When you can’t buy information, triangulate it.

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.

Forget storytelling. Try storyshowing.

Photo by klimkin via Pixabay
There’s a lot of attention being paid to storytelling these days, as a way to gain customers’ attention and sell more product. That’s not what I’m going to talk about today, though. Today I want to talk about how you can use stories to build empathy and gain a greater understanding of customer problems and motivators. 

In today’s business environment, there are two things that are in short supply: money, and time. The consequence of this, is that in the rush to meet deadlines, get answers, make decisions, and ship our products and services, soft skills may go out the window. Regularly surveying customers can get us an abundance of data, and data’s what we need to get answers. To make decisions. To validate that the solution we want to give the customer is right, so we can win, or fail, fast. 

What’s wrong with this picture? Well, first of all, in the hurry to find out why customers are doing the things they do, or what their problem is, or how we can fix it, I’m seeing all too much blunt-force questioning. Clients ask me to ask their customers or prospects why they buy. Or they want to ask the customer to tell us how they can solve the problem that same customer is having. Trust me, if they knew, they’d be solving it, or at least trying. Or, clients want to ask questions like the example in this post.

Sometimes, when product or marketing teams or UX people want to get really creative, they ask the customer to tell them a story. They’ve been told not to ask why, and someone has sold them on the idea that storytelling is a great tool to capture customer experience, or the customer journey. If you want to know why asking why doesn’t work, even on ourselves, watch this great video about introspection and self-awareness from Tasha Eurich. 

So what can you do? If asking the customer to tell you a story isn’t always effective, and you can’t ask why, and you can’t ask them how you’re supposed to solve their problem, what is the solution? Look at the picture above. The one kid didn’t say to the other, “tell me a story about that”. She asked, “show me.”

Instead of seeking storytelling, try using storyshowing. Ask them to show you where they’re running into the problem. Sit with them while they demonstrate what’s going on. Share screens, or better yet, go to them one-on-one and observe. Listen carefully. Interrupt with questions that involve “what happens when that happens” or “tell me more”, but sparingly. Seek clarity, not certainty. Take good notes, make sketches, record if the situation allows. Here’s an Innovation Game© called Me and My Shadow that explains a bit about how this works.

We like to add another step. Ask if you can tell them the story of what you saw, in your words. Ask them to be your editor. When they change things, ask them to explain the reason for the change. Then, and only then, let them know that you’d like to share that with your team, so you can come back to them with some fresh ideas. Resist the urge to solve the problem today.

If all of this seems like it is fiddly, and time-consuming, it is. You’re not gathering big data; you’re gathering rich data. And in our experience, rich data will yield a richer result. 

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 – including better ways to ask the questions that will gain them a richer understanding of their customers, users, and stakeholders. If you need help doing that, we do that, too. Follow us on TwitterFacebook, or LinkedInand for more news you can use to help you or your team to ask more questions in ways that will let them make better decisions, click the handy button, below.


Narrow your research, if you want to go deep.

Deep library corridor
“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. When you’ve been thrown into chaos by an unforeseen event, the same can happen. 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.

What’s your favourite channel?

People shaking hands
Judging by the box room in our condo building, you’d think that everything was shipped by courier or post, but we have a saying around here: “It’s hard to ship hot soup by mail”. Whether you’re starting a new business, or developing a new product or service for your existing business, one of the decisions you’ll need to make, is what is the most effective channel to use, to deliver that product or service to your most valued customer. In Megann’s most recent video challenge, two things she asked participants to think about are:
  1. Their most valuable product or service – that is, which of their products or services delivers the highest value back into their business?
  2. Their most valued customer (the one who buys that most valuable product or service).

These questions don’t stay static. They deserve regular review, no matter what your business. When we started consulting, we would have said the most valuable service was in-depth medical interviews, in situ in specialists’ offices. And the customer who bought those was usually a pharmaceutical company with a very specialized product, like a cancer treatment. Now, the highest value services are consulting with companies who are entering new markets, on market selection, or facilitating strategic decision-making. And the clients are varied, but always scientific, technical, medical, or industrial B2B companies.

Once you have a good picture of the key product or service, and who buys it, it’s time to think about how to get it to them. Are the clients remote, or local? Do they need to see you to receive the service? Can it be shipped? Must it be? Figuring that out can be a challenge, and it takes a lot of legwork to determine the most efficient and effective way. More than one channel may be needed. Determining it is a necessity, as it will be a critical part of your cost structure, as well as your value proposition. Are you the fastest? The most thorough? The newest? Each of these directly impacts your channel choice. Moreover, communicating to your customer which channel your using, may be relevant. You might think that those strategy facilitations are always in person for us, for example, but we have tools that let our clients gather together a team from around the globe, and make decisions as effectively as if they were in the same room. So keep an open mind, and find the channel that’s just right for you and your MVC.

