Our client asked us for less!

A week or so ago, we had the most refreshing experience. It made us feel amazing. Serene, even. 

One of our clients asked us for less. Now, we always try to go the extra mile with our clients, and if they are new to us, and we’re working on a project, we try to show them all the possible lines of inquiry we might explore, to learn more about their customers or prospects. We prefer a very open journey, but if someone doesn’t know us, they might have trouble seeing how that will work out. So imagine our relief when the client called and said, “I like where we’re going, but don’t you think we will get a richer result if we ask very broad questions and then probe as the respondent takes it in their direction, not ours? 

Yes, yes we do. Thanks for asking us that. Constraints can be useful. But questions that will take the discussion in the direction you want, rather than where the respondent wants to go, are likely to end up with you feeling like you didn’t learn anything new, and simply confirm what you already belief. The lesson? Open yourself up to simplicity, if you want a richer, more meaningful result. 

I’m Megann Willson, and I’m one of the partners here at PANOPTIKA. If you’d like us to help you see everything that’s really important to your prospects or customers, let’s talk. You can find all our contact information here on the website. And if you’d like regular insights that will spark ideas you might not have been thinking about already, you can also find us on LinkedIn, on Twitter, or on Facebook

Nothing to sell here…but a fresh start.

Today’s post is a short one, and not even on our usual day. Why? Because on this day, the Eve of Resolution, we’re asking for nothing. We just want to thank you for reading our posts. Thanks for your business. Thanks for all the work we’ve done together thus far. 

No offers, no special promotions, no directives. Just a heartfelt thank you and our best wishes for the fresh start we’re all hoping for in 2020. On Thursday we’ll be back at our desks. If you need help then, to make some sort of fresh start with your customers, we’ll be ready. For now, a safe, happy, and healthy New Year to you all.

I’m Megann Willson, and I’m one of the Partners here at PANOPTIKA. My Partner in Everything is Steve Willson. You can find us on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, or by signing up for our newsletter using the button below this post. 


Even market research is about pleasing your customer!

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.

Making an Entrance When You Could Have Had an Encore

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 that was still the standard). 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. 

Down with Puppies!

Photo courtesy of kevsphotos on Pixabay.
This was one of our most popular posts of 2019, updated just for you.

Earlier this week, one of our LinkedIn connections posted about a video from SAP about experience management. Agency folks were all over it, how moving and motivating it was, how it should be nominated for a Cannes Lion (puppy?), and so on. This reminded me about how I learned when I first studied copy-writing, that desperate marketers who couldn’t find anything distinctive to say about their product just had to use a photo with girls in bikinis, or a puppy. Yes, sorry, that’s what we learned, and yes, they called us girls, and, well, none of that really matters so much as the fact that these tired tactics still persist, and I got annoyed. Sigh. Stay with me. There’s more to the story. 

On the advice of someone I know, I have been re-reading Ann Handley & C.C. Chapman’s Content Rules. So here I am at lunchtime, reading along, and I come to a part where the book talks about Eloqua’s “The Conversation” series, and how the video begins after a visitor indicates that she works in marketing. “Obviously I’m not going to be able to use any of the typical marketing tricks on you (sex!), so allow me to just be direct (puppies!).” The version of “The Conversation” that’s online now isn’t quite the same, but it is still a great example of interactively drawing someone into a conversation about your product with engaging humour, even if you have a serious B2B product. 

That’s a useful thing to learn, for sure. But the lesson is not, “use a puppy”. 

There’s a bigger and more useful lesson here. And here it is: when we see something that excites us, makes us laugh, or riles us up (have you guessed which one applies to me, when I see a puppy ad that isn’t actually selling something directly related to puppies?), the emotion sticks with us. And then, we may start seeing that thing that excited, amused, or enraged us, wherever we look. It’s a bit like the “frequency illusion” – our heightened awareness of that thing means that the frequency with which we see it seems to go up, even though in reality, this type of confirmation bias may be causing our brains to just confirm what we want to believe – that we are seeing those puppies everywhere. We unconsciously start looking for them, so we can prove to our brain that our theory is right. 

So the next time your team gets a great idea about what your customers want, and you start seeing evidence everywhere, take a step back. Try using one or all of these tools to check your bias:

1. Ask the customers directly how they feel about your platform (or puppies).
2. Look at the data – have they ever shown an interest in puppies before? 
3. Run a test to validate (or invalidate) your hypothesis. 

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 TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn.  For more news you can use to help you or your team to make better decisions, click the handy button, below.

Imagine Your Customers Forgot Everything They Knew About You…

…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

  1. create a customer community, or
  2. build a customer advisory board.

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 TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn.  For more news you can use to help you or your team to make better decisions, click the handy button, below.

What’s your favourite channel?

People shaking hands
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. In Megann’s most recent video challenge, two things she asked participants to think about are:
  1. Their most valuable product or service – that is, which of their products or services delivers the highest value back into their business?
  2. Their most valued customer (the one who buys that most valuable product or service).

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.

Make sure they remember more than the pancakes…

Stack of pancakes
This post was written on 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.

Go farther together…

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 the handy button below.

The two best gifts to give your customer this holiday season…



…or any season! This post was updated in February 2020.

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?

I’m Megann Willson, and with my partner, Steve Willson, we’re PANOPTIKA. We work with our clients to help them see everything they need to know to find, understand, and engage with their customers. And we’d be happy to help you. You can find us on social media like Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook. Or you can get news delivered right to your inbox, every Friday…just subscribe with the link below. Got a question and not sure if we can help? Give us a call. You can find all the ways to contact us right here on the website.