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.
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.)
How do you feel when something doesn't go as planned? Disappointed? Frustrated? Annoyed?
What about energized, excited, or enthusiastic?
Over the past few weeks, I've been working with a client to get ready for an important strategy session. They know there are big shifts looming on the horizon, and they want to be ready. They've done the right thing by taking a proactive approach, and they've been looking at data, exploring potential outcomes, and discussing "how might we" scenarios. Yet suddenly, in the midst of a session with outside partners, key team members, and even an advisor from head office, they weren't making headway. Someone said, "Let's change the focus entirely!"
Now there are times when this might just be a tactic to avoid hard conversations, but in this case, it was because they realized they were looking at the problem through the wrong lens. Their problem definition was out of whack, and they got clarity on this because they had everyone in the room, and because they weren't so married to the facilitation method they had chosen, that they kept trying to force-fit solutions to the wrong problem. Once they stepped back and framed the challenge in a new way, they were able to very quickly devine the realm of possible scenarios, determine how they could respond to these in their own favour, and what proactive steps they could take right now, to get ready for the most likely eventualities.
The change in energy in the room at the end of the day was palpable. And as a facilitator, it was a pretty spectacular ending for me, as well.
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.”
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.
This is the PANOPTIKA Understanding Matrix© - a model that can help you think about where you need more business intelligence, and what kinds. It's based on the Johari Window, which was developed by psychologists Luft and Ingham, to help individuals to understand themselves and their relationship to others around them. It's also well suited to thinking about positioning of your product, service, or company, as well as the foundation for your business or customer intelligence strategy.
The Darkness is that area that was highlighted by that famous (infamous) Donald Rumsfeld quote about "unknown unknowns" - Luft and Ingham simply called it the Unknown. Market or product intelligence won't reveal what might happen there, but there are still things that you and you and your colleagues can do to develop the sorts of responsiveness and resilience that will help you prepare for being plunged into a situation that even the best research couldn't predict. Scenario planning or war games - developing a whole series of "what-ifs" and the potential results is one way. We also like to use metaphor-based research techniques that free up your thinking. With tools such as Conteneo's Weave® platform, we can even conduct sessions with remote users around the globe. The unanswerable questions can't be answered, but anything that gets you outside your normal frame of reference to a place where you can't rely solely on data can help you be ready to work your way back to the light, when the darkness descends.
Have you been doing a lot of holiday cooking? We have! But what does that have to do with research and strategy?
Chefs and expert home cooks alike, know the value of mise en place, or assembling all the tools and ingredients you need in advance. Checking your lists, reviewing the recipe, and making sure you haven't forgotten anything are all vital steps in having a perfect outcome when preparing a special dish. Dealing with your next research project or customer collaboration is no different. If it's your first time, you might want to consult with others who have tried the same thing, to see how things turned out. You can consider whether, the last time you did this, there was something you learned that you might adjust. And you can even give some thought as to how you'll serve the results, and who will be at the table.
As a trusted research and strategy partner to our clients, PANOPTIKA helps them put everything in place before we begin, just like assembling the mise en place. Whatever you're planning for 2019, take time to be prepared in advance, and it's sure to turn out a whole lot better than it would otherwise. If you'd like to receive our upcoming special offer for a customer research audit, so you can be ready for YOUR fresh start, click here.
One of the best gifts you can bring to your work, whether you're just starting out, or you've been working in the same field for a very long time, is curiosity. Giving yourself permission to be curious can help you solve problems more creatively, demonstrate engagement to colleagues and customers, and keep your work interesting when others feel like their occupation is nothing but a grind.
So how can you stay curious? Here are just a few ideas to keep your curiosity active all the time:
Megann and Steve, Partners in PANOPTIKA, are working for our clients every day to help they need to know to make better decisions in their complex business environment.
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