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.
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.
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.
Entrepreneurs and salespeople love opportunities. (Us included). We love hitting targets, self-imposed or otherwise. We're always looking around, discovering new ways to do things, meeting people, and creating solutions.
What's wrong with that? It's that it can make us unfocused. If you want to hit a target, you need to take aim. But where, when there are so many choices? Also, what if you've got a whole gallery of people giving you advice or direction? The customer wants one thing. Your boss wants another. Your colleagues have (in their mind, at least) a better idea. Your quota says you want something different. So if you've got a whole line of targets in front of you, how do you focus? Shouldn't you seize every opportunity? When it comes to choosing which product to work on, or which new customer, focus is where the magic happens. Otherwise, when you let loose that arrow (your effort), there's a chance it won't hit any of the targets, and will just sail on by. Or that your effort won't be sufficiently powerful to even get you to the targets in the first place.
Here are five time-tested methods for improving your focus, whether it's on a finishing one of your projects, getting a new customer, or choosing which idea to develop. Start by making a list of all the things you could focus on to achieve your goal. Then do any one of these (all five are useful, but if you've read this far and you want to improve your focus, you might as well start practicing).
Now that you've found your focus, I'll share a little secret. No one can focus 100% on anything. But follow the Pareto Principle, and you can get there. Find those 20% of your targets that will give you 80% of what you want, and give them 80% of your effort. Then you can feel free to give the other 20% of your time and resources to the remainder, in good conscience.
I'm Megann Willson, and I'm one of the Partners here at PANOPTIKA. We work with clients to help them use customer-centricity to focus their efforts and their strategy where they can make the most difference. You can also find us on Twitter and on Facebook, and for ongoing news about topics like this one, click the button below.
There's a lot of attention being paid to storytelling these days, as a way to gain customers' attention and sell more product. That's not what I'm going to talk about today, though. Today I want to talk about how you can use stories to build empathy and gain a greater understanding of customer problems and motivators.
In today's business environment, there are two things that are in short supply: money, and time. The consequence of this, is that in the rush to meet deadlines, get answers, make decisions, and ship our products and services, soft skills may go out the window. Regularly surveying customers can get us an abundance of data, and data's what we need to get answers. To make decisions. To validate that the solution we want to give the customer is right, so we can win, or fail, fast.
What's wrong with this picture? Well, first of all, in the hurry to find out why customers are doing the things they do, or what their problem is, or how we can fix it, I'm seeing all too much blunt-force questioning. Clients ask me to ask their customers or prospects why they buy. Or they want to ask the customer to tell us how they can solve the problem that same customer is having. Trust me, if they knew, they'd be solving it, or at least trying. Or, clients want to ask questions like the example in this post.
Sometimes, when product or marketing teams or UX people want to get really creative, they ask the customer to tell them a story. They've been told not to ask why, and someone has sold them on the idea that storytelling is a great tool to capture customer experience, or the customer journey. If you want to know why asking why doesn't work, even on ourselves, watch this great video about introspection and self-awareness from Tasha Eurich.
So what can you do? If asking the customer to tell you a story isn't always effective, and you can't ask why, and you can't ask them how you're supposed to solve their problem, what is the solution? Look at the picture above. The one kid didn't say to the other, "tell me a story about that". She asked, "show me."
Instead of seeking storytelling, try using storyshowing. Ask them to show you where they're running into the problem. Sit with them while they demonstrate what's going on. Share screens, or better yet, go to them one-on-one and observe. Listen carefully. Interrupt with questions that involve "what happens when that happens" or "tell me more", but sparingly. Seek clarity, not certainty. Take good notes, make sketches, record if the situation allows. Here's an Innovation Game© called Me and My Shadow that explains a bit about how this works.
We like to add another step. Ask if you can tell them the story of what you saw, in your words. Ask them to be your editor. When they change things, ask them to explain the reason for the change. Then, and only then, let them know that you'd like to share that with your team, so you can come back to them with some fresh ideas. Resist the urge to solve the problem today.
If all of this seems like it is fiddly, and time-consuming, it is. You're not gathering big data; you're gathering rich data. And in our experience, rich data will yield a richer result.
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 - including better ways to ask the questions that will gain them a richer understanding of their customers, users, and stakeholders. If you need help doing that, we do that, too. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, and for more news you can use to help you or your team to ask more questions in ways that will let them make better decisions, click the handy button, below.
...even the best parts!
