Tools serve you, not the other way around

Person writing with notebook and laptop

Today M had a conversation with a friend whose business has a number of regulatory hoops that must be jumped in dealing with clients. The business also has certain technologies that are offered as part of the process of working with the organization, but they are not required. The business person is great at networking. At note-taking. At building relationships. But this technology has been confounding and time-consuming.

Here’s the thing. If you are working for someone who requires you to use certain types of software, you must learn it. It’s just how it is. Do what you must to get good at the support systems. Phone a friend, hire help, engage tech support – whatever you must do. BUT…if it isn’t required and it doesn’t work for you, and you have a system that works better to help you meet your goals, ditch it. The purpose of tools isn’t for us to serve the tools. Tools are there to serve us. Digging a trench with a teaspoon serves no one.

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.

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Forecasting without Data? Here’s How.

It’s Thursday afternoon, just before a long weekend, and Head Office calls…

“Hey Fred, it’s Wilma. I know Monday’s a holiday in Canada, so I thought I’d catch you early.  Barney’s got a presentation to the investors on Monday in Bedrock and needs to know how big the Canadian market is for our new Bronto-vax®. Can we get that by the end-of-day Friday?”

No problem, right?  If your product is a breakfast cereal you can just go to the Nielsen data, or if it’s a retail pharmaceutical IQVIA will sell you as much information as you need. But what if no data sources exist for your particular product?

We get asked to work on these problems quite regularly and the answer is always “Let’s think about it systematically”.

Is there a surrogate marker, for example if there’s no data on popsicle sticks, but good data on popsicle sales, you can assume that, in general, sticks and finished products are reasonably well correlated. If it’s a specialized pharmaceutical product you can find data on the incidence and prevalence of the disease, population size, percent of patients treated, length of treatment for clinical trials…you get the idea.

If you have more time you can talk to a portion your target audience and use their estimates to project for the entire market…wisdom of the crowd.

So, this is a long-winded way of saying that, with a little thought and imagination, you can build a reasonably robust model along with the data sources and references to give it some credibility. Then you can continue to revisit and evaluate the model as you go forward.

When we work on this with you then you get the added credibility of a second set of eyes and the validation that “our consultant looked at the market and built this model”. We’ve done it for others, we can do it for you.

I’m Steve 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.


Are you charging enough?

Pricing. We can’t tell you the number of times we’ve heard business owners or product managers wrestle with the question of how much to charge for what they sell. This can be especially difficult if you are in a service-based business, where, even if you’ve created packages, you’re ultimately selling your time. What if the client takes longer to make decisions than you thought? What if they aren’t good at deciding what they want, and their brief to you is terrible? What if they expect unlimited, time-consuming phone calls…for free?

Like every facet of your strategy, pricing decisions are ultimately on you. With a physical product, you can look at the costs associated with producing or acquiring the product, storing it, selling it, and shipping it to the customer. It’s worth looking at “product you” the same way. One big mistake we see with new consultants or service providers, is that they charge an hourly rate that sounds high enough…if they’re working 40 hours a week, for 40+ weeks a year. If you’re a solopreneur, this simply isn’t realistic. You need time to run your business, doing bookkeeping, accounting, and paperwork, or meeting or conversing with partners who do those things for you. You need time to sell to your customers (or you need to make enough on your service to pay a sales person to help). You get the picture. So how do you know the appropriate rate to charge? What if the client schedule has slippage or they delay the start of a project, so the dates when you thought you would be making the income are “missed”?

First, think about your costs – whatever overhead you have, whether it’s rent, your cellphone bill, professional associations, networking meetings…the list could be endless, if you let it. Then consider how much you want to make every year, net of fees or taxes. Add it up. How much vacation will you take? How much selling time will you need? (A good rule of thumb is that you, or someone, will probably need to spend at least five hours selling for every hour you deliver, especially with new clients). Divide this by the number of hours you realistically expect to spend delivering the work. That’s your charge-out rate.

