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

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

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

My Company Wants to Control Customer Research from Global…What Now?

Increasingly often, we hear this complaint from our clients. Suddenly they are being kicked out of the loop when it comes to research projects. Global sources the projects and then fields them in local markets – sometimes without even telling or involving the affiliates. These projects can go through many layers of handling and management before a moderator and respondent(s) sit down in the same room. In a worst case scenario, this can look like a game of broken telephone, with muddied objectives and watered-down results. Yet some of our best clients seem to have learned a few tricks for still getting an optimal result. Here’s what they have shared with us:

  1. The researcher or product team at the local affiliate has built a strong relationship with their counterpart(s) at Global.
  2. They have specifically requested that if moderation is to be outsourced, one of their preferred local suppliers should be considered.
  3. Local researchers take time to get involved with the briefings themselves, so they can contribute home field tips that will make the project go more smoothly.
  4. Global requires that suppliers at the top of the research chain facilitate a dialogue between the local moderator or field service and the home town affiliate.
  5. Field Managers or Project Directors ensure that everyone can reach the right person to answer a question or deal with an issue in the fewest number of steps.

We’ve seen some tremendous results when our clients have taken these steps. First, the local researcher has a chance to shine in front of more senior head office personnel. Secondly, there is often an opportunity to adapt questionnaires and discussion guides to eliminate questions that have been answered, or add probes about specific local issues. Some of our customers have also been able to pay for a local “advance copy” of their report, rather than waiting for multi-country results to be analyzed – allowing for faster decision-making – while keeping the field costs as Global’s line item.

These approaches can allow a result that is “glocal” at its finest – perhaps one of them will work for you! We’re happy to discuss how you can make the most of your research budgets.

Always optimizing,

Megann and Steve

I’ll Have Another Running a Different Race?

This week’s race at Belmont was a disappointment for a host of people on the I’ll Have Another team – including owner Paul Reddam, trainer Doug O’Neill, and jockey Mario Gutierrez. But there’s a solid business strategy lesson to be had in the retirement of the winner of two jewels in the Triple Crown – the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.

Sure, it’s possible Reddam’s team could have raced I’ll Have Another on Saturday. They might even have won. It’s easy to say on paper, that you should sacrifice the opportunity for a huge tactical win, in favour of your company’s long-term strategy. But in the modern economy, where the long-term planning horizon grows increasingly shorter, this can be incredibly difficult to achieve. Will you as a manager forfeit a huge, immediate payoff in favour of a long-term goal that may not be achieved until you’re no longer even with the company? Suddenly it doesn’t seem so simple.

The folks backing I’ll Have Another got it right. They decided it wasn’t worth causing undue pain and suffering to the horse. But there’s more. Clearly they thought about the opportunity cost as well. Had they risked running the race, they might not only have lost, but may have injured I’ll Have Another sufficiently to ruin his career as a valuable stud. So maybe I’ll Have Another was just running a different race.

Next time you’re tempted to over-reach your risk tolerance in favour of a potential short-term gain, make sure you’re not just betting on the right horse, but on the right race.

Improving the odds on your business,

Megann & Steve

To Drive Customer Understanding in your Company, Get Yourself in Gear

Tools to understand your customer better are proliferating exponentially. Along with time-tested methods such as telephone and internet surveys, or face-to-face groups, software and social media have made it possible to listen in on conversations in a variety of ways. But simply asking and listening isn’t enough.

Last time, we talked about the importance of making research interesting, engaging, and dare we say, entertaining for the buyers or users of your product. We’ve also discussed how no amount of data is a substitute for understanding and interpretation. Another important aspect of getting to know your customer on a personal, relationship level is to engage yourself in the process. That means not simply firing off surveys and waiting for the results. Nor does it involve just asking a consultant to scan what the world is saying about your brand, using text analytics, geocoding, or a host of other tools to come back with a result.

Getting involved with your customer means more work for you. It’s as easy as that. Just like meeting an attractive other person, getting them to go on a date with you isn’t a single step. You need to make an effort. The other person will know. You’ll know. And your effort and engagement in the process will make a difference. Being stand-offish or distancing yourself is a sure-fire path to failure. So the next time you want to get to know your customer (or even your prospect) a little better, get yourself in gear. A few ways you can do that include:

  1. Front-end planning, with a backup (know what you want to do with what you learn, before you start – and have a bailout plan in case new information calls for a change of plans).
  2. Flexible methodologies (even if your process seemed like the right one, if the customer isn’t interested in responding, you have to adapt – to paraphrase one of our trusted partners, just because you have a hammer, why are you assuming everything is a nail?).
  3. Triangulation (verify and validate by considering the questions, and the answers, from multiple perspectives – you’ll get a richer, deeper understanding).
  4. Rewarding interaction – (conditioner removes tangles when combined with careful combing; social conditioning such as revealing more about yourself, taking time to listen to the other person, and offering an appealing, appropriate incentive will help lubricate the conversation).

Untangling the threads,

Megann and Steve

The End is Near! Our Top-Five Stock-Taking Tips

The end of the year, that is. That Q4 rush is in full-swing, with each of us trying to push through just one more project before 2011 comes to a close. Customers want it all, and they want it now. At this time of year it can become such a rush just to finish things that it can be difficult to remember to take stock. But stepping back is the only way to be sure you’re ready to get off to a running start in the New Year.  So here are a few key suggestions to make sure you have your house in order for the arrival of 2012.

  1. Customer understanding – have you listened to your customers lately? We’re not asking if you’ve asked them questions, we’re sure you have. But that’s your agenda. By 2012, plan to open up as many channels as possible for them to tell you what they want.
  2. Clean house – lose any distractions or habits that are just that, habits, that aren’t adding value to your customer relationships.
  3. Getting there – what were your objectives at the beginning of 2011? If you haven’t met them, and won’t, you need to make a gate change – re-assess your destination, and be specific.
  4. Ask for help – reach out to business partners and colleagues who have steered you in the right direction in the past, and figure out how you’ll work together in the coming year.
  5. Express yourself – be sure you’re outlining your needs clearly and succinctly, so you’ll get what you need. If you can’t do this alone, find someone who can help.

Getting ready, because 2012 is coming fast,

Megann and Steve