What’s trending?

 Find out and do something different

I know the world of social media uses as one of its main platforms the idea of trending as an indicator of what someone should follow.  However, this means that a few will have set the trend while many others will simply be hanging onto their coat tails.  I am reminded of the quote from James Goldsmith

“if you see a bandwagon it’s already too late!”

I have always considered benchmarking to come with similar problems to trending.  You look around to see what other companies are doing, use this to create a performance benchmark and adopt it as your own approach.  The problem then is that most companies are doing similar things in similar ways which feels like a gentle progression towards mediocrity.

By all means look at the trends and also benchmark what others are doing but the clever thing is then to do something different, even consider doing the opposite.  I saw a post on LinkedIn recently suggesting in-bound marketing has lost its advantage due to overuse and too much poor quality content – is anyone surprised by this?  The post included a question as to whether outbound direct might be the way forward – again the person asking the question is looking at the dust from a bandwagon – some of us have always done it this way and may be reaping the benefits of fewer competitors.

When choosing which fashion to follow, assess the risks, not just the benefits

When choosing which fashion to follow, assess the risks, not just the benefits

When choosing which fashion to follow, assess the risks, not just the benefits

I once met Stanley Kalms, when he was still chairman of Curry’s, and he explained his “contradictory management” philosophy.  Basically, he would observe how managers were doing their jobs and as soon as a pattern emerged he would issue an instruction to do things in a different way. His view was that it stopped people getting into a rut and forced them to regularly have fresh thoughts.  A similar philosophy was used by someone I once worked for whose advice was to clean house regularly; suppliers, customers, markets, products and sometimes even our people.

So give this some thought.

  • If you have been doing the same things in the same way for say 24 months, take a hard look to see if you are ahead of the pack or in a rut
  • Look at what you do and how you are doing it and if most others are doing it the same way consider a change – revolution not evolution
  • If you look at trends do so with a critical eye looking for a different edge for yourself
  • If you benchmark do so with a critical eye looking at the weaknesses rather than envying the perceived strengths
  • Decide on the five, six, ten things that really matter to the business; the true critical success factors, and take a regular hard look at each of them to see if they are still as effective as you thought they were.  If these things are critical, it is critical they are done right.

The bottom line is; if you really want to differentiate yourself from your competitors you need to be doing different things or the same things differently, but whichever way, they need to be done well.  Just ask your customers; they are a great source as they have the only opinion that really matters.

Happy hunting!

First published on LinkedIn Pulse

2014 – a continuation of 2013 or planning to make a difference?

If 2014 is just a continuation of 2013 all that is required is a little tinkering around the edges and off we go again? Or is 2014 going to be a different sort of year? It is getting on for six years since the economy ran into trouble and the intervening period has brought about many changes which could affect businesses fundamentally.

We believe that 2014 will be different to the previous six years; you can at last contemplate healthy sustainable growth in your business.

Although it is common to pass resolutions for the New Year; most involve minor adjustments to last years’ habits and few are maintained for very long. However, for businesses this would be a serious mistake at this point as 2014 is likely to deliver the most significant growth and expansion opportunities since 2007. In the intervening six years many things have changed so simply taking what worked last time and tinkering a bit won’t deliver.

The way you approach your market now has many options ranging from; physical networking, social media and LinkedIn through to more established tools such as advertising, trade shows, mailshots (“e” and physical) and of course telephone prospecting. So, when planning how to take your proposition to market there are now many more decisions to be made and it is even more important that you choose the right channels for your market. Some of the choices seem simple and obvious but might prove to be time consuming and not very effective for you. What is required is a well thought through marketing plan that defines which marketing options you will use, what the mix will look like and how much time and money you will spend on each. Now, create a Return on Investment (RoI) projection for your marketing plan – what you will put in and what you want out, and use this to monitor progress through the year. For an established business you can use past history to select your most effective channels – don’t have the metrics?  Then maybe that’s your first change for the new year.

The next factor to consider is the threat to your business posed by competitors; not just the established competitors as a greater threat may come from new ones. One thing that has seen plenty of growth through the period of economic strife is the creation of new businesses many of which come with original and innovative solutions.

To pull all of this together; right market, right proposition, right routes to market and competitive strategy you need a sales and marketing plan. Read more on four tools/techniques that you can use to help you with this planning process.

Customer engagement for win-win deals

Customer Engagement

If your customers are slow to make decisions and your pipeline forecast is forever moving, we can help you.

If your sales force are submitting bids with a low uptake so you feel you are just providing free consultancy, we can help you.

Markets are changing and customers have more opportunities for research before they buy, consequently the sales force has different challenges in order to engage with customers. Gaining insight into your Customer’s world and thereby understanding how you can deliver greater value than your competitors can be key to how you approach your target market.

