What to do if you realize normal wasn’t working

Image thanks to Tony Prats via Pixabay

Have you heard Jessica Salfia’s poem, “The First Lines of Emails I’ve Received While Quarantining”? It talks about the “new normal”, and more. Truthfully, we’ve heard so many people say they are waiting to get back to normal. Or that they’re trying to normalize their business processes, “under the circumstances”. Or that they don’t have time to think about strategy right now, because they’re just treading water, or trying not to crack the thin veneer that’s separating them from the chaos. Does that sound familiar?

It makes us think. What if, or how might we? How might we use the crisis to knock on the door of an opportunity? How might we use our time differently, to make our businesses over into the kind of businesses we’ve wanted or deserved all along? Let’s face it, everyone is doing things they’ve never done. Learning, implementing, trying, failing, and trying again. So we’re asking you to consider this: create what we’ll call a One Team®. (If you’re a team of one, you might need to reach out and form a Mastermind group to be your One Team). That team’s job is to select one thing that everyone agreed before all this began, would make a massive difference to either your customers or your colleagues, if it could just be sorted out and implemented. Then give the team license to take one day a week to think about this, and only this. Really work on it. Come up with ideas. Test. Prototype stuff. Make drawings. Research. Ask questions. They get a buy on all video conferences for most of that day. Then at the end of that one day, they have only one online meeting to explain their one most important lesson learned, to offer one thing up that the rest of the company can use, and to make one ask that will carry them forward to their next step. Then you let them repeat this process until you can see the change they’ve made. Because they will. We’re sure of it.

I’m Megann Willson, and I’m one of the Partners here at PANOPTIKA. We work with our clients to help them to see everything they need to work on to make better decisions for their businesses. Find us on Twitter and Facebook, too. On Fridays, we send News You Can Use to our subscribers. You can become one by signing up with the orange button, below. 

Flatten the curve. Stay safe. Stay home. 

Is it getting hard to focus?

Based on a completely unreliable, unscientific set of observational data gleaned from #socialmedia, we’ve noticed (and heard during phone calls) that many people who are suddenly forced to work from home (or who are used to working from home, and have had partners or offspring thrust into the mix) are having trouble with focus. 

Steve and I have been working with clients for nearly twenty years, helping them focus on what’s important when they are surrounded by irrelevant data and daily distractions. Here are a few tips that will help you get some real work done:

  1. Get dressed. OK, maybe you don’t need a suit and tie. But schedule at least one early and one later-in-the-day video call, to incentivize yourself to “dress up and show up”.
  2. Make a list of things you want to get done, then prioritize. Get it down to ONE. If you can do this one thing, you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished something. Then start it. When you’re done, reprioritize based on current information, and start again.
  3. Work in short spurts of about 25 minutes (read up on the pomodoro technique). In between, get some oxygen – go out on your balcony or stride around the room, just get air for a minute or two. In between, give yourself two minutes, no more, for one of the following.
  • Schedule two minutes for news and social media consumption – endless scrolling, scrolling, scrolling might have been amusing last week, but if this is our new modus operandi for a month or more, that will get old, PDQ.
  • Read something that is business-y, but unrelated to your vertical or domain, and then figure out the connection.
  • Drink a big glass of water. 

And every time, before you sit down to work again, please, wash your hands. 

Stay safe out there, people. Keep your distance. Don’t touch me, and I won’t touch you. If you need help with your business, or planning a new one, let me know. You can also find us on Twitter:  Steve or Megann. We’re also on LinkedIn or Facebook. Under the Store tab, you can join a MasterMind group or explore coaching with us. Or you can just wait for news to arrive in your inbox, on Friday afternoons. (Just in case you’ve lost track of what day it is). 

Can’t You Always Get What You Want?


Courtesy of Gerd Altmann via Pixabay
One of the most challenging things you may face with your customers or buyers, is when they push back and say they want to pay a different price, or have different delivery terms, or change what you were hoping to receive. In a business-to-business or account-based-selling environment, this can be a frequent occurrence, so it’s useful to learn how to deal with it. 

