Customer Discovery – Getting it Right

We spent the afternoon yesterday mentoring and working with students in the Starting Lean Initiative’s “Summ’erUp Program”. They’re putting in eight weeks of intensive work to move their startups to the next level. The theme? Customer Discovery – AKA the Great Barbecue Challenge.

Starting Lean BBQ Day

The objective was to work with the teams and help them find ways of doing customer discovery that were as innovative as the products and services they’re developing. We used some fun barbecue-themed prizes to help keep the conversation going, and we even made a couple of interesting discoveries ourselves:

1. The greatest pain experienced by the students raised in North American with respect to “barbecue” was running out of gas in the propane tank.
2. Students from India had a whole different frame of reference for barbecue – they shared that for them, true barbecue starts with a wood fire, cooked down to coals. (And we agree there is something to be said for not taking shortcuts when it comes to cooking!)

Most importantly, the teams shared what they had learned with one another. The collaborative nature of these bright young people is something we could all emulate. Here are some ideas for getting customer discover right in your business:

1. Make sure you’re trying to get answers from the right person.
2. Using your network to get you an introduction to the right person (or someone who knows the right person) can be like an endorsement to get you in the door.
3. …But don’t be afraid to ask everyone if they’ve experienced the pain you’re trying to solve – you might even find the right respondent in the dog park!
4. Ask the right question – remember the focus should be on the customer’s pain or problem, not your product.
5. Right timing will ensure the person is ready to listen, and to speak freely with you.
6. The right technique can help break down barriers and defenses – and ensure you’re asking, not selling.
7. Storytelling, metaphors, diagrams, and other methods (like Innovation Games(r)!) can help you get to the right answers and a richer understanding.

We love helping our clients understand their customers and build meaningful conversations. We’re excited to see that these young innovators are committed to that as well.

Always asking questions,

Megann and Steve

What would Mom Say?

We’re curious questioners. We like to help our clients solve tricky problems, and figure out new and interesting approaches. But this week, we’re turning our attention to Mothers. Although we have experienced advice such as, “If you break your legs, don’t come running to me”, here are three of our favourite quotes from our Moms that you might find useful in your work:

1. Nobody said that life was fair. It’s easy, when faced with a challenge, to simply decide “it’s not fair!” What is more difficult is to do something about it. So when your entrepreneurial idea meets with a lukewarm response, instead of telling yourself that life isn’t fair, or that your customer just doesn’t “get it”, figure out what they do need, and pivot!

2. Perfect housekeepers lead dull lives. Do you want your new concept or prototype to be absolutely perfect before showing it to the world? Be careful you don’t spend so much time refining and polishing your idea that time and opportunity pass you by. By all means, make sure the most glaring rough edges are made smooth – but then show it around and enlist others to help you develop it.

3. One cuts, the other chooses. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Whether that entails having a deep-listening session with an individual, reading and researching what makes them tick, or creating an Empathy Map, thinking about consequences for yourself and others will help you make better, less ego-centric decisions.

If you’re a Mom, a Mum, a Mother, or a Mompreneur, we salute you.

Happy Mother’s Day,

Megann and Steve

 

A Fresh Perspective can Renew your Approach

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We were talking with our friends from Dalhousie’s Norman Newman Centre about the Starting Lean Initiative, and what their plans were for the coming year. They’d heard us talking about the fresh perspectives our clients get from using Innovation Games (R) to plot strategy, prioritize, and tackle tough questions. So they asked us if we’d join them on a strategic retreat. “Sure!” we said – and we were off to the races. Here they are playing Product Box, as a first step to fine-tuning their new summer initiative. Stay tuned, there should be news about that very soon.

In the meantime, the moral of the story is this: sometimes using the approach that has always worked for you, will net you the same results. Stepping out of your usual physical environment, using new ways to seek answers to your questions, or simply challenging yourself to be sure you haven’t stopped at the easy answer when there may be a better one, are all great ways to use a fresh perspective to your benefit. Ask yourself whether a different vantage point can help you see a new and more exciting future.

Always looking in a new direction,

Megann and Steve

Stop Pushing your Customer Around!

Push marketing is such hard work. The problem is, many entrepreneurs start off as inventors. They want to create something, and they’re convinced that if they create the right something, the world will beat a path to their door. But more often than not, when we work with our clients to try out inventions that have been developed in a workshop or a lab, with little customer consultation, customers just aren’t interested.

“Explain it to them!” say the inventors. But in the wise words of a former colleague, sometimes, “Someone’s gotta tell them the baby’s ugly.” We’re very much in favour of inventors getting up close and personal with prospective customers from the very start of the process. Leading entrepreneurship thinkers like Steve Blank have shown repeatedly that this is the most reliable way to come up with a product or solution that is both needed, and wanted. So what’s our role? Shouldn’t the inventors just “get out of the building” (Blank’s words) and talk to these prospective customers?

