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5 Ways to Gain Extraordinary Customer Insight

Composite image of businessman looking on a ladder

Have you ever invested great time and expense in developing and launching a new product or service, only to see revenues fall far short of expectations?

We think we’re delivering exactly what the customer has asked for, but it turns out that we didn’t really understand what our customers were willing to buy.

We’ve all been there. McDonald’s introduced chicken wraps and other menu items to satisfy the demands of health-conscious diners, only to find that customers don’t actually want to eat healthy food at McDonalds. The fries are just too tempting.

Especially in fast-changing markets, companies often get so busy running the business, they fail to understand their customers’ experience and needs. They are blind to what actually goes on when customers use their products.

Let me suggest a few ways to break out of this cycle, so that you understand what your customers value and how they think. Continue Reading →

Is Your Corporate Culture Killing Innovation and Speed?

Easy win

In the past few years, Cisco, Coca-Cola, GE, IBM, MasterCard and other large companies have begun to launch “internal startups”—teams of employees who are sheltered from corporate rules and bureaucracy – to stimulate entrepreneurship and creativity, and infuse agility.

I spoke recently with the leader of a business that existed – for a while – as an internal startup within a large corporation.

The thinking was that employees within this quasi-startup would be free to focus on their goals. Team spirit and collaboration would replace hierarchy. Innovation, risk-taking, and learning from failure would flourish. Time formerly spent on meetings and emails with other corporate groups would be spent focusing on the customer.

All those good things came true, as long as the team was left alone. Continue Reading →

Growth and Profitability from Outlier Customers

Red umbrella fly out from crowds of black umbrellas

When you deal with the same types of customers, buying the same products and using them the same way, every day, it’s easy to be lulled into a smug confidence that you know everything you need to know about how customer needs are evolving.

Market research and management reporting systems are notorious for “averaging” all customers together. This blends specific needs into a bland summary of general information. As a result, critical “outlier” information gets lost in the mix, and companies lose out on valuable insights about customer needs.

They focus product and service enhancements on the “average” customer, and as long as she’s pretty happy, they think they’re doing well.

This is dangerous.

When we ignore the unusual customers – the ones at the edges of the bell curve – we miss important market signals.

These “outlier” customers are those who do things a little differently.  They may use our product or service in an unusual way, perhaps even in a way that’s never occurred to us.

Why is this important? Continue Reading →

Be Prepared and Take Action Quickly!

Take action key on a computer keyboard, business concept

One Monday in 2013, my husband and I spent the night in our car. Shortly after midnight, on our way home from playing hockey (this is a new sport for us, and great fun), we were amazed to encounter a huge traffic jam on Atlanta’s I-285. As we slowed to a stop, we saw a plume of fire as big as a house rising from a burning tractor-trailer a third of a mile ahead. Scenes from disaster movies looped in my head, and we talked about what to do if things got worse.

We passed the first hour reading books on our iPhones, then slept intermittently while waiting for the emergency workers to put out the fire and clear the wreckage. Someone from a nearby car borrowed our jumper cables, and Rob got out from time to time to walk ahead to see how things were progressing. We started the car periodically to warm up.

This incident reminded me how important being prepared can be. I was thankful to have a warm coat and sensible shoes but thought about a few things that we should keep in the car in the future. Snacks, water, a first-aid kit, at least a third of a tank of gas.

I thought, too, about business preparedness. Business people tend to enjoy planning for good things, like new products, revenue growth and hiring. It’s worth taking the time to prepare for unpleasant surprises as well, since you can tremendously improve your outcomes with a little planning.

Here are a few examples: Continue Reading →

4 Questions Agile Companies Ask Themselves Every Day

Skier in mountains, prepared piste and sunny day

Do you wish your organization could move faster to take advantage of new opportunities in the market, or to avert emerging threats?

Do you feel that you are missing, or seeing but ignoring, important changes in your business environment?

Does it take longer than it should to make key strategic decisions, or to take action, once those decisions are made?

Today’s most agile organizations have learned how to respond more nimbly to changes in the marketplace. They ask themselves four key questions, every day: Continue Reading →

Six Obstacles That Stop Agility In Its Tracks

Professional sprinter jumping over a hurdle

Are you struggling to make your company more agile?

In my work with organizations in virtually every industry, I find that business agility – the ability to spot and capitalize on new business opportunities as they emerge – is a capability that many companies aspire to, but few achieve.

What makes agility so elusive?

I’ve observed six primary obstacles to achieving agility. Continue Reading →

Look Outside Your Industry for Breakthrough Ideas

Be Different

I recently met with the leaders of a highly successful company. Sales growth, which had been strong for years, was headed into negative territory. They were desperate to find the next “big idea” that would put their company on track for future growth.