We have helped companies in various sectors re-focus their propositions and markets for greater customer engagement, leading to more new and extension business. This also assisted the sales management to obtain more reliable forecasts.

“Working with Performative greatly improved the quality of engagement with potential customers and our ability to forecast outcomes from those.” MD, Mobile Technology company.

Feel free to call us for a confidential discussion.

Identifying your sweet spot

Identifying your sweet spot

Ensuring you offer the right things to the right people;

Identifying your sweet spot

Aiming for the bullseye

The first step towards sales effectiveness is doing the right thing. This means ensuring your capabilities are honed towards a target audience that will best appreciate and hence buy from you.

By fully understanding your proposition and why your customers buy from you, you can be much more focused, targeting the right audience, delivering the appropriate value proposition to meet the buyer’s needs.

We can help with an appropriate mix of:

  • Workshops to uncover and refine your capabilities and marketable solutions.
  • Customer survey activity to identify the strengths and weakness of your current offerings. Customers are likely to be more open with an independent researcher, or with a member of your senior management team with whom they do not normally communicate.
  • “Secret shopping” campaigns to identify the brickbats and bouquets of your current face to the customer.
  • Market analysis assignments typically with the purpose of identifying and defining new markets, or trends and upcoming changes which your customers will need to address. This will help shape your approach to existing and new customers.
  • Competitor reviews to identify and develop your winning tactics and strategies.
  • Staffing review to leverage the talents of the team.
  • Routes to market advice and facilitation.

We’ll be happy to discuss how we can best help you meet your specific targets, so please feel free to call or email us now.

“We were very happy with the Market Research Report Performative delivered to us. It clarified our perception of the market and raised a few ideas for a different approach. ”

“It has helped us to refocus on our current products and also to look at new markets”

archer aiming arrow

Fire, Aim, Ready!

How to focus your sales team’s effort and what lessons we can learn from a typically B2C environment in terms of helping us improve our chances of hitting our true targets.

freeimage-245875-web

Despite the best efforts of the fletcher …

Yes, it should be Ready, Aim, Fire but sales people are always keen for “fresh meat” in the form of a new proposition or new prospects or both.  So, the arrival of something new is a time of excitement and expectation which often leads to over eager behaviour.  “Let’s get out there and sell it” will be their battle cry.

While I applaud the enthusiasm, there is a danger that all the hard work done during the product or service design stage could in part be wasted unless the same care and diligence is applied to the selling activities.

At some point the proposition must move out of the “laboratory” into the hands of those who must; engage prospects, turn them into customers, and actually sell them something.  This implementation of the go-to-market strategy and tactics is typically the responsibility of the sales force, channel partners, re-sellers, agents, etc.

archer aiming arrow

… it’s the archer has to put it in the target!

However, if those sales people rush out, ill prepared, “knocking on doors”, whipping up interest in the functions and features of the new offering it is likely that although prospects will show some interest, in some cases out of pure politeness, they will not go on to make a purchase.  The reason is simple; good selling involves uncovering needs and wants and then proposing ways of satisfying both.  Good selling also involves identifying suitable targets before expending too much effort.

In a classic B-2-B selling environment, but it could apply to any market type, this can be summarised as:

  • Through a combination of desk research and questioning identify those suspects that have the potential to become prospects (and eventually actual customers).  By this process of filtering you have reduced the potential prospect base to a more focused and manageable group.  You are now READY.
  • Having identified the potential prospects use structured questioning to qualify them and establish their real needs and wants and determine whether your proposition can actually satisfy both.  The questions are used to further filter prospects against your “ideal” profile.   You have now identified your potential customers and eliminated most of those that will ultimately say no to your proposition.  You now know who to AIM at.
  • Now you have your refined list of prospects that match your “ideal” you can commence FIRE.  The make-up of the firing stage will vary according to your market and proposition but in a B-2-B environment could include activities such as; webinars, product trials or demonstrations, proposals, presentations, RFT responses, and site visits to existing customers.  This can be a lot of work so it is important to ensure before you Fire that you take careful Aim having got yourself Ready.

The most common example that I see of Fire, Aim, Ready is the sales person who eagerly offers to provide a proposal having had a first meeting with someone who typically is not the decision maker.  They do not refuse the offer, after all it is free consultancy, but the proposal is very likely to miss the target because not enough work has been done (getting Ready) to know what or even where the target is, so it is impossible to Aim with any accuracy.  Such proposals clog up sales forecasts rolling over from month to month because no decision is being made.

If a company follows the process outlined below they stand a very good chance of being in the right place with the right product at the right time.

