Collaboration, or the Fine Art of Making Your Own Luck

Collaboration Clover

Where should your product or service go next? What will the next iteration look like? Product managers wrestle with these questions all the time. Sometimes they talk to their colleagues or others within the organization. Perhaps they listen to feedback from channel partners. And if they’re customer-centric, they’re finding ways to listen, observe, and discuss the customer journey. Often these explorations occur separately from one another. It doesn’t have to be that way.

As soon as we disconnect a desired new feature set from real things like production limitations, distribution challenges, or plain old price, we’re only considering part of the story. Taking this approach can mean that you as a product manager are setting each of these groups of stakeholders in opposition, weighing the needs of one against another. Invariably this sets a big weight on your shoulders.

We contend that it’s a weight that doesn’t need to be there. Collaboration is the lucky four-leaf clover that can provide everyone with a solution they can live with – without watering down the final result in some sort of “management by committee” scenario. While this used to involve a lot of expensive, time consuming travel and research, modern collaboration tools and techniques mean it’s much easier to get all these people around the table. Having a chance to explain their rationale, answer the big “why” questions, and see their feedback having an impact during the planning process is much more effective that having to explain why they didn’t get what they want. Moreover, it could even result in an even better approach than any one group had thought of alone.

Imagine investing a little talk time up front to come up with a product that’s truly wanted, efficient to produce, and easier to deliver. If that sounds like the sort of lucky outcome you’ve been looking for, we have the tools that can help.

Collaboration makes it happen,

Megann and Steve

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An Invention is Not a Synonym of Innovation

Inventors are always coming up with ideas. One thing we’ve noticed in our work with entrepreneurs, is that they sometimes believe an invention is an innovation. But in our view, an innovation is a bit like the proverbial tree falling in the forest. If it doesn’t solve someone’s problem, it’s probably not really an innovation at all. Just an invention in search of a home.

Why does this matter? It matters because of the effort required to convince someone to buy it, or to use it. Convincing someone to buy a product or service they don’t want is push marketing. And push marketing is the hardest kind of marketing there is. It’s that telemarketer that calls you during dinner to convince you that you want to buy auto insurance, when you don’t even own a car. It’s trying to convince someone that they want something they haven’t even been looking for.

On the other hand, pull marketing is creating something that the buyer or user already wants. Something that solves a problem. Something that makes their life easier. Something that they’ve been wishing for, hoping for, or dreaming of. It’s an invention that answers the question, “If only I had a… [Enter Solution Here]”.

How can you know if your invention is really an innovation? Don’t ask your mom (she’ll either lavish you with unfounded praise, or tell you to ‘smarten up’.) Instead, validate with customers. Real ones. Not your friends. Do this before you build the thing. Target carefully, ask people who are your identified and intended audience, and see what they have to say. Accept their advice, and you’ll know whether you have an innovation on your hands, or just an invention.

This weekend we’ll be judging entrepreneurs’ pitches at Canada’s Business Model Competition – an event specifically built around separating inventions from innovations using Osterwalder & Pigneur’s Business Model Canvas. It’s a tool you can use, too. So before you call yourself an innovator, go out and validate, validate, validate – and make sure you’re not just an inventor. And if you need help asking hard questions, let us know. We can help.

Public judging of the finals takes place Saturday afternoon. Hope to see you there!

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

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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