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.

Making an Entrance When You Could Have Had an Encore

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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. 

Narrow your research, if you want to go deep.

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Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
“We’d like to investigate this. Oh, and it would also be great to find out more about this. And a few members of the team thought it would be really interesting to explore this.” 

When your product is new, or your team is new, or you’re just getting started with your business, you want to know everything. Any market information could be useful. All customer insights might be relevant. As a consequence, we often meet new clients, new teams, or founders, who want to look at a really big basket of questions. Sounds fair, doesn’t it? They have a lot to learn. So what’s the issue? 

The issue is that the other shoe usually drops, right about then. The client says, “And we really want you to do a deep dive on this.” 

The fact of the matter is, giant companies who can afford massive amounts of data, may be able to afford to be wasteful with their investigations. They may be able to “go deep” on a lot of different topics, all at once. If you look carefully, though, you’ll usually find that there are many teams, each going deep on a topic or two. If your company is small, you risk learning a little about a lot, and a lot…about nothing. 

How can you mitigate this risk? These four steps that can help:

  1. Make some calculated assumptions.
  2. Establish hypotheses to validate or invalidate with the respondents.
  3. Look at some secondary data and see if you can’t do some narrowing down or elimination on your own. 
  4. Choose the slice that, if the answers turn out to not be as you had hoped, would have the worst outcome. If there are rate-limiting or business-limiting questions, get them out of the way as soon as possible, so you can turn your attention elsewhere. 

So the next time you want to “go deep” in your customer understanding, narrow things down first. If you forget everything else, try this rule of thumb when you decide whether you want to look at something deeply, or in its entirety: Microscopes are tiny. Telescopes are big. 

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.

Time exposure can let you see things differently…

This post appeared back in March…so this year, instead of panicking two months from now, read this, and give yourself a head start…

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.)

I’m Megann Willson, and I’m one of the Partners here at PANOPTIKA. We help our clients see everything they need to know, to make better business and career decisions. Our specialty is finding novel ways to get answers to tricky questions. You can also find us on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook, and for weekly insights and offers, why not subscribe to our Friday news you can use? There’s a button just below to help you do that. Next issue drops around 3pm, so sign up before that and receive your first issue this week.

 

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.

Dream Big, Plan Small!

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By Friedrich Haag, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36033096
Do you have a big idea for a new business? Big ideas are fabulous, and they can provide you with a big payoff. On the other hand, they are often also riskier, more time consuming, and require a larger investment. So what can you do?

One way to manage a big business idea, is to dream big, but to think small. Consider your idea (a new restaurant, perhaps?) and think about whether there are mini or even micro versions of that idea. Using our restaurant example, you might think about a much smaller bistro space, and figure out whether you can make a decent margin using that business model. Or for an even smaller investment, a small catering operation with a rented kitchen might get you on your way, or even a #foodtruck or #foodcart. If you can start with one of those tinier businesses and have a plan to scale, you can reduce your risk at the outset, and build as you go.

Do you have any other big ideas you’d like to shrink down to a more manageable size (or have you used this approach successfully)? We’d love to hear your story.

How To Turn an Observation into an Insight

“We’ve seen our customers do this a thousand times”.

So what? You’ve assembled a thousand observations. Although it is valuable evidence, this doesn’t make it an insight. Let’s dig deeper.

  1. Get the people around the table who have actually seen the customers do this a thousand times, or at least, evidence that they have. What exactly have they done? Define the action customers have taken. and make sure you all agree on the definition.
  2. Ask yourselves, what do these customers have in common? (Be sure you have a clear picture of the target).
  3. Figure out why you think they’re doing it. (Still not an insight, but getting closer: this is your hypothesis).
  4. Design an experiment or test to validate what you think. (Go beyond surveys: try it out in the same situation as the customer, or undertake depth research, or even invite them around a table to explain what you’ve observed and ask if they know why).
  5. Discuss your findings with your team and decide on the best way to use what you’ve learned that will serve your customer.
  6. Evaluate your concept with a pilot.

No matter how that turns out, there’s an actionable outcome: you’ve got answers that will let you scale the solution, or get off the wrong track. Now that’s an insight!

Start Here for Success

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 This article was updated on January 16, 2020

“I’m buried in data. How can I make sense of it all?”
“When should I do research?”
“What’s the right way to answer these questions?”

Does any of this sound familiar? Over and over, we hear product managers, marketers, even CEOs, asking these questions. Over the past 19-plus years, we’ve helped hundreds of them get clarity by working backward from their end goal. This is the question we ask, to get started:

“What decision do you want to make?” or “What action can’t you take now, that you’ll be able to take if you have more clarity?”

Most often, if you can answer one (or both) of these, you’ll be in a much better position to map out the research you need. When you’ve answered them, you’ll know:

  1. When the decision or action must be taken (and from that, figure out how far in advance you’ll need to start the research).
  2. Whether you need to observe, have conversations, or do experiments to get the answers.
  3. What data is, and isn’t, relevant.
  4. Who needs to be involved.

You’ll be able to decide whether you can sort this out yourself, or if you need help. You’ll know if the answer needs to be quantified, with numbers (such as for a forecast), or if it needs a qualitative approach (getting your engineering team to see customers’ frustration as they try to use feature X). And you’ll waste less money, time, and effort getting something that’s useful, practical, helpful, and actionable. 

Whatever your questions, we’re happy to work with you until you see everything you need.

I’m Megann Willson, and I’m the CEO and one of the Partners here at PANOPTIKA. Our company name means “see everything”, because we work with our clients to help them see everything they need to know to make better decisions that will help them find, know, and keep customers. You can also find us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. For weekly insights to help you make better decisions, subscribe with the orange button, below. 

 

The Wisdom of The (Right) Crowd…

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Crowdsourcing is a fantastic way to get ideas, feedback, information, and synergistic thinking. As long as you’re hanging with the right crowd. 

Thinking carefully about who needs to be in the room for your sprint, who should be invited to respond to your survey, or whose opinion will really make a difference when you are interviewing experts for a report, has never been more important.

If you need help deciding who to ask, poll, invite, or share your concept with, just ask. We do that.