Jeff Deighton, insight engineers

Securing business success from working in a structured way

Pressing the “buy” button of your true targets; the value of a stage gate process

A practical explanation of a typical stage-gate process to uncover and press the customer’s buy button and offer some helpful illustrations:

Jeff

Jeff Deighton

Most of us appreciate that business success and repeat sales have always been a combination of having a compelling proposition and targeting the right people in the right way with activities and resources.  However, the world has changed dramatically in the last 5-10 years, and with nearly every purchase decision today involving some form of trade-off, either instinctive or considered, a real need to understand and aim relevantly at the desires & needs of one’s customers has been heightened.

Permeating everything is perceived ‘value’.  A pressure for ‘ticket price’ value has come from the recessional backdrop and the scalability of on-line purchase & delivery channels, but ‘digital’ has also changed how consumers increasingly interact with, view, and engage with brands.  Many customers now expect some form of relationship, recognition and value as a customer.  This convergence of rational (fiscal) and emotional (good) value is leading many companies nowadays to feel the chill of a mismatch between what they offer and what their customers actually ‘buy into’.

In the short-term this ‘value gap’ leads to reduced sales and reduced margins/profits but in the mid to longer-term, it can be the beginning of the end.  If one’s working practices and culture maintain the same thinking and actions, then the same in–market mismatch and deteriorating performance will also continue.  Those companies not ‘aiming’ and ‘firing’ accurately are never sufficiently ‘ready’ and experience continued sales erosion and lower customer retention.  They perpetuate commoditisation, fail to innovate pertinently and have high employee attrition as well as usually losing out on the best candidates who might be able to turn things around.

The days of offering a single static ‘mono brand’ choice “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black” (Henry Ford, 1922) have long since gone and it has become necessary for most organisations to have a clear, and on-going, ‘stage-gate’ process and decision funnel for keeping their proposition and sales on course.  What a company knows, and uses, is often more important than what it owns.  This superior insight facilitates proposition development as well as relevance and those companies who dip a deeper toe in our market research world and “knowledge economy” are usually the most successful.

Without this structured and grounded process of contemporary understanding and insight, the ability to respond to market conditions and customer/target group preferences, diminishes.  The stage-gate process provides the structured basis and timeline to align to customers and target groups.

At its simplest a stage-gate process has 4 stages where research agencies & consultancies are involved:

1. Insight – what do people want, need or desire and which trade-offs are they prepared to make

2. Verify – checking assumptions and revising propositions & approaches

3. Select – winner(s)

4. Test – final pre-market launch, often including tone and style of communications

Sometimes known as Develop, Check, Screen, Measure.

Insight

Scoping knowledge to reveal insights can come from many sources – e.g. desk research, retail audits, qualitative and quantitative research, talking to users, key opinion leaders, multi-disciplinary workshops, analysing your sales figures and customer database etc.  The more one knows, in competitive context, the better one is able to answer the necessary business questions and know which parts of your brand proposition and narrative are working and are fit for purpose.

This is what some people call ‘harnessing the truth’, essentially leveraging the ‘what’ (your offer) with the ‘how’ (experiences with you).  Those firms that adeptly use their knowledge resources to further understand the WHY are the most likely to be the most innovative and the most successful, truly turning knowledge into profitable wisdom.

Verify

Beyond sizing & profiling who has, and who has not, bought your product/service, the preceding Insights stage gate helps the project team establish the common language and platform to work together positively through possible proposition avenues and reasons to believe, for future customers & sales.

It is common here to include a stage of multi-disciplinary workshops to identify improvements and new propositions for subsequent verification in-market.  Beyond ensuring all organisational knowledge is included, this workshop process helps enlist necessary internal buy-in and commitment to the process as well as working through envisioned push backs and challenges.  Often this stewardship and structured creativity is entrusted to independent external agencies (like insight engineers).

The next step in this ‘verify’ stage gate is to verify emerging new propositions via qualitative research – if there is more time & it is early in the schedule (and if the ideas are new or more distant to your existing offer).

If closer to the current state of play and more defined and clear these propositions lend themselves to more robust verifications & screening via quantitative research – usually on-line community panels. These platforms can be accessed across the world, e.g. last year such research was conducted across 16 major economies/countries. This type of early quantitative research can be as simple as putting things in order of interest/appeal or likelihood to buy/use or comparing to previous references on brand success factors such as relevance, credible, uniqueness, trust etc.

Select

Nearly every decision made today involves a trade-off, choosing one offer/feature/benefit (rational & emotional) in preference to others.  Two common approaches to market research help to select and define the final offer/proposition.

