Get Close to Customers…From a Distance

hands reaching out of monitors to make a transaction

Even as the great re-entry begins, we’re all realizing that the way we do business will have to change. Probably forever. So how do you create those close ties to customers that have been proven to result in greater lifetime customer value, more referrals, and less push, more pull marketing efforts? How can you get that close to customers, from a distance?

First, you need to really reach out and understand what’s happening with your customers now. All bets are off. Any assumptions you had in the pre-pandemic days are gone. You might actually be at an advantage if you’re starting a new business – you won’t have to dismantle any old habits. But let’s assume you’ve had good customer relationships thus far. I hope you’ve stayed in contact during the quarantine, distancing, and slowdowns that have occurred. Whether you’ve decided to stop, start, continue, or change your marketing tactics and relationship approach, you need to validate. That’s not so easy if you can’t see customers in person, or as often, as you used to. (Partner Steve Willson has some excellent tips in this video, though. We hope you’ll like, share, and subscribe to the whole series).

After you’ve got the lay of the land, there are four things you need to think about:

  1. Is there someone I can refer to those customers, to show them I’m putting them first?
  2. How can I give those customers what they want, or solve a problem for them, before I talk about me?
  3. How can I reward the ones who have already purchased during this crazy time we’ve been going through, even if their own businesses or incomes were suffering?
  4. Who is in their network who could become a customer, if I can encourage them to give me a referral?

Just this morning, I was discussing with a client of mine, what changes they want to make in their business, and that the time is now. When everything is shifting, there’s no better time to make the changes you’ve known need to be made. Keep thinking about your customer first while you do it. (If you want to dig deeper into customer service, we highly recommend reading Shep Hyken’s Cult of the Customer). If we didn’t have customers, we wouldn’t have businesses.

I’m Megann Willson, and I’m one of the Partners here at PANOPTIKA. We work with our clients to help them see everything they need to know to make better business decisions. You can also find us on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. And if you’d like to receive timely ideas and tips to help you find, understand, and engage customers, sign up for news you can use with the orange button.

Why Goal-Focused Research will Net a Better Result

Many businesses are taking this unexpected or forced downtime, to research customers, find out more of what they can do, and opening themselves up to new ideas. That’s fantastic! However the crisis mentality can also cause us to simply throw ideas at the wall and see what sticks. In this time of tight budgets and extreme risk, there’s a better approach.

Set specific research goals. Think about what you want to achieve, and then be intentional about what you need to know to make that happen. Research what you need, nothing more. Constraining your thinking will provide a better result than simply undertaking catch-all inquiries.

And this weekend, please, stay safe at home.

I’m Megann Willson, and I’m one of the Partners here at PANOPTIKA. If you’re trying to figure out your way forward, I’m here to help. You can find our business on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or subscribe to weekly news you can use.

Three Marketers Walked Into a SWOT…

Does that sound like an interesting discussion to you? Trust me, it was! Early this morning, I got into a conversation with two marketers I know only from social media (and that we have connections in common). It started with someone poking fun (nay, mocking) a marketing plan template. One aspect of that template was the SWOT analysis, and there was a lot of talk as to whether the SWOT was no longer relevant. 

Now Steve and I are both fans of frameworks. They give teams a common language to approach an analysis, so you can stop disagreeing about how to look at what’s going on, and simply look at what’s going on. They also provide constraints: don’t bother finding data that doesn’t answer the questions required for that framework. (You can always use that data for a different framework. Just don’t force-fit stuff where it doesn’t belong).

On that note, we also had a sidebar on templates that are created by head office, your boss, or some other wise guy, that (a) requires data that isn’t available in your branch-plant country, or (b) solves a problem that isn’t relevant to your context, but rolls up to a bigger template that serves someone else, somewhere else. Don’t do this to people. But if it’s been done to you, the best way to come up with numbers for the missing links is to triangulate.

Anyway, I digress. I stood up in defense of the SWOT, not because I think it is always the best framework, but because I believe it is a mis-maligned framework, and that often what doesn’t work about it are two things: (a) teams try to stog too much into their SWOT, and (b) they’ve been mis-taught how to use it best. So here goes:

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. It’s meant to help you think about where you are now, and where you might go (and what could happen to you along the way). The first error teams make, is to mix up Strengths and Opportunities. Or Weaknesses and Threats. It’s about looking through the right lens.

