Have You Driven a Ford…Lately?

When was the last time you told your customers what’s new
with you? Over the past few years, it’s been difficult. Companies (who are also
customers) and their customers have been tightening their belts, re-examining
their spending, and generally looking for ways to stretch a dollar. As a
result, salespeople and marketers have been experiencing a level of rejection
that is higher than it was prior to the recession. Sometimes the result is that
they forget to tell their good customers, what’s new. And they neglect to tell
past customers, what’s changed. This lack of a proactive approach, or the
assumption that their prospects or customers just know what they’re up to, can
result in a lot of missed opportunities, or worse, in clients who think the
brand just isn’t interested in staying in touch.

Who is new in your organization? Which products or services
are growing, evolving, or developing? What are you offering that you didn’t
have available a year ago? How are you adding value to your existing offerings?
Why would customers benefit from giving you another try? All of these questions
are worth asking, because they can open doors to new business and make your
prospects and customers take a second look. To see this tactic in action, take
a look at one of these classic Ford commercials from the mid-80’s. Then think about some of the great changes that have taken place in your company or with your brand in 2011 – and reach out and touch someone. (Oh wait, that’s another tagline!)

Stay connected,

Megann and Steve

Everything Seems Possible When You’re On Vacation

We recently returned from an all-too-brief vacation in Besançon, France. What an amazing city! In addition to a great deal of sightseeing (and over 1000 photos to prove it), we had plenty of time to re-charge our batteries. One thing we tend to do when we have time off, is come up with new ideas for our business – different ways to serve our clients, innovative products and services, or novel modes of work that will make us more productive and energized.

Then, like many of our clients, we return to the office to a heap of non-critical emails (and snail mail) that have piled up on our desks and devices. We spend some time wading through those, and re-acquainting ourselves with people and projects that have been awaiting our return. In less than a day, everything begins to feel normal again, and those great ideas from the holidays start to fade into the background. Unless we take charge!

One way we like to keep the energy going is to play the Innovation Game®, Remember the Future. We take one of our fantastic new ideas, and set a goal date. Then we walk backwards in time to today, building a roadmap for how we can achieve it. Capturing all this on paper makes it take shape, so that at the end of the exercise, we have an actual plan, with people, processes, and projects
identified.

We highly recommend vacation daydreaming – but it’s even better if you can bring back a souvenir.

Imagining our way forward,

Megann and Steve

Is the Search for Perfection Killing your Team’s Innovation Potential?

Innovation is a tricky business. You can’t pursue every idea that comes down the pipe. As a result, most teams that are charged with leading innovation in their organization try to narrow down their options. However they often do this by taking the idea back to the customer, sometimes multiple times. This looks like the right idea, doesn’t it? Keep going back to the customer until you get it right. Make it perfect and there won’t be any risk. What’s the downside to this approach? There are a number of issues, the greatest of which is the possibility that you will never launch. As long as the team is hoping to mitigate all possible risk, you will keep tweaking, challenging, and changing. Combine this with a moving target of customer wants and needs, and the odds of your team coming up with a perfect solution are slim. The second problem is that sometimes the team responsible for innovation leadership is not in synch with the team responsible for implementation of the great ideas. So ideas get discovered, discussed, and refined, only to be rolled out to an organization that is improperly configured, ill-equipped, or unprepared to make them happen. How can you keep this from happening in your team or organization? First, have a process to come up with new ideas that involves the people who will actually have to make it happen. One of the best methods we know is by using Innovation Games®. Get some customers involved in a non-threatening environment (no swarming allowed!) and figure out which problems can be solved, and which of these will have the greatest impact. Commit to leaving the room with a solution, not just to identifying the problems. Finally, make sure everyone leaves the table with a success roadmap in hand – something that involves real things like who, what, when, and why. All too often, great ideas blossom from brainstorming meetings, only to die on the vine because there’s insufficient structure to help them bear fruit. Finally, take a lesson from Agile-style development: recognize that inventions will never be perfect, but they can be better than what currently exists. There’s always demand for a “new and improved” version. Start shipping, and keep improving. Repeat. It won’t take too many successes before you’ll have created a true culture of innovation in your team or organization.

Keeping the ideas coming,

Megann and Steve

Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

On Friday, researchers in our network posted blogs, tweeted, and contributed to LinkedIn with a host of fantastic and fanciful ideas on how to change our business models, get new insights from customers and consumers, and interact with clients in a completely different way. Of course, being April Fool’s Day, many of these ideas were just that: fantasy. Apparently even researchers need to blow off a little steam once in a while.

The thing is, there was a kernel of truth to what happened on Friday. We do need to step outside our comfort zone and grant ourselves the liberty to try new things. At the heart of research is experimentation. It’s all too easy to use tried-and-true methods to get to the root of your problem, or to develop a new idea, or to explore uncharted territory. The difficulty is, if you do what you’ve always done, you may well get what we’ve always got. Escalating competition, price pressure generated by the economic climate, and a general aura of uncertainty has a tendency to make people retreat into the safety of “the box”. Better to sell certainty, you think, than to stick your neck out and go for a fresh approach.

