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

A Gentleman Made us Think: RIP Jean Béliveau

Full disclosure: the she-partner is not a hockey fan of any kind. In fact, other than knowing the hockey score on her wedding day, and that there is a long-held hockey team rivalry between the he-partner and our number one son, she gives the same level of attention to hockey as that girl in the Tragically Hip song. But today a Canadian icon passed away and it occurs to us that it’s worth giving a nod to Jean Béliveau. Not because he was a hockey player, but because reputation has it that he was a gentleman. It seems in our modern times that showing a soft side to others may be seen as a sign of weakness. Or of not having the “stuff” of business. But when you’re thinking about your customers and trying to figure out what they want, where they’re going, what their pain is all about, or how to solve it for them, a little empathy goes a long way. So in addition to just being polite and kind as Béliveau was reputed to have been, put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Not sure how? Let us know. We can help.

Listening for your “why”,

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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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