To Listen Well, Use all Five Senses

Great listening is a key facet of strong customer relationships. One technique we use with our clients to get them really engaging in hearing their customers, is to use all five senses. “How can you do that?”, you might ask – “Isn’t hearing just about, well, hearing?”

The truth is, empathetic, intuitive listeners use a whole series of cues when they listen. Think about a customer conversation you’ve had today. It doesn’t matter if you were in person, or on the phone, or even reading and responding to a series of emails. What were you seeing while you were engaging with your customer? Were you looking out the window of their office instead of at their face? Or were you actively watching as they demonstrated the part of your product that wasn’t working? What could you smell? Perhaps someone was microwaving something delicious-smelling in the cafeteria and it was a distraction. Or perhaps you had an opportunity to learn something about your client when they explained how the scent of the cold air was one of the most delicious things on their ski holiday. The taste of your food during a lunch meeting, the crunch of snow underfoot as you and your client walked to the restaurant…senses and sensations can make a real difference in how we “hear” the cues that will cement the customer connection.

So the next time you’re looking to make a customer relationship stronger, see if you can engage all five senses in the conversation – and make sure you’re using your power for good (to learn) not for evil (as a distraction).

Taking 5,

Megann and Steve

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It’s Groundhog Day – Don’t See Your Networking Shadow!

Groundhog Day is the day on which a small rodent is reputed to forecast the end of winter – be it sooner, or later. Whether it’s Shubenacadie Sam, Punxsutawney Phil, or Wiarton Willie in your neck of the woods, the story is that if the groundhog sees his shadow on this day, he goes back in his den to hibernate some more – for six more weeks of winter, to be precise. If you’re a business-owner, a salesperson, or really, anything other than a groundhog, foul weather is no reason to hide out from your contacts. In fact, it’s a tremendous opportunity to build relationships. This month our theme is relationship-building and networking – critical activities no matter what your business, and certainly important if you want to deepen your customer discovery and customer understanding.

So get out there! Snowbound? Pick up the phone. Send an email. Keep a supply of cards to send out – snail mail is becoming so rare that it has real stopping power with some clients. Here are some steps to help you make the most of these activities:

  1. Networking at an event? Research the event and some of the people you’d like to meet there before you go.
  2. Calling? Remember something about your last meeting and ask about it when you reach your contact – they’ll appreciate that you were thinking about them.
  3. Emailing? Craft your subject line carefully for impact. (And if you’re on the receiving end, ask yourself whether “Reply All” is really necessary).
  4. Sending a card or a note? Enclose something thoughtful and useful – like an article your contact might appreciate, or better yet, an invitation to a networking event so they can build their business, too.
  5. Take 5 – Make a list of five of your contacts that you haven’t given enough time to lately – and make today the day to reach out.

Reaching out for six more weeks – and beyond,

Megann and Steve

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

Megann and Steve Willson Medium

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

Do your Customers Know the Whole You?

Last night we were fortunate to spend the evening with several hundred close friends, colleagues, and contacts at the Halifax Chamber of Commerce‘s Spring Dinner. Peter Mansbridge was the keynote speaker, and he told a host of interesting, amusing and intriguing stories. But two of them, at least, had a common element. In one, he was mistaken for another famous somebody – the President of Poland. In another, an individual who took Mansbridge’s seat on an aircraft was bestowed a perk because the staff thought he was the well-known news anchor and chief correspondent.

In each case, the person making the mistake did so because he or she only had part of the story. If they had known more about who Mansbridge was, as well as what he looked like, these mix-ups would likely never have happened. So what might your contacts be mixing up about you or your company, because they only have part of your story?

The moral here is to let them get to know you. Reveal the layers. Show who you really are. And take time to be sure they have connected the dots correctly. Do that, and hopefully you won’t be mistaken for the President of Poland (unless, of course, that’s who you really are).

Peeling back the layers,

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

Get Out of the Building!

We had a chance to see Steve Blank in conversation with a couple of hundred entrepreneurs and their ilk on Friday, at Canada’s Business Model Competition. To be precise, he was chatting by video conference on a giant screen with Drs. Mary Kilfoil and Daniel Boyd, at Halifax’s Rowe School of Business.

It was a wide-ranging chat about all things entrepreneurial, but one of the key messages was the importance of getting out of the building – to talk to customers, of course, but also to just get a fresh perspective, and to look around.

As we’ve done this, we’ve discovered that in our corner of the world, at least, entrepreneurship is the new normal. Maybe it’s because we’re attuned to it, but businesses and business ideas are springing up everywhere. Within an easy walk of our home office we have conference organizers, forestry consultants, big data analytics experts, shopkeepers, software developers, and more. So while the prevailing wind of conversation says our province is on a downward trajectory and may soon implode, we’re sensing otherwise. Times are changing, most certainly, but outside of our building, they’re changing for the better.

So as our moms used to say, “you kids, get outside!” You’ll be amazed at what you’ll discover.

Megann and Steve