It’s not your customer’s job to solve their own problem. It’s yours.

…and your problem isn’t their problem, either.

At this time of year, as companies revisit their strategies with an eye to a reboot in the New Year, they frequently reach out to customers and stakeholders, trying to get them to identify with a problem the supplier has. Then they ask them how to solve it. Usually it’s a question like, “What can we do that the other guy isn’t doing, that will differentiate it and this make you buy more from us?”

The answer is to stop getting the customer to solve your problem. Ask them how they’re doing with your product (or the competitor’s). Watch them in action as they access or use your service. Listen to their complaints or challenges, on social media, or through more traditional channels. Then get your thinking caps on.

This holiday season, their problem is your opportunity.

Carpe Diem!

Megann & Steve

Remembrance Day isn’t a Holiday

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We Remember

For our readers who don’t know what Remembrance Day is, it’s a day that commemorates the signing of the armistice to end World War I – at 11 am on 11-11 – November 11th, 1918. This isn’t about remembering war. It’s about remembering the arrival of peace – and the sacrifice it took to get there.

Every year around this time, we read about an ongoing debate – should Remembrance Day be a statutory day off, or not? In some provinces in Canada it is, and in others, it is not. According to Wikipedia:

“Statutory holiday in Alberta, British Columbia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan, and Yukon.

In Manitoba, an “Official day of Observance”, not a statutory holiday.

In Ontario and Nova Scotia, not a statutory holiday in that employers have the option of giving Remembrance Day or an alternate day off.

Not a statutory holiday in Quebec.”

Each side has a rationale – pro “day off” folks suggest this allows us to have time to remember those who fought for our freedom. They also assert that we can then freely join in on commemorative activities with veterans and their families. The anti side suggests, among other things, that making the day a statutory day off work will result in it being treated as a holiday. We’ve seen some evidence of this ourselves in our home province – this year, with Remembrance Day falling on a Tuesday, many people have taken today off work to “make an extra-long weekend”. For our part, we’re in the office today and open for business. But tomorrow we will be closed. Not because it is a holiday. Because it is, as the name suggests, a day of remembrance. We will join veterans, schoolkids, and local members of the armed forces and police at cenotaph nearby, and remember innocents who lost their lives in pursuit of peace. And when we’re done, we’ll pray for peace anew – perhaps this time, one that persists.

Peace be with you,

Megann and Steve

We’ve Got a New Attitude

Those of you who have been following our blog and our work know that we have been having a makeover during the past few months. It started with a new visual identity – how our site, our cards, our Twitter, LinkedIn and other contact points look to the outside world. Our partners at 21st Floor Designs gave us a hand with that. And that’s not all. The two of us have a new look, too. Thanks to our friend and former colleague Timothy Richard, you’re seeing different images of the Panoptika partners than before. What surprised us most is how much a new look has re-energized us. We have lots of transformational tools and during the planning process, we turned them on ourselves. We can help you use games, tools and techniques to improve your business, too.

One upcoming (pardon the pun) engagement where we’ll be doing that is the Engage 2014 Innovation and Commercialization conference. We’ll be running an active and interactive workshop to help you understand who your real customer is, and to figure out how they engage (there’s that word again!) with your product or service. Join us and explore new ways to describe your product in a way that customers, colleagues, or investors will understand and appreciate. Learn how to set goals and figure out the road to get there. If you’re an entrepreneur looking for practical skills to take you to the next step, meet us in Halifax and Engage!

Full of great ideas,

Megann and Steve

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Build a Community and Grow your Confidence

Are you a product manager who’s experienced conflict, confusion, or even a lack of confidence that you’re going in the right direction? Do you have the title, but you’re not sure what a product manager does (and everyone at your company wants to badge you with a different job description)? These are not uncommon problems. As we’ve been continuing our “repatriation” to the east coast, we’ve made some discoveries in our growing network. One of these is watching how the confidence of individual players grows, as they build their community or ecosystem. It’s like they are learning their habitat, trying what works, and finding out whose ideas and input they can, and should, trust. We’ve seen tremendous momentum in the east coast startup movement, and if these startups are going to become stayups, we need to continue the community-building at the next level.

Our work has always been about helping people or organizations to get a better understanding of customers, and how those customers interact with their products. This means that product managers are often our clients, and just as frequently, our friends. Depending on the location, the product management community may be very well developed and interconnected, or it may barely exist. But our observation is that once the community begins to take shape, product managers become a lot more confident. They reach a point where:

  • They’re ready to take a stand for what their definition of product management is
  • They know where to find other product managers whose learning and solutions are relevant to their context
  • The solutions they recommend are well-grounded in evidence, from a customer-centric perspective
  • Their skills at customer discovery, user experience management, and advocacy on behalf of the client are continuously improving.