What about cost overruns? You can have a series of up-charges for clients who have scope creep every time they come with a project. Truth be told, though, in most cases you want to avoid this, because the aforementioned newcomers to the market will bend over backwards for very little money, in an attempt to build their client base. Your client may come back to you after they’ve been stung by these inexperienced competitors, but they’ll have spent their budget, and you can’t get that project back. Instead, build in some wiggle room that you can live with. In our own case, we let new clients know that we have standard pricing that we apply to projects, and we estimate the scope according to their brief. When we have more experience working together, and they become a repeat customer, we will consider more favourable pricing, but we never discount out of the gate. We also explain at the start that the pricing we charge is adjusted for their second project – if they turn out to have an issue with scope-creep, we’ll raise the rate we charge them in future. This means we can stand firm on the charge-out rate, and make it up on the honour system, later. Of course if there are costs that have been incurred, like space rentals, that had to be paid twice, we expect them to cover those costs.

Explaining why a price has gone up for project two isn’t always easy. When you need to do this, consider using the airline seats discussion. Although they may get their weekly or monthly paycheque no matter what, as a service provider, you get paid when you work. If you have blocked time and turned down other clients for that time period, you can’t “sell that seat” to someone else. The risk is that they will go elsewhere, to someone who is willing to under-charge for the work involved, but wouldn’t you rather have that, and search for a client who’s willing to pay what you’re worth?

If you’re finding it hard to make time to think about strategic questions like these, because you’re so busy working in the business, that you can’t work on your business, let’s take a look at your strategy. There’s definitely a better way. I’m Megann Willson, and I’m one of the partners here at PANOPTIKA. Let’s get you the money you deserve.

Make Sure Your Business is Strong AND Flexible

Image by AndiP from Pixabay
This post originally appeared back in April 2019, but it’s just as relevant today.

Today I was reading a cautionary tale about restaurant ownership, and one of the issues was the problem the owner had run into with pricey real estate and long-term leases. For sure, there are some businesses where you absolutely must “be there” – where space is important – and in these cases you should push for the best you can afford, as soon as possible. For most businesses, though, when you think about the “where” of your business, you’ll be stronger in the long run if you build flexibility into your plan.

Let me give you an example. One consultant we know (we’d say “headhunter”, but he wouldn’t) had lots of corporate clients, back in the days when businesses like his usually had large, pricey offices in the financial core of their city. Those kinds of businesses often relied on the prestige of real estate to convey a message of reliability, dependability, and success. Our friend got into the executive shared office space in its very early days. No one knew that his Bay Street address was only a mail-drop and answering service. After all, he went to the clients. But since people still wrote letters for business back then, his address looked very impressive on business cards and letterhead. Fast forward to today, and you’ll find that many businesses have no physical space at all. Consultants, coaches, advisors and more, have found that they can carry out their business very well in the virtual space, or by going to where their clients are. On the rare occasion when they need to host a meeting, they can do it in a rented-for-purpose location like a hotel meeting room or a co-working space. This doesn’t just apply to knowledge workers, though. Think about all of the direct-selling operations that don’t have storefronts, but sell through home parties. Or online businesses. And what about our restauranteur? What about catering with a rental kitchen, or food pop-ups, or other creative locations?

When you’re planning your business, ask yourself what the space signifies to the customer, and whether you can achieve that signal in another way that’s less costly, and that ties up less of your resources. We’ve spent so much time making remote work possible for employees of large organizations, there’s no reason you can’t build this into your own business, as well.

I’m Megann Willson, and I’m one of the Partners in PANOPTIKA. We work with our clients to help you see everything you need to know to make better business and career decisions. Want more insights to help you grow? Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Then sign up before Friday to receive the next issue of our News You Can Use.

Which came first – was it really the customer?

Image by Pexels from Pixabay
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.

Not everything goes as planned. Deal with it.