The difficulty, or risk, is that if you counter with another option, they may walk away. You might damage the relationship. So the first thing to consider, is the lifetime value of that customer. Are they likely to purchase again and again over time? If so, you need figure out how to be more accommodating, without “giving away the store”. How can you do that?

If you’re familiar with “how-might-we” thinking, you’ll know that it is most often used in idea generation. But at its heart, the ideas you are trying to generate are solutions to problems. That means when you encounter other types of problems, you can use the same approach to excellent effect. Instead of thinking, “that customer is so demanding!”, consider thinking, what can I offer them so they get some of what they want, and I get some of what I want? 

Over time, if you exercise the how-might-we muscle to deal with challenging customer requests, you’ll find it becomes easier, and you get better at preserving customer relationships while still feeling like there was plenty of pie for everyone (and there is).  What can this help you tackle today? 

I’m Megann Willson and I’m Partners with Steve Willson here at PANOPTIKA. We help our clients see everything they need to know (and realize what they don’t need to know) to make #betterdecisions. You can find us here on our blog, and also on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Or you can sign up for weekly updates delivered direct to your inbox, by clicking the orange button below.

If You Really Love Your Customers, Do This

Image from Ron van den Berg via Pixabay
Every day, we hear companies saying they love their customers. And how do they show it? They push them tons and tons of irrelevant content. They flood their inboxes. They try to sell them things they don’t want or need. And here’s what many of them don’t do:

Try to find out what will really make them happy. 

If you’ve been fortunate enough to be in a long-lasting relationship (like we have), you’ll know that you’re always looking for ways to delight the other person. To show them that you want to help them get what they want and need to feel like they are their best. Saying sorry when you’re wrong. Asking their closest friends if there’s something they’ve been dreaming of that they haven’t told you. Not taking, taking, taking. 

So today, on Valentine’s Day, and every day, if you really love your customer:

  1. If you’ve messed up in any way, apologize. Sincerely.
  2. Find out what they’ve really been dreaming about without asking them to spell it out for you (watch, observe, pay attention, or ask others who know them as well or better as you do) and then help them get it.
  3. Do an unasked kindness for them that doesn’t have an immediate payoff for you (A referral? An endorsement? A sincere note of thanks that isn’t a sales pitch?

To you: thanks for reading. We appreciate it. And thank you to all of you who refer others, endorse us on social media, and engage in conversations about how to find, understand, and engage customers. I’m Megann Willson, and I’m one of the Partners here at PANOPTIKA. (The other is Steve Willson – Happy Valentine’s Day!) You can find us on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, or through our weekly email news.  


Are your resolutions slipping?

Do you ever have one of those days where it seems like you’re being sent the same message again and again? I’ve had one of those already today.

If you’re like many business people, you may have started the year off with not only some personal resolutions, but some business ones, as well. We all have great plans when we’re sitting on a comfy couch and the phone isn’t ringing, our email isn’t pinging, and we’re not being bombarded by social media messages. Slowly, surely, though, we can slip. Even if we’ve been doing a great job, we can lose our vigilance and let distractions and habits creep in, that will move us away from where we intended to go. Unexpected events can break our concentration and mess up our plans.

You may find that you’ve been able to stick with your plan really closely (congratulations, well done!), or you might have something happen that has happened with a few of our connections this week. I took a fall this morning, shortly after crowing about how well my exercise plan has been going. (No worries, pride aside, I’m all good). The first thing I thought was, I need to remind people to get back up! You may have a personal event knock you for a loop, like one of our friends and colleagues, who had an unhappy loss completely break her usually unflappable stride. Or you might be like our friend Debbie Adams of PeopleCan consulting, who spent longer than planned in Halifax, with recent weather events in Newfoundland throwing a wrench in her travel arrangements, and her travel schedule skew her personal success practice just a little.

