The Luck of the…Innovator?


Happy St. Patrick’s Day! The luck o’ the Irish is the theme of the day around Halifax, but Innovators are also frequently associated with luck.

“Oh, weren’t they lucky to come up with that idea?”

“I wish I was creative enough to figure out new ways of doing things. People who can do that are so lucky!”

“We’ve asked the customers a thousand times how we should solve their problem, but no such luck. They haven’t come up with anything.”

The truth is, innovation has more to do with exploration, openness, readiness, and preparation than it does with luck. Expecting solutions to be linear, direct, and rapid is a bit like expecting long-term relationships to be instantaneous. Instead, if we enter every customer conversation with an openness that what we learn will be useful someday, we create a positive environment for innovation, creation, and invention. If we believe that innovations, inventions, or ideas are built on thinking, working, exploring and applying our talents, then we’ll be inspired to keep trying – instead of being envious and chalking someone else’s  good fortune up to luck.

Today, whether you’re celebrating St. Patrick’s Day or not, set yourself up for the Luck of the Innovator with these ideas:

1. Every customer conversation has value – remember that you may not see the value today; it may need time to mature and percolate.

2. Processes that don’t work are like a fun puzzle for solutions-minded people – so give them some space to spread out the pieces and start solving.

3. Practice recognizing challenges as opportunities and finding ways to say “yes”. The next time you want to say “no” because something looks too difficult, see if you can figure out what would make it possible to say “yes”, instead.

Have a great day, and may the luck o’ the innovator be with you.

Megann and Steve

They Can’t Hear You…Or Can They? Time to Stop Smack-Talking Your Customers

And so, the relationship theme continues – with more thoughts on respect. Having conducted focus groups with thousands of respondents, it still never ceases to amaze me when a team decides to spend their time on mockery on the other side of the glass, instead of active listening and solutions development. That doesn’t sound at all like a customer relationship. No wonder they’re getting transactional behaviour from their buyers.

As a moderator and facilitator, when I pop into the back room for feedback or additional questions, only to hear product or brand managers talking about how Susan is fat, or Joe is stupid, or Frida has a funny accent, or “Whatsa matter with them, that they just don’t get the benefits of our new feature?”, it tells me something about the team’s listening skills. And their empathy. And how they fall more on the push-marketing than pull-marketing side of the continuum. Remember, that customer is the person who pays your salary, and if you want to bind them to you more tightly, you might want to show them a little more respect. In fact, consider what it would be like if you were all on the same side of the glass – gathered around a table, working together to come up with the best possible solution to their problems.

While the traditional behind-the-glass focus group has value, getting teams face-to-face with their customers has proven to be superior in many of our client engagements. First, it can really reduce this sort of backstabbing, feedback-discounting activity. Isn’t it funny how it is so much easier to gossip or insult buyers behind their backs, than when you’re sitting around a table together? Or to take news that you don’t want to hear and explain it away by insulting the messenger? That’s why we like to use Innovation Games TM as a tool to not only make richer customer discoveries, but to help our clients show their customers and stakeholders some respect. Taking customer engagement to the point where consumers and users are truly co-creators of your brand will elevate your relationship to a whole new positive level. And maybe when you get in their shoes a little, it will be just a tiny bit harder to act like a transaction-marketer who will never see them again. Because isn’t seeing them again what it’s all about?

Keeping customer conversations going,

Megann and Steve

R-E-S-P-E-C-T Find out what it means to me (your customer)

One of the underlying features of great relationships is respect.  True respect is when it is both given and received, mutual respect.

In commercial relationships we often measure the level of respect our customers provide to us through metrics such as repeat purchases, or survey-based systems such as Net Promoter Score.  But how often do we examine the level of respect we show to our customers?

It’s easy to show examples of our disrespect for our customers.  In Customer Understanding it’s evident in behaviours such as surveys which contain rating and ranking exercises that fill multiple pages, ask questions about our spending habits at 14 different stores, in 10 categories, over the past 12 months.  Who keeps that in their heads?  then we reward them with 25 points in the airline “loyalty” program of our choice. Or we herd them into focus group facilities, at a time convenient to us, where Category Managers deride them from behind a mirror while simultaneously checking their email.

Fortunately not everyone works this way, but these are behaviours which are still too common.

So, how do we do it better? R-E-S-P=E-C-T

R – Remember that your customers pay your salary.  This is very important!

E – Engage your customers in interesting ways.  Make it convenient for them to talk to you using the appropriate tools and techniques.

S – Spend more time with your customers.  Go where they go, see what they see, hear what they hear.

P – Protect their personal information at all costs. Ask for explicit permission and keep asking.

E – Educate everyone in your organization to balance their selling with their listening so you are hearing more about your customers’ needs on an everyday basis.

C- Communicate in both directions.  Don’t be afraid of what you might hear.

T – Thank them often for the respect they show you by continuing to do business with you.  Find little ways to reward your most respectful customers, especially the ones who take the time to tell you how you could do better.

Respectfully yours,

Steve and Megann

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

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

You’ve Figured Out Your Great Idea? Now Tell Your Story!

Our January theme has been focused on fresh starts, new ideas, and innovation. Some of you have been working on new businesses, new offerings, or just a general re-tooling of what you do, with new circumstances in mind. Those might include:

1. Changes to your customer demographic (either someone new is buying, or your buyer is buying something new).

2. What you’ve learned (a new discovery has made it possible to do something you couldn’t before).

3. A dramatic life shift has given you a push (you’ve finally started that business or business unit you’ve been dreaming of…)

No matter which of these circumstances has occurred, every time you make a shift in your business, you need to rewrite your story. That starts with re-identifying your target audience. Then you need to learn how to tell the story of what you do in words that they understand, that will resonate with them, and that will motivate them to hear more. Even if your customers have known you for a very long time (or perhaps especially if that is the case), whenever something is new, your story should be, too.

Keeping it fresh,

Megann and Steve

(Think we’re just about big business? Not so! Ask us about options to accelerate your business today).

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