Strengths and Weaknesses are about you (and by that I mean your business, your product, your team). What strengths does your product have? What weaknesses? Are you with me so far? These are internal factors. Opportunities and Threats exist once you leave the safe harbour for open water (or open your front door and go outside). Opportunities are things you can achieve or places you can go. And threats don’t come from inside, they come from the outside factors. Yes, if your culture is broken, you’ve got an issue. But that’s something you need to fix within your own house, not something that’s outside of your control or might impact you whether you want it to, or not. Got it? Excellent. I knew you would.

All this is to say, frameworks are one of the best ways to get people on the same page, fast, to make better decisions. They also can be one of the worst kind of hammers to wield when you’ve convinced yourself that everything is a nail. So proceed with caution. (And if you’d like to talk about which frameworks to use to answer your burning questions, let’s talk).

I’m Megann Willson, and I’m one of the Partners here at PANOPTIKA. We help our clients make #betterdecisions, sometimes using frameworks. You can find us on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter. And for insights delivered direct to your inbox on Fridays, you can sign up using the orange button, below. 

For Groundhog Day, Repeat this.

Groundhog Day has a reputation for being a day when the same inane scenario repeats itself, well, repeatedly. And Albert Einstein is widely credited with defining insanity as, “Doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. There’s one situation where we at PANOPTIKA think Einstein was wrong, and you might want to be a bit more like the groundhog.

Most of the research we do for our clients is custom research, so naturally, it can be adapted to be different every time. Questions and lines of discovery, methodologies, and even target audiences, can be switched out or massaged to meet their varying objectives. But there’s still one kind of research that we recommend you do over, and over again with few changes – at least for three years running. Tracking studies, or longitudinal studies, or wave studies, involve taking measures of your key performance indicators. Those, you want to keep as static as you can.

Let me explain. Some of you may be fortunate enough to be in an industry that there is market data regularly released in syndicated reports, so you can check those numbers on an annual, or even quarterly, basis. Do that, if you’re able. Many of our clients are in highly sensitive industries, or very specialized verticals, and that means they need to source this kind of data by using primary research. In this case, we recommend they (and you, if this is your kind of company), undertake a standalone tracking study with as many levers as possible controlled, at least once annually.

This isn’t because we don’t want you to ask new questions or learn new things. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. This study should reveal if there are changes occurring over time. It will let you see whether the target audience (your core clients) are having an attitude shift. Or whether patterns are emerging that might present you with a new opportunity, or reveal an unanticipated risk. You’ll also be able to be more confident that you’re not getting different answers, just because you changed how you’re asking the questions.  

Tracking studies can be helpful for your budget, as well. With custom studies, a big piece of your cost is developing the research methodology, working with you to determine the target, and so on – basically, setting the foundation. Just like marketing tactics or online education of your clients, if you then go to “rinse and repeat”, your costs should diminish somewhat. Partners like us will often provide you pricing in advance for additional waves of the study, so you can make a better estimate of next year’s costs.  

So, while we won’t advise you approach insanity (by Einstein’s definition), as we approach this year’s Groundhog Day, call us to talk about whether a tracking study is right for you.

My name is Megann Willson, and I’m one of the Partners here at PANOPTIKA. We work with you to see everything that will help you make better decisions for your business or career. You can also find us on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook. And if you sign up before Friday, you’ll get this week’s issue of news you can use delivered straight to your inbox. Just click the button below to register. (We don’t need to ask you twice, right?) 


Zoom in, zoom out!

Image courtesy of David Mark via Pixabay
A little over a week ago, I was at a GATE (Gender and the Economy) event at Rotman. Here’s a clip of Abigail Moriah talking about her experience. (If you can’t see it, you can’t be it). 

Later in the event, Shirley Hoy talked about the importance of being able to zoom in, and zoom out, when approaching any issue. The next day, we were involved in a really spirited discussion with clients about something similar. Whether it’s design thinking, or understanding customers, or working through a business challenge, the ability to take multiple perspectives is invaluable. It’s where that old adage about not being able to see the forest for the trees comes from. 

Why is this important to you? If you want to make #better decisions, by all means, look at the big picture. That’s critical. Then take time to focus on a few details. And lastly, zoom back out again to see if what you saw at the beginning looks the same as it did when you first considered it.