As they discussed potential innovations, the same tired, incremental ideas that had been tossed around for years kept resurfacing.

What they needed was something to shake up their thinking.

Continue Reading →

3 Mistakes in Managing Risk and Uncertainty

фотосессия во Вьетнаме

Not long ago, I stood on a pier near Cape Canaveral, Florida and watched a SpaceX rocket launch.

People were wearing SpaceX t-shirts and talking excitedly. SpaceX has brought the thrill back into space exploration.

Founder Elon Musk figured that by developing a way to reuse rockets, just like airplanes, he could reduce the cost of travel to space by a factor of a hundred.

He’s well on his way to achieving that. The company created the first commercial spacecraft in history to shuttle cargo to and from the International Space Station, and has already cut the cost of launching into space to less than a tenth of its prior level.

His ultimate goal, however, is to colonize Mars, making human life inter-planetary.

How’s that for a bold vision statement?

Continue Reading →

Feel like your company is in slow motion? Five explosive steps to increase speed

In my work to help companies move faster on strategic opportunities, I hear stories like the following too often:

“My team is excited about growing our business, but it’s soooooo slow getting anything done around here.”

We sold a deal last week to a customer who was really—I mean REALLY—excited about the value we could create for him. But when we got back to the office, to put the pieces in place to deliver what we had AAEAAQAAAAAAAAlUAAAAJDU1NDhlOThhLWQ2OWEtNDY0Zi04ZDRjLWE0OWQ2ODZmMjFkMApromised, we ran into road block after road block. Approval processes, other priorities, and ‘business as usual’ slowed us down to the point that we eventually had to call the customer back and say we couldn’t meet her deadline.

“We had worked so hard to sell the customer on the idea, but because we couldn’t deliver fast enough, a competitor stepped in at the last minute and won the deal”

Do you sometimes feel like you are walking through Jello to get work done?  Like the rest of your organization just “doesn’t get it” when it comes to delivering value to customers?

No matter how bureaucratic, inept or slow the rest of your organization is, here are five things you can do to speed up your organization to get things done faster, win more business and make change happen:

1. Enlist believers:

Everyone wants to belong to something great, and people love creating new things.

Paint a picture of where you want to go—whether its starting up a new product or service line, entering a new market, or implementing a new operational procedure—and start talking it up with those in a position to help.

Notice who gets excited about your intent and immediately starts contributing ideas to make it successful. These are the enthusiastic, creative believers you want on your team. Enlist them.  Simply say “This is going to be hard, but worth it. Will you help me make it happen?”  You may be surprised at the avalanche of support you gain.

2. Build a virtual team, before you need one.

Once you’ve enlisted a few believers, you’ve got the beginnings of a virtual team. Now’s the time to build the comradery that will lead to commitment and speed.

Your virtual “team” may be spread across disparate time zones, divisions and functional areas. They may even speak different languages.  No matter how far-flung your believers are in the organization, you can instill a sense of community and belonging.

Provide a steady stream  of updates about your progress. Something as simple as “we talked to a customer in Chicago today, and they loved our concept!” can provide the juice to keep the conversation going (“What did they like most? When will they be willing to try it?”).

Find reasons to get believers talking to each other. Talk in vivid terms about what it will feel like when you achieve your goal. You’ll soon find that the “virtual team” takes on a life of its own, and that you have an army of believers throughout the organization to help you reach your goal.

3. Write different rules.

Corporate rules are written for typical, everyday scenarios. Approval levels, priorities, and policies designed for the average situation get in the way of accomplishing anything truly miraculous.  

You know that you’ll need different rules to accomplish your goals, so negotiate those rules before you need them.

Here’s how you might ask: “Mr./Ms. Decision Maker, we are setting out to penetrate a new market that could be a huge growth engine for our company, but to win the first few deals, we need to be lightning-fast delivering solutions to our customers. In the past, I’ve seen our approval process add weeks to delivery timelines, so I’m asking you now, before I close this deal, if we can agree on a 24-hour approval timeline. Would that be okay with you?”

4. Show results early. 

Nothing speaks like results.  Get a few closed-deals under your belt and internal resources—the ones who you need on your side—will suddenly start listening to you, or even lining up to help you.  Communicate every positive step on your journey loudly and often.  A positive customer comment; the initiation of a proof of concept trial; the first dollar of revenue—all these are hard evidence that your cause is worth investing in.

5. Give everyone credit.

Most important, when you start making progress, spread credit for your accomplishments far and wide.   Let the road blockers, naysayers and slow pokes have a share of the credit, and you may just find that they are moving faster next time around.

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