"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.
This week I was struck by the number of conversations I was part of, where business people (or entrepreneurs-in-waiting) minimized their ideas because they seemed too big, too audacious, or too outrageous. They had things they wanted to do, or to try, but they thought it would be better if “someone else did it first”. They wanted to create lists, and accountability check-boxes to go with them. They also had experienced failure before, or they were nervous about taking a risk, or making a mistake. Reflecting on this, I realized that there were three things that were consistently at the root of the problem.
The first issue was wanting accountability, instead of taking responsibility. I can’t explain this any better than Seth Godin already did in his blog, here.
The second was that even if they did set goals, they weren’t SMART goals. I’ve known about SMART goal-setting for a long time. Such a long time, in fact, that I am consistently surprised when someone fails to use this approach. Simply put, your goal needs to have each of the following elements:
See how the language became more focused and positive? This is how we can make things happen.
Lastly, a number the people I interacted with, were willing to let themselves “dream small”, because they could only see the big audacious goal, but didn’t know how to break it into small, manageable, do-able steps. “Every journey begins with a single step” may be a cliché, but in every old adage there is truth. My top tip of the day for this is to begin by imagining you’ve achieved the goal, and work backwards to see the steps you need to get there. It’s much easier to figure out the path, if you have in your mind that the success is already yours.
What's standing between you and your big, hairy, audacious goals? Would you like more inspiration and accountability for your business? Stay tuned for announcements about upcoming webinars, courses, or coaching programs by subscribing below.
Pricing. We can't tell you the number of times we've heard business owners or product managers wrestle with the question of how much to charge for what they sell. This can be especially difficult if you are in a service-based business, where, even if you've created packages, you're ultimately selling your time. What if the client takes longer to make decisions than you thought? What if they aren't good at deciding what they want, and their brief to you is terrible? What if they expect unlimited, time-consuming phone calls...for free?
Like every facet of your strategy, pricing decisions are ultimately on you. With a physical product, you can look at the costs associated with producing or acquiring the product, storing it, selling it, and shipping it to the customer. It's worth looking at "product you" the same way. One big mistake we see with new consultants or service providers, is that they charge an hourly rate that sounds high enough...if they're working 40 hours a week, for 40+ weeks a year. If you're a solopreneur, this simply isn't realistic. You need time to run your business, doing bookkeeping, accounting, and paperwork, or meeting or conversing with partners who do those things for you. You need time to sell to your customers (or you need to make enough on your service to pay a sales person to help). You get the picture. So how do you know the appropriate rate to charge? What if the client schedule has slippage or they delay the start of a project, so the dates when you thought you would be making the income are "missed"?
First, think about your costs - whatever overhead you have, whether it's rent, your cellphone bill, professional associations, networking meetings...the list could be endless, if you let it. Then consider how much you want to make every year, net of fees or taxes. Add it up. How much vacation will you take? How much selling time will you need? (A good rule of thumb is that you, or someone, will probably need to spend at least five hours selling for every hour you deliver, especially with new clients). Divide this by the number of hours you realistically expect to spend delivering the work. That's your charge-out rate.
What about cost overruns? You can have a series of up-charges for clients who have scope creep every time they come with a project. Truth be told, though, in most cases you want to avoid this, because the aforementioned newcomers to the market will bend over backwards for very little money, in an attempt to build their client base. Your client may come back to you after they've been stung by these inexperienced competitors, but they'll have spent their budget, and you can't get that project back. Instead, build in some wiggle room that you can live with. In our own case, we let new clients know that we have standard pricing that we apply to projects, and we estimate the scope according to their brief. When we have more experience working together, and they become a repeat customer, we will consider more favourable pricing, but we never discount out of the gate. We also explain at the start that the pricing we charge is adjusted for their second project - if they turn out to have an issue with scope-creep, we'll raise the rate we charge them in future. This means we can stand firm on the charge-out rate, and make it up on the honour system, later. Of course if there are costs that have been incurred, like space rentals, that had to be paid twice, we expect them to cover those costs.
Explaining why a price has gone up for project two isn't always easy. When you need to do this, consider using the airline seats discussion. Although they may get their weekly or monthly paycheque no matter what, as a service provider, you get paid when you work. If you have blocked time and turned down other clients for that time period, you can't "sell that seat" to someone else. The risk is that they will go elsewhere, to someone who is willing to under-charge for the work involved, but wouldn't you rather have that, and search for a client who's willing to pay what you're worth?