My name is Megann Willson, and I’m one of the Partners here at PANOPTIKA. With my partner, Steve Willson, we work with our clients to find practical, usable solutions to their customer challenges. We can help you cut through complexity and ambiguity and zoom in on what’s important. Find more insights on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Then click below to sign up for weekly news that will help you make better decisions for your business.

How to Piece Together Your Customer’s Story

How well do you know your customers? Have you undertaken a big research project recently, to gain some in-depth insights? Or have you fallen prey to the not-really-correct school of thought that “Steve Jobs didn’t believe in market research, and that’s good enough for me?” The truth is, neither of these approaches is right. There, I’ve said it. Could it be that famous marketer Steve Jobs was wrong? Yes, sort of. (And about a few things, I might add). 

The truth is, getting to know your customers is an ongoing process. As you launch your business, you need to build an understanding of your targets or prospects. It’s a green field. All you will have to rely on is research. From that point forward, though, you need to constantly be piecing together different layers of intelligence to understand who they are, how they work, what they want, and why they do what they do. Asking them to connect the dots won’t work. It’s not their job to do your work for you. (That’s the kind of research Jobs was right to reject). Instead, give them an opportunity to have free-flowing conversations with you. Let them talk about their aspirations, whether they are directly related to what you want to sell them, or not. Then have some conversations with constraints. Give them things to compare, and try to understand how they select, sort, and prioritize. Look at what you can learn from “unresearch” – sales data, notes from interactions they may have had with your service workers, or your product team. See what they do with other people who sell them things. Find out what delights them when they’re not at work. 

Customer understanding or user experience research is more than simply testing a product or website and seeing how it goes, as a one-off. It’s about building a rich mosaic from many tiny fragments of information. If you throw it all into a database, or a central file, or don’t try to sort it at all, you’re wasting an opportunity to create something beautiful. But if you categorize it, move it around, and look for connections, you may start to see forms and patterns that make something out of what seemed to be nothing. Find ways to sort all your customer data, and you’ll usually find you have a rich mosaic of understanding, sitting right on your shelf, in your hard drive, or floating around in the cloud. And like a mosaic, look at it up close, then stand back, and observe it from a distance. I’m sure you’ll discover things you never expected, that will help you create whole new customer focus, and grow your business, whatever it is that you make or do.

I’m Megann Willson, and I’m one of the Partners here at PANOPTIKA. A customer insight audit can help you and your team to use what you already know to build a solid foundation for this year’s business strategy. If you’d like more insights, follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook, or sign up for weekly ideas, tips, and offers using the orange button below. 

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

When Convenience Becomes Inconvenient

When we think about marketing strategy, or even market research, we always think about one of the Four (or Five) P’s, Place. Place is about distribution. How does the thing get into the hands of your customer?

Our advice is always to make it as easy for the customer as possible. The omnichannel movement has preached the gospel of having your product or service be accessible everywhere and anywhere the customer is. It sounds very caring and good, in this season of giving. But recently, we’ve had an experience or two that has made us pause to reflect on that. 

I ordered a few items online from a large department store. I can get to said store in 15 minutes, honestly, but I was super busy, knew exactly what I wanted, and loved the convenience of having it delivered to my door, while I worked on something else. There was an online sale, and free shipping, making it even simpler. Fantastic, right? Here’s the thing…

The first thing that happened was a notification that the first item had shipped, but that the second was on backorder. These were very small items, size-wise. So the first arrived within a day or two, in a box more than ten times its size. Such waste! Oh, the poor planet. The other item said it was shipping a day or two later, but took nearly two weeks to get here. Tracking showed that it went from a warehouse in the west end, to a sorting station, to another station in the east end, and eventually, after sitting who-knows-where for the rest of the time, to my door, downtown. 

Now I, as a customer, was pretty patient. I didn’t need these things urgently, I just wanted to save myself the time and trouble of a trip to the store. But it did annoy me that the second item travelled all around the city. How many GHGs were pumped out while that occurred? And then when it arrived, again, a box many times its size. Neither of the items were breakable. They didn’t need special cushioning. The store just used the boxes they had, I guess. Either item could have easily fit in a padded envelope. 

