We Need Collaboration, AND Collision!

We’ve been working with our colleagues from The Mentor Group and Invest Atlantic on some projects, mostly aimed at growing the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Atlantic Canada. There’s been a lot of talk about collaboration, and there are certainly some great partnerships and alliances that have been developing around the region. There are cross-border conversations happening between provinces. More sharing is definitely happening. For all the talk about collaboration, though, we’ve observed occasional sensitivities, hackles being raised, even (dare we say) protectionist comments in certain communities and circles throughout the region. We really need to get past this.

The One NS Report (or colloquially, the Ivany Report) challenged us to pull up our socks, pull together, and to open the door to a brighter economic future. This is possible. Truly. But every idea, offering, and invention needs to stand up to a challenge now and then. Let’s switch our mindset from one where we live in a land of scarcity, to one where we live in a land of abundance. So what if someone else wants to do what we want to do, or build what we want to build? Where would Pepsi be without Coke to spur them on? Or McDonald’s and Burger King? Collisions or confrontations don’t need to be the order of the day. But they can be the driver of new ideas, new approaches, or an impetus for us to dig deeper and come up with something even more creative and inventive than what we were doing before. How about it, folks? Let’s get out there and stretch ourselves. Meet with strangers. Collaborate with new partners. Challenge our long-held axioms and check our assumptions.

We’re game, are you?

Megann and Steve

If you’d like to discuss this or any of our ideas in person, we’re happy to hear from you. We’ll also be attending a number of upcoming events, including Invest Atlantic and Product Camp Atlantic

My Company Wants to Control Customer Research from Global…What Now?

Increasingly often, we hear this complaint from our clients. Suddenly they are being kicked out of the loop when it comes to research projects. Global sources the projects and then fields them in local markets – sometimes without even telling or involving the affiliates. These projects can go through many layers of handling and management before a moderator and respondent(s) sit down in the same room. In a worst case scenario, this can look like a game of broken telephone, with muddied objectives and watered-down results. Yet some of our best clients seem to have learned a few tricks for still getting an optimal result. Here’s what they have shared with us:

  1. The researcher or product team at the local affiliate has built a strong relationship with their counterpart(s) at Global.
  2. They have specifically requested that if moderation is to be outsourced, one of their preferred local suppliers should be considered.
  3. Local researchers take time to get involved with the briefings themselves, so they can contribute home field tips that will make the project go more smoothly.
  4. Global requires that suppliers at the top of the research chain facilitate a dialogue between the local moderator or field service and the home town affiliate.
  5. Field Managers or Project Directors ensure that everyone can reach the right person to answer a question or deal with an issue in the fewest number of steps.

We’ve seen some tremendous results when our clients have taken these steps. First, the local researcher has a chance to shine in front of more senior head office personnel. Secondly, there is often an opportunity to adapt questionnaires and discussion guides to eliminate questions that have been answered, or add probes about specific local issues. Some of our customers have also been able to pay for a local “advance copy” of their report, rather than waiting for multi-country results to be analyzed – allowing for faster decision-making – while keeping the field costs as Global’s line item.

These approaches can allow a result that is “glocal” at its finest – perhaps one of them will work for you! We’re happy to discuss how you can make the most of your research budgets.

Always optimizing,

Megann and Steve

I’ll Have Another Running a Different Race?

This week’s race at Belmont was a disappointment for a host of people on the I’ll Have Another team – including owner Paul Reddam, trainer Doug O’Neill, and jockey Mario Gutierrez. But there’s a solid business strategy lesson to be had in the retirement of the winner of two jewels in the Triple Crown – the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.

Sure, it’s possible Reddam’s team could have raced I’ll Have Another on Saturday. They might even have won. It’s easy to say on paper, that you should sacrifice the opportunity for a huge tactical win, in favour of your company’s long-term strategy. But in the modern economy, where the long-term planning horizon grows increasingly shorter, this can be incredibly difficult to achieve. Will you as a manager forfeit a huge, immediate payoff in favour of a long-term goal that may not be achieved until you’re no longer even with the company? Suddenly it doesn’t seem so simple.

The folks backing I’ll Have Another got it right. They decided it wasn’t worth causing undue pain and suffering to the horse. But there’s more. Clearly they thought about the opportunity cost as well. Had they risked running the race, they might not only have lost, but may have injured I’ll Have Another sufficiently to ruin his career as a valuable stud. So maybe I’ll Have Another was just running a different race.

Next time you’re tempted to over-reach your risk tolerance in favour of a potential short-term gain, make sure you’re not just betting on the right horse, but on the right race.