The first extrapolates the full spectrum of trade-off solutions using conjoint techniques to simulate real-world situations.  This avoids “everything is important” (to be more discriminating) as consumers choose preferences between many individual attributes or bundles of attributes that could make up a product, service or offer.  These can be more macro factor level attributes (e.g. brand; colour; price), or levels within brand architecture (e.g. The Coca-Cola Company; Coca-Cola; Coca-Cola Zero).

A statistically robust predictive model is created from these inputs, a dataset that has a high level of variance explained (low randomness) and, that is highly predictive (of choices).  This conjoint based model describes how much each individual attribute or bundle of attributes contributes to preference in comparison to any other.  Ultimately, therefore, it reveals the best package of levers to pull/push.

The second is a simpler approach is called Triads.  In this simpler trade-off approach, target market respondents are asked to think about which features or benefits they prefer when buying a specific product or when in a particular situation.  People look at all of the possible feature/benefit claims in the marketplace, presented in sets of three (‘triads’), and decide which one they prefer the most.  Each individual feature/benefit is presented several times overall, but never with the same other two features/benefits.  Across the total sample, thousands of different combinations of ‘triads’ are presented for trade-off and in the summary analysis, one can immediately & simply understand the absolute (ordinal ranking) and relative preference, at a total level and for specific target groups – this approach helps clients optimise their value propositions with the right bundle of features/benefits, i.e. those most important to consumers, and is often used for designing future promotions and reward schemes.

Test

It is typical then to conduct a final acceptance test on the final offer before going live to market.  This is what some clients call a final-stage disaster check.  Again this assessment can be conducted via either qualitative or quantitative research and is at its most relevant if the elapsed time line across the Insights, Verify, Select stages has taken longer than 12-18 months.  This final stage check is also common in multi-country launches where you want to double check the new offer will be resonant in the least & most mature markets.  This final Test stage generally has 2 elements – firstly to ensure the needs that have driven the offer still remain valid and secondly that communications such as press ads, brochures and sales aids are hitting the spot in terms of design, content and tone.

The business questions your stage gate process should answer

Over the years, insight engineers have distilled the key business questions heard from clients into the following checklist, essentially covering the 5Ws (Who, What, Where, When, Why), What if and How:-

  • Who are our customers?
  • What products/services do they have and how much do they use?
  • What products/services would they like?
  • Why and how do people become customers?
  • Why and how do people leave us for the competition?
  • How much will people pay for our products and services?
  • What is our customer experience?
  • How do people react to our messaging?
  • What do people think of us?

The stage gate framework in use by leading companies

Whilst this article has been written about the 4 key stages in the research agency involvement, this avenue is clearly part of the wider client ‘go-to-market’ planning, so we thought it might be helpful to share with you a typical client-side stage-gate and decision meetings structure:-

Trends and Strategy GATE 1: ‘Basis for Interest’ document

Insights & Ideas GATE 2: ‘Project Establishment’ document

Concept development & planning GATE 3: ‘Build Review & overcoming challenges’ document

Commercialise & pilot GATE 4: ‘Project Commitment’ document

Launch & scale up GATE 5: ‘Launch Agreement’ document

On-going Post Launch assessment GATE 6: ‘Delivery on Expectations’ document

Article kindly provided by guest author Jeff Deighton of insight engineers for our July 2013 newsletter.

Integral Mobile Data

The Outcome:

A well-focused and carefully positioned market offering and go-to-market model.

Working with Performative helped management and the board clarify its strategy for the next stage of the company’s development. It also greatly improved the quality of engagement with potential customers and our ability to forecast outcomes from those.”    Philip Neame, MD, IMD

The Challenge

Integral Mobile Data (IMD, now owned by Hytec) spent its first four years developing a mobile computing solution that enabled companies to improve customer service and reduce costs by providing mobile staff tailored task-orientated computing power in the field.

IMD engaged Performative to help move the focus of the business onto sales and marketing to grow revenue and to move into a profitable position.

The Performative Solution

Performative initially led the management team through a Market Focus Review (MFR) designed to review and consider:

  • The objectives of the next stage of the business, to provide context for the activities.
  • The business assets – products, knowledge, processes – and consider exploitation possibilities.
  • Target market and customers.
  • The portfolio and its positioning.

Subsequent work focused on addressing the points raised in the MFR and included:

  • An extensive win-loss review exercise, which explored the reasons for IMD’s past success or failure at closing contracts.  This exercise helped in understanding customer perceptions, which fed into defining the true value and positioning of the company and its products.
  • Full definition of the product portfolio and its market proposition.
  • A target market strategy including research into potential target companies.
  • A promotion strategy to rapidly create visibility to a large market.
  • A multi-level sales model to ensure that IMD targeted senior customers and did not sell purely at the technical level.