My reflection was this: I did like the convenience. What I hated, I mean, really hated, the fact that these items travelled all over the city, and used so much packaging, by the time they arrived. And I think, if I had been given a reminder or even an incentive to come to the store, I might have done it. Heck, I know I would have, since I have been to the store at least once in the ensuing two weeks. And I might not have felt so guilty at the impact my perceived savings and convenience have had on the planet. 

So by all means, make it easy and convenient for your customer. But when making it easy and convenient for your customers comes at another cost, perhaps a higher-order cost that may matter to them, it’s worth reminding them of that. In the long run, we’ll all be better off. 

I’m Megann Willson, and I’m one of the partners here at PANOPTIKA, along with Steve Willson. For nearly two decades, we’ve been helping our clients see everything they need to know to make better business decisions, using strategic research and expert facilitation. And today we’ve been married for 39 years. Happy anniversary! You can find more content from us on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook. We also share business news you can use, offers, and recommended links and reading every week. You can subscribe using the orange button, and if we’re not adding value, subscribe anytime.


When the frequency illusion is no illusion…

PictureImage by kalhh from pixabay

The frequency illusion. We’ve all experienced it. (It’s also called the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon). That’s when you see something – a picture, a concept, a word, an idea – over and over again, all of a sudden. It seems like you’re being sent some sort of message. The truth is, you may be. In our case, we’ve had an idea come up multiple times this week, almost like a theme. It has to do with honesty. Or more specifically, about being honest with ourselves. 

Now the first time this came up, it was in Eleanor Beaton’s community of practice group. Eleanor was discussing being radically honest with ourselves about our priorities. In other words, if we say something is important, but we keep pushing it aside, perhaps it isn’t as important as we say it is. We need to unpack that and find out why we’re dodging it. Is it really not so much of a priority? Or if it is, why are we putting our commitment to the end of the queue? We need to make a firm decision, then either drop it, or drop something else and focus on making it happen with the effort it (and we) deserve. 

In the second instance, I was having a discussion with a new member of my network. We were talking about one of the reasons it can be better to hire a passionate but neutral third party researcher to have discussions with your customers about satisfaction with you and your performance as an organization. I call this the “do these pants make me look fat” rule. When I ask Steve that question, he is honest, but diplomatically so. In other words, he might be a bit too kind, even if that isn’t giving me the kind of honesty I really need, to be sure I look my absolute best. (To be fair, I’ve trained him to know that I want the truth in this instance). In many cases, a best friend or a sister might be more willing to give the answer we need, instead of the one we want. 

The third time it came up, we were working with one of our clients on a study to understand what customers and prospects want and need. They’re considering a number of new offerings, and want to see how those things rate, and rank, in the customer’s mind. Now we’ve done this sort of study hundreds of times, and nearly every time, there are features or offerings on the list that the customer has no intention (or no ability) to deliver. Then, in the worst cases, the customer says those are exactly what they want. So much that they will do anything (including switching suppliers) to get them.

Now you may think that asking a prospect or a customer or a user whether they want something, when you know you can’t or won’t give it to them, is letting you know where a competitor might have an edge. And you’re right. But if you suspect it gives them an edge, it probably does. The other thing it’s doing, is setting up an unrealistic expectation (and possibly setting the stage for dissatisfaction or disappointment). If the customer wasn’t thinking of it after all, they will be, going forward. So Steve asked them, “Be honest with yourselves. Perhaps if there is anything here you have no intention of providing, whether you can’t or you won’t, you should take it off the list.” This prompt will give them a chance to take a step back and engage their customers authentically and honestly.

What themes have been coming up for you again and again this week? What do they mean? If you need a hand getting your team to engage in some insightful truth-telling, we’re here to help. Just let us know. 

I’m Megann Willson, the CEO and a Partner here at PANOPTIKA, with COO Steve Willson. After more than 18 years helping our clients see everything they need to know to make better decisions and engage their customers, we’ve seen some interesting patterns and learned how to employ ideas that work, in multiple ways. You can also find us on LinkedIn , Twitter , or Facebook. And if you’d like to learn more about what we’re learning by working with companies like yours, why not sign up to have insights delivered straight to your inbox? You can do that with the button below

Let’s Ask This, Just Because We Can…

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:

  1. What will I do with this answer if I get it? 
  2. What decision will I be able to make? 
  3. What action will I be able to take?  
  4. Will it harm the relationship with the respondent in any way (abusing their time, being irrelevant, or being invasive for a purpose which we haven’t been transparent about)? 

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.