Someone needs to put the brakes on the same-old, same-old train! So we’re suggesting you use all that creativity you employed (or at least enjoyed) last week to take a step in the right direction. Some rules of thumb we like to use:

  1. Identify the problems you need to solve, or the decisions you need to make.
  2. Formulate those as questions to be answered.
  3. Determine the absolute best people to respond (hint – sometimes it’s your customer, but sometimes it’s you)!
  4. Ask them to fill in the blanks in a way that is most comfortable for them, not you.
  5. Be open to something really new, exciting and different.

Getting off the train and onto the trail (of new ideas),

Megann and Steve

Start Q2 with a Clean Slate

We hear it time and again from clients, colleagues and friends: “Some of the things we do, we simply do because we’ve always done them.” It’s a bit like cleaning your plate, even though you know you don’t want or need everything that’s on it.

Are any of these in your budget? Undertaking custom tracking studies for customer groups that aren’t your top priority any longer? Participating in an industry directory where “we have to be there”, despite never having gained a tangible lead from doing so? Attending conferences that sound tantalizing but don’t offer real networking opportunities – just a super-expensive way to have coffee with people you’re already calling on every day?

The recovery is slowly, tentatively, gaining momentum. Opportunity is now. This is a perfect occasion to step back and re-evaluate. Before you kick off the second quarter, imagine you’re building your customer base from the ground up. Look at your targets and re-assess every marketing option. Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? So where’s the problem?

It’s you. Or it’s your colleagues. Or it’s your clients. Or it’s your friends. Each of these may have a stake in keeping you stuck. How can you break free? One great way to eliminate “thinking gridlock” is to enlist an objective third party. A trained facilitator can ask the questions that everyone’s afraid to ask. He can gently coax you to let go of your assumptions. Or she can help your colleagues to find more valuable ways to use their time (or your money).

Go ahead, clean the slate, not your plate. Make a fresh start and make Q2 the beginning of a new kind of success for you and your business.

Looking forward to a cleaner, leaner year,

Megann and Steve

Turn Resolutions to Actions: Simple Steps to Shape up Customer Relationships

Lots of people are working on their resolutions this time of year, trying to get back in shape after indulging in delicious treats, eating and drinking more than usual, and giving themselves a break from their wellness routine. The simplest advice is usually the best – eat less, move more. What’s so interesting about this? Sometimes companies’ customer listening skills, or responsiveness, have also become flabby over the holiday season. How can we apply the principle of “eat less, move more” to our customer interactions?

In December, there’s a lot of enthusiasm for planning for “next year”. Often there are a glut of marketing research projects undertaken, the best of these with an eye to engagement, development, service, or improvement. A few are simply a way of using up allocations in order to preserve the budget status quo. Either way, after a few weeks of holiday schedules or time off, the enthusiasm to implement may have waned, or momentum may simply have ratcheted down a notch. Suddenly you’ve taken in more “idea calories” than usual – but you haven’t been taking action.

How can you jump start all of that great learning you invested in last year? Here are a few ideas how to kick off the New Year and use what you’ve learned to improve your customer relationships:

  1. Compile it – list the most interesting, motivating, and useful things you learned from your customers (or about them) in 2010.
  2. Connect the dots – for each item, get your team together brainstorm specific steps you can take to make the most of that insight.
  3. Contact them – provide your customers with some feedback to let them know you heard them, and how you plan to take action.

Last of all, just because you gathered all those wonderful insights last year, doesn’t mean you should stop asking questions. A gap analysis will help you put together a wise, manageable research plan for 2011…one that will let you trim the fat, digest only the best insights, and get your customer relationship in even better shape than last year.

Getting you off and running for 2011,

Megann & Steve

It’s all about perspective

We had a few days off recently when family came to visit.  As self-employed professionals, this is a rare luxury.  It was interesting seeing our city interpreted by another set of eyes.  It reminded me of the HSBC bank advertising that we see all the time when traveling.  It’s not new but, for me, it still works.  It’s the visuals which contrast Good vs. Bad, Boring vs. Exciting, by using the same pictures to represent both.  Here’s an interview which talks a bit about that:  http://sparksheet.com/banking-on-airports-qa-with-hsbcs-global-advertising-head

We can get complacent when placed in the same environment day after day, to the point where our environment starts to define us.  Unless we have external influences interrupting our pattern of thought and behaviour, we things which used to shape us can come to confine us.

I think that’s why working with people who challenge us is so rewarding.  Challenge, within a respectful relationship, makes us consider the reasons why we think the way we do.  That’s what we try to do with our clients, and we hope that’s one of the many reasons they like us.

Over the last few days I learned to appreciate the breadth of the TTC, the diversity of Kensington Market, the terrific array of food in the St Lawrence Market, and the beauty of Edwards Gardens, right in the middle of a busy city.

Try to find someone who will, gently, push you off your pedestal. It’s worth it!

Steve and Megann