Improving the odds on your business,

Megann & Steve

To Drive Customer Understanding in your Company, Get Yourself in Gear

Tools to understand your customer better are proliferating exponentially. Along with time-tested methods such as telephone and internet surveys, or face-to-face groups, software and social media have made it possible to listen in on conversations in a variety of ways. But simply asking and listening isn’t enough.

Last time, we talked about the importance of making research interesting, engaging, and dare we say, entertaining for the buyers or users of your product. We’ve also discussed how no amount of data is a substitute for understanding and interpretation. Another important aspect of getting to know your customer on a personal, relationship level is to engage yourself in the process. That means not simply firing off surveys and waiting for the results. Nor does it involve just asking a consultant to scan what the world is saying about your brand, using text analytics, geocoding, or a host of other tools to come back with a result.

Getting involved with your customer means more work for you. It’s as easy as that. Just like meeting an attractive other person, getting them to go on a date with you isn’t a single step. You need to make an effort. The other person will know. You’ll know. And your effort and engagement in the process will make a difference. Being stand-offish or distancing yourself is a sure-fire path to failure. So the next time you want to get to know your customer (or even your prospect) a little better, get yourself in gear. A few ways you can do that include:

  1. Front-end planning, with a backup (know what you want to do with what you learn, before you start – and have a bailout plan in case new information calls for a change of plans).
  2. Flexible methodologies (even if your process seemed like the right one, if the customer isn’t interested in responding, you have to adapt – to paraphrase one of our trusted partners, just because you have a hammer, why are you assuming everything is a nail?).
  3. Triangulation (verify and validate by considering the questions, and the answers, from multiple perspectives – you’ll get a richer, deeper understanding).
  4. Rewarding interaction – (conditioner removes tangles when combined with careful combing; social conditioning such as revealing more about yourself, taking time to listen to the other person, and offering an appealing, appropriate incentive will help lubricate the conversation).

Untangling the threads,

Megann and Steve

The End is Near! Our Top-Five Stock-Taking Tips

The end of the year, that is. That Q4 rush is in full-swing, with each of us trying to push through just one more project before 2011 comes to a close. Customers want it all, and they want it now. At this time of year it can become such a rush just to finish things that it can be difficult to remember to take stock. But stepping back is the only way to be sure you’re ready to get off to a running start in the New Year.  So here are a few key suggestions to make sure you have your house in order for the arrival of 2012.

  1. Customer understanding – have you listened to your customers lately? We’re not asking if you’ve asked them questions, we’re sure you have. But that’s your agenda. By 2012, plan to open up as many channels as possible for them to tell you what they want.
  2. Clean house – lose any distractions or habits that are just that, habits, that aren’t adding value to your customer relationships.
  3. Getting there – what were your objectives at the beginning of 2011? If you haven’t met them, and won’t, you need to make a gate change – re-assess your destination, and be specific.
  4. Ask for help – reach out to business partners and colleagues who have steered you in the right direction in the past, and figure out how you’ll work together in the coming year.
  5. Express yourself – be sure you’re outlining your needs clearly and succinctly, so you’ll get what you need. If you can’t do this alone, find someone who can help.

Getting ready, because 2012 is coming fast,

Megann and Steve

But I’m sure that’s what you said…!?

Since our last blog, where we recommended beginning with the
end in mind (thank you, Mr. Covey), we’ve completed another project. In this
case, we were working on some new messages with one of our clients and their
agency. We all gathered together for two days of mock sales presentations, each
followed by an in-depth interview. As with every project, we were tasked with
delivering our recommendations as quickly as possible.

Each of the sessions, both the presentation and the
interview, was video-recorded. Ideally, we like to go back through each
recording and watch for visual cues we’ve missed, and to be sure of we’ve
heard. We’re often asked, is all that time really necessary? Here’s what we
found: there were several key areas where what everyone in the room thought
they had heard or seen, wasn’t exactly what had transpired. So how can you be
sure that what you learned from qualitative research was right?

Here are a few steps that can help:

  1. Have someone attend the research from your team who doesn’t work on that brand (they’re less likely to frame what they hear based on their pre-judgements, assumptions, or wishes for the product).
  2. If it’s a business-to-business project where the respondents are known to you, resist the urge to promote or discount remarks based on how you feel about the respondent.
  3. Make sure you record the sessions or, at a minimum, have a note-taker who is an objective third party.
  4. Take time to review recordings and/or transcripts, asking, “When I make a conclusion, can I back it up with a specific verbatim or visual example?”
  5. Then, and only then, finalize the conclusions and decide what they mean for the project.

Practicing active listening,

Megann and Steve