Check your pockets for luck!

City ShopperHave you ever pulled a coat or purse you haven’t used for awhile from the closet, only to discover money inside? Even when it’s a small amount, you feel richer. Lucky, even. You can do the same thing with your business.  Whether it’s going back through your idea file (you do have one, don’t you?) or getting together with colleagues to review some back-burner projects, or even meeting with clients to review what’s changed in their agenda or strategy recently, there’s an undiscovered opportunity awaits. We have all sorts of facilitation techniques we use to make these tasks easier and more fun, like the Innovation Game® Me and My Shadow. If you’re not making interesting, useful discoveries to move your business forward, search through some of those “coat pockets” you haven’t looked in for awhile. We’re sure there’s some luck waiting in there somewhere.

Try these steps today to find it:

1. Call a client you haven’t seen recently, and set up some time to observe them while they’re using your product or service.

2. Think back to January and the projects you were going to start but haven’t, then pick one, and get going!

3. Pull out a file on an old sale or project – and see if you can figure out a better way to approach it, knowing what you learned in the process.

Happy discoveries,

Megann and Steve

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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

Love might be Blind, but Optimism doesn’t Have to Be

January. It’s a time of fresh starts, start-ups, innovation and invention. Part of this is driven by the fact that the starters, inventors, and even entrepreneurs (notorious over-workers that they are) have had a little reflection time over the holiday season. Taking a step back because business is slow or customers are hard-to-reach can bring clarity and new ideas. IMG_0002Creative juices are flowing and optimism starts to take hold. But optimism doesn’t have to be blind “Pollyanna-ism”. Instead, it might be simply a better tolerance for risk, based on an awareness of ways that risks might be mitigated.

How can you get a better handle on how to handle risk with your customers, or your invention, or your new project? One, you can chart the risks and assess the potential impact if each one came to fruition. (You might want to also look at the anchors that can hold you back from success, using an adapted version of an Innovation Game (R) like Speed Boat). After figuring out which potential problems are either (a) “hairiest” or (b), most worth addressing, build a systematic plan of what you can do to alleviate or manage those issues. So don’t give up on optimism – just make sure it isn’t blindfolded!

Steps to take to un-blind your optimism for 2015:

1. Take stock of the possible risks around your new idea.

2. Evaluate which ones can, and should, be handled.

3. Put together a risk-management plan.

4. Go forth with all the informed optimism you can muster.

Best wishes for an optimistic 2015!

Eyes wide open,

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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Stop Pushing your Customer Around!

Push marketing is such hard work. The problem is, many entrepreneurs start off as inventors. They want to create something, and they’re convinced that if they create the right something, the world will beat a path to their door. But more often than not, when we work with our clients to try out inventions that have been developed in a workshop or a lab, with little customer consultation, customers just aren’t interested.

“Explain it to them!” say the inventors. But in the wise words of a former colleague, sometimes, “Someone’s gotta tell them the baby’s ugly.” We’re very much in favour of inventors getting up close and personal with prospective customers from the very start of the process. Leading entrepreneurship thinkers like Steve Blank have shown repeatedly that this is the most reliable way to come up with a product or solution that is both needed, and wanted. So what’s our role? Shouldn’t the inventors just “get out of the building” (Blank’s words) and talk to these prospective customers?

The truth is, this works very well for some entrepreneurs or inventors. It’s the most direct, useful method for individuals or teams who are open to hearing both positive and negative feedback about their ideas. In our experience, there are two places where the process usually breaks down. The first is that the inventors need someone to help them hear the bad news because it is such a game-changer that it seems their idea won’t work at all. This is a tough yet defining moment. They can give up, or they can find another idea that is more creative or interesting. At this point, having a facilitator, thought-leader, or ideation mentor can help them come up with options that avoid the pitfalls of the original invention. The second break-point is that they receive the message about what part of their idea doesn’t work, but just can’t seem to figure out how to get there. In that case, taking a new approach from traditional brainstorming, such as using an Innovation Game to answer their question, can help them get back on track and re-energize their commitment to their invention. Because really, who doesn’t like to throw a little fun in with their work?

So stop pushing your customer around, and look for ways to give them what they want. It might not be easy, but it is most definitely easier than making them take something they never really wanted in the first place.

Creatively yours,

Megann and Steve

Make a Fresh Start!

It’s back-to-school time, but even if you’re not in school, it’s a fantastic time to make a fresh start. Projects that you’ve meant to get going on, strategies that need a tune-up, or even just rearranging your office or your schedule to make them more efficient – now’s the time. Start something, anything, and we guarantee you’ll feel more productive!

Looking forward to new projects, places and faces,

Megann and Steve

Are You A Believer?

As qualitative researchers, we’re in the business of making observations. We don’t just observe the research subjects or respondents, though. We also like to observe the observers. In business-to-business research, we’ve noticed a peculiar problem that can creep into the process. Because of B2B’s nature, clients often know their customers directly. So it can be very difficult for them to not personalize the responses they hear during a focus group or customer advisory meeting. The more affinity they feel with the customer, “Bob”, the more likely they’ll accept what he is saying as gospel, even if what Bob says doesn’t reflect what the majority of the group is feeding back. Being a believer can mean you close your eyes to other truths that are being presented to you.

This can happen in consumer projects, too, of course. We see it when “Susan” is a particularly good communicator. And it doesn’t hurt if Susan’s view of the question at hand aligns with the view of the client (or their Agency partners).

Knowing this, it’s worthwhile taking a step back from the responses and opinions shared during this process. First, a trained moderator or facilitator can inject some sober second thought into the findings while developing recommendations. Secondly, as a client, if you find yourself saying, “but Bob said” or “we heard Susan tell us”, consciously take a step back. Think hard about whether any other respondents offered a conflicting opinion. Then consider what the implications are, of those differences.

We’re all for believing what customers are saying – as long as you’re sure you’re hearing all of the messages those customers are sending.

Believing in better research results,

Megann and Steve