All of these things have something in common. Not one of us decided that because we’d had a slip or a slide, we should sit down and stop. Nope. We’ve all got enough experience that we knew what to do. Get up. Get up right away, and get going. (In fact Debbie had a great video teaching session this morning about falling off the wagon – and how the right response is to chase the wagon!) 

Whether it’s “great minds think alike”, or as my father-in-law would say, “fools seldom differ”, all of us have learned this lesson that I’m sharing with you today. As a quote I read on social media yesterday said, you’re not starting over, you’re starting from experience. Go get ’em.

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 decisions for their career or their business. You can also find us on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter, and if you sign up, we’ll send news you can use (but not too much), direct to your inbox every Friday afternoon. We love to watch you grow. 

How to Piece Together Your Customer’s Story

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

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

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

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

Our client asked us for less!

A week or so ago, we had the most refreshing experience. It made us feel amazing. Serene, even. 

One of our clients asked us for less. Now, we always try to go the extra mile with our clients, and if they are new to us, and we’re working on a project, we try to show them all the possible lines of inquiry we might explore, to learn more about their customers or prospects. We prefer a very open journey, but if someone doesn’t know us, they might have trouble seeing how that will work out. So imagine our relief when the client called and said, “I like where we’re going, but don’t you think we will get a richer result if we ask very broad questions and then probe as the respondent takes it in their direction, not ours? 

Yes, yes we do. Thanks for asking us that. Constraints can be useful. But questions that will take the discussion in the direction you want, rather than where the respondent wants to go, are likely to end up with you feeling like you didn’t learn anything new, and simply confirm what you already belief. The lesson? Open yourself up to simplicity, if you want a richer, more meaningful result. 

I’m Megann Willson, and I’m one of the partners here at PANOPTIKA. If you’d like us to help you see everything that’s really important to your prospects or customers, let’s talk. You can find all our contact information here on the website. And if you’d like regular insights that will spark ideas you might not have been thinking about already, you can also find us on LinkedIn, on Twitter, or on Facebook

Look where you’re going!

I’m all for taking stock – especially this time of year, it’s important to see how you’ve measured up against your goals. Once that’s done, though, it doesn’t do any good to keep rehashing your old mistakes. Figure out how to go forward, and understand your course corrections, then set your eyes on the future. 

This afternoon I had an opportunity to catch up with a board member I used to serve with. He was lamenting that there are always a couple of people in the organization who are stuck on “replay”, always bringing up some past transgression that’s long done. They’re the same people who are unwilling to try anything new, or examine their own part in any so-called failures. 

Does this sound familiar? Do you have team members who would rather grouse about what didn’t work in the past, than to try and discover a better way forward? Ultimately, these individuals aren’t helping the team. It’s worth having a quiet conversation offline, to remind them in advance of the next meeting, that you’re focused on the future. Here are some other ways to prime them for the right kind of action:

  1. Ask them to describe in writing the most persistent problem that exists today – and to list five or ten possible solutions. Share their most positive ideas with the team, so they feel acknowledged. You want to reinforce the behaviour you’re working to create.
  2. At the meeting, ask them to be a note-taker and reporter for the group. This may not stop them from airing their grievances, but it will make them listen more carefully to people who are expressing more positive opinions – and positivity can be contagious.
  3. Acknowledge that problems do occur, and engage them in telling a story of what kinds of solutions have made positive improvements in other situations. Then ask them to describe how similar approaches might be used here.

If you’ve given your best effort to be sure their voice is heard, you’ve done your work. Keep repeating your mission and make sure the meeting ground rules are clear. And if necessary, find a project that will consume their time elsewhere. Then, eyes forward. Face the future, and plot your course.

I’m Megann Willson, and I’m one of the Partners and Founders here at PANOPTIKA. We help our clients see everything they need to know to make better decisions for their organizations. Looking for a facilitator who can help you have richer, more robust conversations? Let’s talk. In the meantime, you can also find us on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn – or you can sign up to get useful business ideas sent right to your inbox, using the handy button below. 

When the frequency illusion is no illusion…

PictureImage by kalhh from pixabay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sort Yourself Out!



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.