Last night I saw the movie "Yesterday" with Himesh Patel, Lily James (oh, and a couple of other small names like Ed Sheeran and James Corden). If you like rom-coms, it's a must-see. Do bring some tissues. It got me thinking, though, about how often clients make assumptions about what their customers know about them. If you have a B2B relationship, you may have a long sales cycle. What do you do in between? How will they remember? Could someone slip in and broadcast your entire catalogue of hits without anyone realizing it was actually created by you? (I'm giving away a lot of the plot here, but trust me, there's more to the story).
If you have a product with a long cycle, you need to think carefully about how to keep those big-ticket customers engaged. One way, of course, is to send them emails or connect using social media or other types of communication. It's also worth engaging anyone they interact with in between purchases, like customer success, service and support, shipping, or even (yes, I'm going to say it) the billing department. As an aside, we once worked with a partner of ours on a win-loss project, and the billing department was responsible for a number of lost accounts, because they were more concerned about maintaining their process, than developing one that was easy for customers.
There's a lot of push marketing in all of those activities, of course. Plenty of KPIs and other dashboard inputs. But what if you really engaged them in a conversation that wasn't focused on selling? What if you let them talk about their objectives, what they want and need, their struggles, what's important to them? Two ways to do this are to
What's the difference?
A Customer Community is a place where your customers can come together and engage in conversations with each other. And it had better be interesting, because no one, especially not your customer, wants another long, boring meeting, virtual or otherwise. Really, do you even want to invest in something where your customer puts the phone or laptop on mute and pays more attention to their cheese sandwich? The best communities let them contribute something, learn something, see that you trust them to talk to each other and engage with one another without you trying to drive the conversation.
In a Customer Advisory Board, they know that the goal is for them to help you sell more product and do a better job of delivery. It's more focused, and may even involve their strategic advice about how and where to recruit more customers just like they are. They might provide insights into buying cycles, responses to changing industry regulations, and more. They may even introduce you to someone else who should become a member.
Every business wants to find more customers, and to use research to understand customers - but keep customers? It's surprising how little time and effort they invest beyond good old push marketing tactics. That might just be the thing that can sets you apart.
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.
“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.
Judging by the box room in our condo building, you'd think that everything was shipped by courier or post, but we have a saying around here: "It's hard to ship hot soup by mail". Whether you're starting a new business, or developing a new product or service for your existing business, one of the decisions you'll need to make, is what is the most effective channel to use, to deliver that product or service to your most valued customer. Taking a step back, Megann has been running a video challenge, and two things she's asked participants to think about are:
These questions don't stay static. They deserve regular review, no matter what your business. When we started consulting, we would have said the most valuable service was in-depth medical interviews, in situ in specialists' offices. And the customer who bought those was usually a pharmaceutical company with a very specialized product, like a cancer treatment. Now, the highest value services are consulting with companies who are entering new markets, on market selection, or facilitating strategic decision-making. And the clients are varied, but always scientific, technical, medical, or industrial B2B companies.
Once you have a good picture of the key product or service, and who buys it, it's time to think about how to get it to them. Are the clients remote, or local? Do they need to see you to receive the service? Can it be shipped? Must it be? Figuring that out can be a challenge, and it takes a lot of legwork to determine the most efficient and effective way. More than one channel may be needed. Determining it is a necessity, as it will be a critical part of your cost structure, as well as your value proposition. Are you the fastest? The most thorough? The newest? Each of these directly impacts your channel choice. Moreover, communicating to your customer which channel your using, may be relevant. You might think that those strategy facilitations are always in person for us, for example, but we have tools that let our clients gather together a team from around the globe, and make decisions as effectively as if they were in the same room. So keep an open mind, and find the channel that's just right for you and your MVC.
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This morning one of our connections posted a reminder that we are at the end of the quarter. Now we're bracing for the inevitable. At least one client is bound to call or email today with a panicky-sounding voice, about how they need research or strategy work, because they've just realized we are at the end of the quarter, and they really, truly, meant to get started in January.
Does this sound like someone you know? If you're in the business of customer understanding or user insights, and this happens, it can be tempting to respond by taking your hard-won budget, and doing a study that answers all of their questions...at this point in time. Will that let you see everything you need to know?
Snapshots can be really helpful, it's true. It's worth considering, though, whether a time exposure might reveal something extra. Setting up a program that opens the aperture to your customers and lets data flow in over time, can reveal patterns in ways that a single study can't do (no matter how powerful). And sometimes it can be inexpensive to do this, by giving a "camera" to each of your customer-facing colleagues.
Setting up a story bank where their pictures and observations can be gathered and shared is a really useful way to do this. (Don't know how to start? Let's talk. We can help.)
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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