Atlantic Canada is full of bright young (and young-at-heart) product managers (whether that’s by title, or by function) who want to change the landscape for the products they’re building and the customers they serve. If you’re interested in growing your community and building your product management toolkit, join us at ProductCamp Atlantic October 25th. 

Look forward to seeing you there,

Megann and Steve

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Who is your Customer Now?

During a conversation yesterday with one of our networking contacts (not even a prospect, really, just a helpful contact who shared some useful information about his organization and how it’s, well, organized), Megann listened carefully to a map of how the contact’s workplace functions, and with a few well-placed probes like:

  • “Who makes this kind of decision?”
  • “Who uses this sort of information?”
  • “How does your new role compare to your old role?”

…she was able to get a much richer understanding of this fellow’s world. Because we spend the vast majority of our time thinking about prospects and customers (how to find them, get them, talk to them, and keep them), we’ve learned that everyone has customers of some sort. Maybe not the traditional customers who go to a retailer for everything from a quick transaction to a lifestyle experience. And maybe not the kind that write contracts for delivery of goods and services at an enterprise level. But if we think of customers in terms of customer service, each of us, in our business lives, serves someone. That someone is a customer. Just like that, the right question was formulated.

“I know your role has changed and you’re not responsible for customer insights as you once were, but who is your customer now?”

Asking our contact to frame his activities from a specific viewpoint made it possible to get a great understanding of how he relates to his organization’s stakeholders, and what kind of information he might have, or need, at a later time. So the next time you need to understand someone who thinks they don’t have customers, ask them to:

  1. Think about who they serve with what they do.
  2. Describe that individual as their customer.
  3. Tell you about what they do with, and for, that customer.

We’re fairly certain you will gain a richer understanding of how that contact’s world works.

Customer discovery. It’s everywhere.

We’re asking – and listening,

Megann and Steve

Want to hear more? Get in touch via our website, or meet us at an upcoming event, like Invest Atlantic, or ProductCamp Atlantic.

Switch it Up for a Richer Product Story

This week we’ve been using metaphors and serious games to tackle a host of business problems, and we’d like to help your organization to do that, too. We’d love to hear from you.

We were back at Dalhousie University’s Norman Newman Centre’s Starting Lean Initiative yesterday, working with the participants in their special Summ’erUp program. It’s great to see these young entrepreneurs progressing – some getting ready to beta their products, others still in development – but all of them needing to find the best way to tell their stories. We’d like to give a shout out to Peanut, Bootstrap, and Applicable Labs, especially, for the work they put in on their Product Boxes.

Product Box is a great, fun tool created by our friend Luke Hohmann – originally introduced in his book, Innovation Games®, and which has evolved into a whole suite of solutions available from Conteneo®. We’ve adapted it to use in all kinds of situations, from creation of new products, to re-inventing brand stories, to simply getting customers to relax and have fun before engaging in a strategic conversation. Look at some of the great examples from our friends at Bootstrap – the pictures really do tell the story of what they have in mind for helping young Nova Scotians stay here in this beautiful province while re-inventing the economy:

Bootstrap Product Box 4Bootstrap Product Box 1

Bootstrap Product Box 6Bootstrap Product Box 5

Bootstrap Product Box 2Bootstrap Product Box 3

See how the metaphor of Product Box really tells the story? Bootstrap, we’re really proud of you and your colleagues at Summ’rUp. Keep up the great work. 

If you and your team would like to use these and other serious games to solve problems, build strategy, or work more closely with your customers, just let us know.

We’d love to play our games with you,

Megann and Steve

We Weren’t Expecting National Hot Dog Day!

So apparently today is National Hot Dog Day – it really snuck up on us. We didn’t realize until it was already trending on Twitter. So why is this important? Because if we had known, we might have responded differently. We might have had hot dogs on our menu for the casual lunch with one of our business partners. But we didn’t know until it was too late.

In the hurry-up world we work in, this is what can happen to our marketing messages about other important events as well. Timing is critical. Too early, and people will have forgotten your message by the time you need them to take action. Too late, and, well…you get the picture. They will already have made other plans by the time you ask them to click, call, or register for your event. 

A colleague of ours used to say you need to:

1. Tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell ‘em

2. Tell ‘em, and 

3. Tell ‘em what you told ‘em.

Worthwhile advice no matter what you’re communicating. An organized content calendar and in-depth knowledge of your audience’s preferences, habits, and planning horizons will make sure your message has a better chance of being received. Repetition will help them remember. Decide what to say and deliver it precisely where they are and when you need them to take action. While you’re at it, make sure you explicitly tell them how they can respond to your call.

Frankly yours,

Megann and Steve