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.


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. 

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.

Does public data really have value for your company, if anyone can get it?

Shouldn’t you skip right to your own custom survey? We’re always happy at PANOPTIKA to help you with custom research, but there’s really more to it than that. Even if you’re working in an industry like health, technology, or science (where we do some of our best work), where sometimes there isn’t much data, there’s always some. If you’re a new analyst in one of these industries, or you’re just getting into research for the first time (sometimes, until you start to scale, it’s easier and more informative just to ask the questions yourself), start with free or nearly free. Those public data sets get a lot of use – they’re the workhorses of the quadrant we call “the light”.  The answers there are available to anyone – and that  doesn’t mean they don’t provide you with any value or advantage.
Public data sets or  their slightly more expensive cousins, syndicated data, (which is not public, but is available to purchase by anyone who can pay), are a great foundation. They let you get the “lay of the land”. In “The Light”, you’re setting yourself up for deeper questions, making sure you don’t waste time and money on custom projects, if the information is already out there. Doing a good audit of the data you already have in house is where you can start to use data in ways that others can’t. Think sales data, observational research where you see how customers use your products (or the competition’s), and interviewing everyone in your organization who interacts with your customer or prospect. Where an outside consultant can help, is by assisting you in shaping the questions that you’ll use as you move to what we call “The Shades” – positioning or perception research is a good example. It can help you see where customers put everyone – not only you and your product or service, but your competition. And it can help you get ready to develop insights that are only known to you and your team. Not sure where to start with something like that? We’re always happy to jump on a discovery call. You tell us your questions, and we’ll work with you to lay out a plan to get the answers you need.
We’re Megann and Steve Willson, and we’re the partners at PANOPTIKA. We work with B2B businesses to help you get the answers you need, and to make better business decisions. You can also follow us on LinkedIn, on Twitter, or to get insights and ideas delivered right to your inbox, click the handy button, below. 

What if your business is thrown into darkness?



This is the PANOPTIKA Understanding Matrix© – a model that can help you think about where you need more business intelligence, and what kinds. It’s based on the Johari Windowwhich was developed by psychologists Luft and Ingham, to help individuals to understand themselves and their relationship to others around them. It’s also well suited to thinking about positioning of your product, service, or company, as well as the foundation for your business or customer intelligence strategy.

The Darkness is that area that was highlighted by that famous (infamous) Donald Rumsfeld quote about “unknown unknowns” – Luft and Ingham simply called it the Unknown. Market or product intelligence won’t reveal what might happen there, but there are still things that you and you and your colleagues can do to develop the sorts of responsiveness and resilience that will help you prepare for being plunged into a situation that even the best research couldn’t predict. Scenario planning or war games – developing a whole series of “what-ifs” and the potential results is one way. We also like to use metaphor-based research techniques that free up your thinking. With tools such as Conteneo’s Weave® platform, we can even conduct sessions with remote users around the globe. The unanswerable questions can’t be answered, but anything that gets you outside your normal frame of reference to a place where you can’t rely solely on data can help you be ready to work your way back to the light, when the darkness descends.

I’m Megann Willson, and I’m one of the partners here at PANOPTIKA. We work with clients like you to answer tough questions, and to see everything you need to know to build a better business that lasts. You can connect with us on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook. And if you could use more insights about how to find, know, and keep your best customers, why not click the orange button and subscribe to our weekly news?

Be Prepared!

This post originally appeared in December, 2018, during the holiday season. No matter when you’re planning customer research or collaboration projects, there’s a lesson here for you.

Have you been doing a lot of holiday cooking? We have! But what does that have to do with research and strategy?

Chefs and expert home cooks alike, know the value of mise en place, or assembling all the tools and ingredients you need in advance. Checking your lists, reviewing the recipe, and making sure you haven’t forgotten anything are all vital steps in having a perfect outcome when preparing a special dish. Dealing with your next research project or customer collaboration is no different. If it’s your first time, you might want to consult with others who have tried the same thing, to see how things turned out. You can consider whether, the last time you did this, there was something you learned that you might adjust. And you can even give some thought as to how you’ll serve the results, and who will be at the table.

As a trusted research and strategy partner to our clients, PANOPTIKA helps them put everything in place before we begin, just like assembling the mise en place. Whatever you’re planning for 2019, take time to be prepared in advance, and it’s sure to turn out a whole lot better than it would otherwise.  If you’d like to explore an information audit, so you can be ready for YOUR fresh start, let’s talk.

I’m Megann Willson, and I’m one of the Partners here at PANOPTIKA. We’ll help you make better decisions by seeing everything laid out in an organized way. For more insights into your career and business decisions, follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Then click the orange button to receive weekly news you can use, along with our latest offers.