Women making decisions

How do you feel when something doesn’t go as planned? Disappointed? Frustrated? Annoyed?

What about energized, excited, or enthusiastic?

Last summer, I spent several weeks 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.

I’m Megann Willson, and I’m one of the Partners here at PANOPTIKA. We work with our clients to see everything they need to know to make better decisions, so they can find, understand, and keep their customers. You can find Partner Steve Willson and I on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook. If you’d like more insights delivered to your inbox, or help facilitating your upcoming strategy session, click the button below and sign up for our insiders’ circle. You’ll be glad you did. 

What to do if you don’t know what you don’t know.

Gears and wheels turning
This post from February 2019 was revised and re-posted in January 2020.

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.

I’m Megann Willson, and I’m one of the Partners here at PANOPTIKA. We work with all our clients to see everything they need to know to make better decisions. That means following a lot of different threads, sometimes, and then weaving together a story that makes sense no matter how complex or ambiguious their decision seems at the beginning of the journey. We can help your team, too. For more insights, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, and sign up for weekly news you can use with the orange button, below. 

A gift for all seasons: curiosity

This blog was reposted in January, 2020

Curiosity killed the cat? Maybe, but it can make you more creative and innovative at work.

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:

  1. Ask the “how might we” question whenever you encounter a problem (or someone else brings one to the table). You’ll find ideas that move you toward solutions.
  2. Think about the “opposite game” you might have played as a kid – when you have a strong opinion, ask yourself what would have to change, for you to believe the opposite. Then use that to reframe your narrative in a way your opponent can better understand.
  3. Explore the “why” when you’re working on a process – why have we always done it this way? Why couldn’t that change? You’ll challenge your paradigms and open doors to fresh thinking.
  4. Be a reporter – when explaining an idea, imagine you’ll need to explain it to someone who knows nothing about the topic, and find ways to tell the story that includes all of the 5 W’s – who, what, when, where, why. (Bonus points for how!) The toughest parts to explain are where curiosity can help you learn the most.
  5. When meeting with customers, the words “show me” can help you understand how they use your product, what challenges they are encountering, or what’s delighting them about a competitor’s offering. 

We’re always curious – so if you need answers, we can help you ask the right questions, or we can work with your team to make sure their curiosity is always in excellent working order.

I’m Megann Willson, and I’m one of the partners here at PANOPTIKA. We work with clients like you, to help them see everything they need to know to build a better business, so they can find, keep, and know their best customers. For more content, you can follow us on social media like Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook. We send a collection of curated content every Friday to our subscribers. There’s a button for that, below.


Which way should we go?

This post was updated on January 15, 2020…it seems clients are still wrestling with how to make decisions when so much seems so uncertain…

Are you having difficulty knowing which move to make next? Maybe you’ve even undertaken a number of rounds of research, and yet the way still seems unclear. Sometimes when this happens, it’s because more than one course of action seems reasonable. Other times, it’s because every possibility comes with risks that make some of your team (or you) uncomfortable. What can you do?

​In these situations, it’s important to get back to basics. Clearly identify the decision you need to make. Then, list only the answers you need, in order to make that decision. Don’t get side-tracked by “nice to know”. It’s rare that you can make a strategic move on one set of data, or using one sort of research tool. More likely, you’ll need to combine several screens or frameworks. The good news is that this doesn’t always have to be costly. Setting your priorities and conducting an audit of data you already own, will allow you to focus your resources on only sourcing the “mission critical” answers. Setting a plan in advance as to what frameworks you’ll use to guide your decision, depending on those answers, is the final piece of the puzzle.

I’m Megann Willson, and I’m one of the Partners here at PANOPTIKA. Whether it’s creating frameworks to help sort through key pieces of customer insight, undertaking research audits or leading workshops to teach clients how to do that for themselves, or finding data that approximates data sets their head office uses but that aren’t available in their jurisdiction, we help our clients see everything they need to know, to make better business decisions. 

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