The truth is, this works very well for some entrepreneurs or inventors. It’s the most direct, useful method for individuals or teams who are open to hearing both positive and negative feedback about their ideas. In our experience, there are two places where the process usually breaks down. The first is that the inventors need someone to help them hear the bad news because it is such a game-changer that it seems their idea won’t work at all. This is a tough yet defining moment. They can give up, or they can find another idea that is more creative or interesting. At this point, having a facilitator, thought-leader, or ideation mentor can help them come up with options that avoid the pitfalls of the original invention. The second break-point is that they receive the message about what part of their idea doesn’t work, but just can’t seem to figure out how to get there. In that case, taking a new approach from traditional brainstorming, such as using an Innovation Game to answer their question, can help them get back on track and re-energize their commitment to their invention. Because really, who doesn’t like to throw a little fun in with their work?

So stop pushing your customer around, and look for ways to give them what they want. It might not be easy, but it is most definitely easier than making them take something they never really wanted in the first place.

Creatively yours,

Megann and Steve

What is real Marketing Research today? One example…

According to a long-winded definition from www.businessdictionary.com, Marketing Research is…

“Scientific discovery methods applied to marketing decision making. It generally comprises of:

(1) Market research: identification of a specific market and measurement of its size and other characteristics.

(2) Product research: identification of a need or want and the characteristic of the good or service that will satisfy it.

(3) Consumer research: identification of the preferences, motivations, and buying behavior of the targeted customer. Information for marketing research is collected from direct observation of the consumers (such as in retail stores), mail surveys, telephone or face-to-face interviews, and from published sources (such as demographic data).

The main objective is to find a real need and fulfill it in a most cost effective and timely manner.

Also called market research.”

So it’s scientific…what does that mean?

And the main objective is to find a real need and fulfill it…OK.

In the last few weeks we’ve had the privilege of watching the real impact of Marketing Research in its purest form…getting off your duff and talking to people.

Through the Starting Lean course offered by the Norman Newman Centre, part of the Faculty of Management at Dalhousie University, the Canadian Business Model Competition sponsored by Deloitte, and events such as Startup Weekend Halifax and East Coast Startup Week, we’ve seen quite a few established and budding entrepreneurs talk about the value of engaging potential customers, investors, industry leaders and ordinary people in the process of vetting their ideas.

The exciting part is listening to them talk about their failures…especially those that did not stop them, but caused them to react, reconsider and pivot from their original idea to solve a pain point they discovered during the listening process.

Too often we’ve encountered successful companies who, in the face of customer objections, just continue to push on up the hill, only to find when they arrive…it’s the wrong hill.

So what’s missing from the definition above…nothing really, except we forget that part of scientific discovery is that we often find our hypothesis is wrong, so we need to reset our assumptions and repeat the process until we have a verifiable hypothesis.

Oh yes, and we should try and fulfill real needs.  It’s a lot easier than pushing the rope uphill!

Here’s to all those involved in the discovery process…engage, listen and learn!

Where will all tomorrow leaders come from?

To read the popular press, you’d think the future of our young people is pretty bleak…layoffs, part-time jobs, off-shore competition.  Horrible!

But there’s another aspect that doesn’t make the front pages:

Last night I had the privilege of attending the final presentations for a course at the Dalhousie University Faculty of Management called Starting Lean.  Peter Moreira of Entravestor.com has described it better than I can, so please read his article.

Mary Kilfoil and Ed Leach took a group of diverse students, including engineers, programmers, business students, arts students, PhDs…and in less than 3 months had them go through the entire process from idea to, in some case, commercialization, along the way doing real-world evaluation with true potential customers and stakeholders (ahem…market research was instrumental).

Not everyone ended up traveling the road on which they started, there were a number of significant pivots along the way, revamping, re-tooling, and generally navigating the messy process many entrepreneurs go through along the way.  But that all part of the learning, a big part of the learning!

In addition to some amazing product/service/ventures, these real-world entrepreneurs blossomed right before their colleagues’ eyes.  Students who were petrified to stand in front of 2 people on September 6th, presented in front of an almost packed auditorium in the Faculty’s Rowe Building.  And they presented professional pitches, complete with live displays, skateboarders and amazing video.

All I can say is, if these are the people who are going to be funding my public healthcare system in the years to come through their tax dollars…I’m going to do everything I can to keep them here and have them develop their dreams in Nova Scotia.  Even if this particular dream doesn’t make it through the brutal process that is real life business development, their next one, or the one after that will be a success.

There’s no quitting when you’ve been schooled by Doctors Kilfoil and Leach!

Start it now!

Do you have a project you’ve been hoping to implement – a new initiative or some sort of change in process or procedure, but you just can’t seem to get it going in the summertime? It’s easy to let things slide in the summer, when offices frequently take on a slower pace. You deserve a rest, right? Besides, half the people you need to get that project off the ground are away on holiday! So why not just let it go until after Labour Day?

Here’s why: when those team members return after the holiday, they’ll have loads of catching up to do. They may not be interested in taking on something new. Despite the perception that a “back-to-school” mentality exists in September, the reality is that many of your co-workers may feel like they need a vacation to recover from their vacation backlog.

In fact here are three reasons why it may be better to simply start that project now:

  1. It will give other colleagues a chance to stretch themselves by taking on unfamiliar tasks.
  2. Fresh eyes often result in more creative solutions, rather than status quo.
  3. Those who step up in summer may be more committed to the project than those who do it just because it’s another obligation.

We have a host of new initiatives on the go right now, and it’s invigorating! By September we hope to be reaping the fruits of our labours.

Rolling up our sleeves,

Megann and Steve