We generally work with clients who are dealing with change. They need help opening a new market space, re-positioning their brand or adjusting their culture to adapt to changing times. To get the ball rolling, I often take them out exploring. They just cannot seem to see what is happening around them with the clarity they need; it is equally hard for them to see how they need to adjust their business fast to satisfy unmet needs in their markets.
As an anthropologist, I know that it is extremely hard for people to tell you what they are really doing, their pain points, their unmet needs, and how they and their staff are doing “go-arounds.” There is the formal business story and the real one underneath that. People just tell you what they think you want to hear. So you cannot easily ask them.
I wanted to begin a series of “How To” blogs that might be of help to our readers. How can you “see, feel and think” about your business in new ways? Are there big ideas right in front of you but you cannot see them? Can you go exploring yourself? I suggest you take your management team and get out of the office. What might you find?
Try one or all of these easy-to-do activities and see what happens:
- Day in the Life of a Customer: I love to take clients out and spend a “Day in the Life of Your Customer.” Think of this like “Undercover Boss” for you and your own business. What could you see and feel if you actually hung around and shadowed a customer? If you went and watched people buying a product?Could you go onto the factory floor and watch your people make your products? What could you see and how would it feel and where are those unspoken, unmet needs waiting for you to discover and maybe solve? I did this with one customer, an OEM in the battery business, and watched as he learned that his clients were really all about “speed to market.” They wanted him to make batteries faster than they were actually specifying. He had no idea that this was a potential opportunity for him to move product faster and increase his volume at different price points.
- Listening Sessions: If you cannot find a venue in which to “hang out,” set up a listening session with a client, as we did recently, and ask them to tell you about their business. Don’t sell anything. Don’t even bring the normal sales people along unless they can just sit and listen.
What you want your client to do is tell you stories about their business, where it is working well, where there is growth. One such session we did recently was fascinating because a client admitted he didn’t have a growth strategy. If he wasn’t going to grow, how was the manufacturer? It is in the stories that you hear the gap between what people are doing and what their problems are. What this client did talk about was the changing make-up of his own clients and what they were doing now. That opened up an entirely new customer segment that our own client was totally unfocused on.
- Sit on the Phones with Customer Service. This is an area of untapped opportunity waiting for someone like you to listen in. You can also train your service team to pay attention to every call where your operators say “No, we don’t do that.”
I know three CEOs who did just that and found big opportunities to solve customer needs in innovative ways. One found that customers were calling in for metal chain but his service people said, “We don’t sell that, we sell snow chain.” When the number of inquiries was analyzed he realized that there were a lot of people asking for “chain.” Why didn’t he sell it? Business grew by 40% after adding new lines of chain to his core business of snow chains.
I would love to share stories about how you went exploring with your entire team and found some big ideas waiting for you. Please let me know how it goes. There really are new opportunities waiting for you if only you can get past the “We don’t do it that way” mind-block syndrome. Go “see, feel and think” about your business in new ways. Remember what Henry Ford said: “If I had asked people how to improve transportation they would have told me to make their horses go faster.” So please don’t ask. Just watch and listen.
Send me your stories at firstname.lastname@example.org.