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

How to Use Forward Momentum to Look Backward

Another school year is kicking off again, and that brings new challenges for parents, students, and educators, as their schedules change and their responsibilities evolve. The other thing we notice in our business is that this whole flurry of energy that is devoted to getting ready for “back to school” seems to carry over into the working world, even with clients who don’t fall into one of the categories above. Even if they aren’t parents, or students, or don’t have children getting ready for a new term, there’s a contagious sort of enthusiasm or positivity that wells up at this time of year.

Here in Panoptika’s world, this translates to projects like new product (or service) pipeline development, message creation, or team ideation sessions. More of the people we work with want to do things that are creating something new, developing alternatives, or searching for that elusive “next best thing”. Most of them aren’t thinking so much about measuring what’s working, what did work, or where they came from, during this season. As a consequence, our work is invigorating and exciting right now. It’s easy to propel ourselves forward into our workdays. That’s because it’s F-U-N.

Still, we think it’s important to have balance. A little introspection about what worked, or didn’t work, can be useful. Sometimes a simple satisfaction survey—is this working, or not, can give you a snapshot into what’s happening with your team, your clients, or your customers. But more often, they appreciate a more interactive engagement. That same premise of making it fun that we bring to Ideation and Creativity sessions, can elicit customer or colleague feedback that is chock-full of rich, relevant content. 

So don’t just think about putting your Idea-Generating hats on at this time of year, but ask yourself whether there are more ingenious or imaginative ways to register those still-important Checks and Balances.  Some possibilities you might consider (as always, a facilitator can help smooth the way):

  1. Bring your sales team together and ask them to show you how they are actually using the sales tools you’ve provided, by playing a game like Enthiosys’Show and Tell.
  2. Ask your customers to engage in collage-creation or role-playing to demonstrate how they interact with your company. Hyperbole should be encouraged—it gives them a chance to say what they’re really thinking, in the context of exaggeration.
  3. Let your clients create a “what I did to interact with you on my summer vacation” story to give feedback on your organization’s performance.

Looking ahead without pre-adventuring,

Megann & Steve