If you're finding it hard to make time to think about strategic questions like these, because you're so busy working in the business, that you can't work on your business, why not join our 5x5 Sharper Focus Business Challenge? One question, 5 days a week, for 5 weeks, and you'll be on your way to making better decisions. Just click the link at the top of the page!
Excellent news! You’ve found the key to your customer’s “job to be done” with your product our service. You’ve focused on only the prospects who have proven they want to invest time, money, and effort in doing the job. So, what could possibly go wrong?
Although we’d all like to believe that our service, gizmo, or gadget is the only choice our customer will ever need or want, the truth is, there are very few cases where that’s true. More often, we have to compete with something, or someone. This is the tricky bit. When it comes to describing why that service, gizmo, or gadget is better, our mindset can be a real barrier. This goes double if wat we’re selling is our own talents and capabilities. Where is the line between confidence, and over-confidence? How do you know the difference between “my way of doing this is better”, or “my product/shop/invention is better”, and “I’m better”? Reconciling the tension between innovator and impostor is often what will make or break the sale.
How can you make sure that tension doesn’t “snap” the sale? First, write down the story you’re planning to tell (whether that’s your pitch to a new boss, or to a new client). What are the advantages you’re describing? Are they real? Are you confident you’re telling the truth? If not, where isn’t it working? Fix the facts, not the adjectives. If the facts are true, but your discomfort has to do with feeling boastful, or bragging, ask yourself whether it would sound true, if your biggest supporter was saying it. If it would, then you’ve got some work to do, because the problem is you.
When you feel like an impostor or a liar when you tell your story, this feeling is transmitted to the person watching or listening, even if you don’t realize that. It’s fine to be humble. It’s not fine to be modest. New business people often confuse the two, especially if they don’t have much selling experience. Humble means unassuming – not taking too much for granted. Modest can mean that, too, but it also means shy, or uncertain. And who would be confident buying something that even the salesperson isn’t not certain of? No one.
So, the next time you’re preparing to make a sale, give yourself time in advance to practice. Write the story so you’re sure it’s true. Check your facts. Read it in the voice of your biggest supporter. Use the adjectives they would use. Then say it out loud until you’re confident, and make sure your own fear of the spotlight isn’t standing in the way of your success.
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.
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.
Shouldn't you skip right to your own custom survey? We're always happy at PANOPTIKA to help you with custom research, but there's really more to it than that. Even if you're working in an industry like health, technology, or science (where we do some of our best work), where sometimes there isn't much data, there's always some. If you're a new analyst in one of these industries, or you're just getting into research for the first time (sometimes, until you start to scale, it’s easier and more informative just to ask the questions yourself), start with free or nearly free. Those public data sets get a lot of use – they’re the workhorses of the quadrant we call “the light”. The answers there are available to anyone – and that doesn't mean they don’t provide you with any value or advantage.
Public data sets or their slightly more expensive cousins, syndicated data, (which is not public, but is available to purchase by anyone who can pay), are a great foundation. They let you get the “lay of the land”. In “The Light”, you’re setting yourself up for deeper questions, making sure you don’t waste time and money on custom projects, if the information is already out there. Doing a good audit of the data you already have in house is where you can start to use data in ways that others can’t. Think sales data, observational research where you see how customers use your products (or the competition’s), and interviewing everyone in your organization who interacts with your customer or prospect. Where an outside consultant can help, is by assisting you in shaping the questions that you’ll use as you move to what we call “The Shades” - positioning or perception research is a good example. It can help you see where customers put everyone – not only you and your product or service, but your competition. And it can help you get ready to develop insights that are only known to you and your team. Not sure where to start with something like that? We’re always happy to jump on a discovery call. You tell us your questions, and we’ll work with you to lay out a plan to get the answers you need.
We're Megann and Steve Willson, and we're the partners at PANOPTIKA. We work with B2B businesses to help you get the answers you need, and to make better business decisions. You can also follow us on LinkedIn, on Twitter, or to get insights and ideas delivered right to your inbox, click the handy button, below.
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.
"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.
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!)