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.

For Groundhog Day, Repeat this.

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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?) 

 

How to Piece Together Your Customer’s Story

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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!

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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

Even market research is about pleasing your customer!

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Photo courtesy of Free-Photos via Pixabay
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

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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. 

Let’s Ask This, Just Because We Can…

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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. 

Sort Yourself Out!

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Image by congerdesign from Pixabay
 
“We don’t have enough information to make a decision!”

“Everything is so unclear!”

“We need more research, but we don’t know where to start.”

“Of course we have a research objective. In fact, we’ve got five or six of them.”

Often when we hear clients expressing these things, we work with them to discover that it isn’t a lack of information, but a lack of clarity about what they know, and don’t know, about the problem. If you’re dealing with this in your organization, and you have limited resources, the last thing you should do is invest in more research (yet). First, you’ve got to wade through the complexity and ambiguity and sort out exactly what you need. And a sorting activity is an excellent first step. Here’s how you can get started:

  1. Gather all the data, research, articles, information, and relevant people, that are connected in any way with the problem(s) you are trying to solve. (Things written about the product? Check. About the right customer group? Yes. Sales data? Uh-huh. Customer service logs. Absolutely. Articles from experts in the field? Yup. Vision boards or prototypes? Positively.) Divide up the work amongst the people, by volume. Don’t invest time in who knows more, who did the research, or who found the article. Just sort it, and divvy it up. Quickly. 
  2. Next, ask each person to go through whatever artefact they have (article? research report? dataset?) as rapidly as possible, and assign it a label, or a category that represents what it mainly can answer or illuminate. Don’t debate. Let each do their work on their own. Set a time limit. Max, a couple of hours. 
  3. Now, get together in a room and share the labels. You might hate sticky notes, but they are useful for this. Look at the box of tea in the photo. If you wanted a certain type of tea, could you find it in a messy drawer, randomly mixed together? Not easily. But here, whether you organize it by fruit tea, or herbal infusion, black tea, or by brand, it will be easier to see what you’ve got. Group them, if there are commonalities. As a group, identify patterns. Express what you have a lot of. Now, what’s missing? Why is that important to the problem you’re trying to solve? 
  4. List the missing things. Prioritize them. Ask, “What do all of these point to, collectively, as the concept we need the most, to move forward?” Then ask, “Which of these, if we don’t figure it out, could kill our business/product/project?” Now you’re on to something. 

Sorting exercises may seem simplistic, but there’s a reason these are one of the first things we teach to babies, and then to kids learning to read, and later, to people who are programming, filing, organizing, or creating an information architecture. They help us get to the gist of what we need to know, to make sense of the world. And they can help you do better research, more efficiently, and for less time and money. I’m sure of it.

My name is Megann Willson, and with my partner, Steve Willson, we run PANOPTIKA, where we help our clients see everything they need to know to find, understand, and keep customers. You can also find us on LinkedIn, on Twitter, or Facebook. If you’d like more news you can use to grow your business, subscribe to our weekly updates, and the occasional offer, using the link below.

 

When you can’t buy information, triangulate it.

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Image by 95C from Pixabay.
In highly-competitive industries with lots of players, there is often a surfeit of data. Marketers’ big challenge is to decide which data to use or to purchase, because their budgets are rarely, if ever, unlimited. If you’re in a B2B business, though, publicly available data sets are often less available. Add a science or STEM focus, and data may be nigh-on non-existent. Money can’t buy you out of this problem. What do you do? How can you forecast your market, figure out your next move, or measure your impact?

The answer is to triangulate. In social sciences, triangulation is used to improve the validity of the findings. This can take the form of combining different data, different viewpoints, or different approaches. Similarly, in navigation, if you are trying to find out your position, finding landmarks that you can validate, will help you figure out where you really are.

When you get your team around the table, and they each bring data that doesn’t show the whole picture, but shows part of it, you’re triangulating. Every finding that relates to the problem you’re trying to solve, can help you become more accurate in your estimate of the “true picture”. That’s why design sprints start with getting your experts in the room to define the problem clearly and share what they know. Getting that clear problem definition or challenge to address is key – much like our discussion in last week’s blog post about narrowing your scope if you want to go deep.

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.