scientific innovation. Exploring country data from the CIA. Studying environmental protection regulations. Investigating commitments to climate-change agreements in multiple countries. Researching trade data on purchasing patterns in five different verticals. Interviewing key stakeholders in the three most promising industrial sectors.
What do these things have in common? They were all part of an “unknown unknowns” exploration we did for a client of ours. If you’re in an established business, with multiple competitors, chances are, there’s data out there to help you make key market decisions. If you sell soup, soap, or shampoo, there are often standard reports than can be purchased quickly, and many case studies to help guide your thinking. But if you’ve invented a new scientific/industrial/biotech/pharma type thing, that theoretically has multiple applications, in several verticals, how do you make an argument that it’s possible to commercialize? When we set out to do a market landscape for a product that’s almost ready to market, there isn’t usually a simple answer ready and waiting. Instead, we do a deep dive with you about your product. Then we use our expertise at multi-modal research to decide the best way to narrow down your options, as cost-effectively as possible. Finally, we find experts on the ground who have similar or related expertise, to help us get the answers you need to make critical decisions about your business. That’s what we did with the exploration at the start of this story.
The good news? At the end of it all, our client got an innovation grant that helped him and his team to scale their operations, and a few years later, they’re running a thriving business with operations in multiple countries and for several industrial verticals. We’re proud to have played a small part in that. All because we like to help our customers see everything, and make better decisions.
There’s so much great survey software out there, I’ll just do the project myself!
Does this sound familiar? It can be tempting to undertake all your customer research on your own. After all, who knows your product or service better than you? Why would you ask an outsider to get involved?
Experts bring objectivity
It can actually be quite helpful to bring someone in who isn’t as familiar with your product, your service, or even your customer, as you are. Much like the Buddhist concept of the “beginner’s mind”, a professional researcher adds value precisely because they don’t have the level of immersion that you do. It allows them a certain level of openness, freedom to explore, and license to ask “stupid questions” for which your best customers or prospects might not grant you the benefit of the doubt. How else can they help?
They have a big toolkit, and they know what to use, when
What if a survey isn’t even the tool you need? Just as you are able to work with your customers to provide them with the best solution to their problem, strategic researchers can help you to determine, based on your objectives, the very best research method to use, to get the answers you need. Making a forecast? You definitely need a quantitative approach for at least some of the work. Interested in seeing whether your customers are able to explain your concept to others? A focus group or research community may be a more appropriate tool.
They’re experts in finding the right respondents – even amongst your current customers
Beyond this, experienced research experts work to make sure you are screening for the very best respondents – those who are really able to articulate their opinions and ideas. Moreover, a great research partner will help you figure out whether there is value in exploring sub-segments or groups of individuals who exhibit specific qualities (lots of experience with your product, versus none, for example, or language or cultural groups that resemble your new target market).
When the data comes in, they know what to look for
Let’s say you go ahead and you do host and field a survey on your own. What happens if you forgot an important question? Or if you put a lot of open-ended questions in there, and now you don’t know what to do with all those verbatims? It can be really helpful to have that second set of eyes to look at the questions, pilot, and test them. They can bring their experience to the table in structuring the questions to yield answers that will be useful and actionable. Then, when the answers are in, they are great at separating the “nice to know” answers from those that really go to the heart of your objectives.
They’ll help you build a story that will keep your team engaged
Beyond just asking the questions, research practitioners are also storytellers. They don’t just produce pie charts or pretty pictures – they create a narrative that moves your colleagues from why you asked the questions in the first place, to what it means for your organization, and what you can do with the findings. This will encourage them to ask questions of their own, to be on the lookout for additional clues, and will help keep them from getting distracted by red herrings.
There’s plenty of value in engaging your customers and asking them questions – and in hearing the answers for yourself. It can also be worth the investment to work with a partner if you want to maximize your research ROI. It’s a little like that old adage: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
We're Megann and Steve Willson, and we're the Partners here at PANOPTIKA. We work with businesses like yours, to help you get the answers you need and to make better business decisions. You can also find us on Twitter, Facebook, or on LinkedIn, or to get insights, ideas, and better business advice delivered straight to your inbox, use this handy button:
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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