Posts Tagged ‘values’

Farmers’ market secret ingredient – community

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

Broad Street Market 2I did a project last year with the Broad Street Market, a farmers’ market here in Harrisburg. (Disclosure: I am on the Market’s board of directors.) We were trying to establish some parameters for a strategic plan for the Market. My project was to interview Market customers to understand why and how they valued the Market, and what common issues might be that the strategic plan should address.

I did 60 open-ended interviews, and heard some great stories – for example, a woman in her seventies discussed coming to the Market as a young girl, shopping at a place that used to sell wonderful pears, taking the trolley that ran down 3rd Street. But some of the best stories weren’t explicitly told – they occurred during the interviews.

Perhaps half a dozen times an interview was interrupted while the person I was speaking to greeted a friend who walked by: “Hi, how you doing?” and an embrace. “Let’s get together,” or “See you Saturday.”

And when the board reviewed the stories, a theme emerged: community as an important value. We had expected customers to discuss safety and cleanliness (and they did), the types of vendors (a bit), fresh and local products (yes) or the hours of operation (a lot). But the theme of community, something we hadn’t been looking for, kept coming up. For those customers, the Market was more than just a place to shop. It was a place to meet friends, to stay connected, even to return to after they’d moved out of town.

This is an interesting observation for all brick-and-mortar retailers, restaurants, etc. Even in this technology society, people yearn to get together, to be with friends and acquaintances. (Note how tech-based getting-together solutions like Meetups, Tweetups and Foursquare have emerged.) How aware are you of the community you serve? How can you engage it, and nourish it? How can you honor the value that your customers place in it?

Related posts:
The Values Proposition

Customers are talking: “Why Customers Really Buy”

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

Why Customers Really Buy: Uncovering the Emotional Triggers That Drive Sales” by Linda Goodman & Michelle Helin is a worthy addition to the literature on customer research. It describes a method of learning about customers by conducting in-depth interviews aimed at identifying “emotional triggers” that influence how and why customers buy products and select certain suppliers over others.

These emotional triggers bear a resemblance to the “deep metaphors” described in Zaltman & Zaltman’s “Marketing Metaphoria” but the means of getting to them is much more akin to the story-gathering and sensemaking methods we’ve discussed in this blog than in the collage-making at the center of the Zaltmans’ approach.

The authors’ description of the complexity and emotion of the sales process, and how customers can reveal their true feelings within open-ended interviews, are excellent. I’ve done projects like this and my approach has a lot in common with Goodman and Helin’s. They neatly summarize the difficulty with the most-prevalent customer research method–the survey:

Frequently, surveys include a list of choices that are ranked in order of priority or in order of preference. For example, customers may be asked to rank the importance of a number of considerations impacting the shopping experience. The list might include cleanliness, helpful sales staff, good lighting, neatly displayed merchandise, competitive prices, good selection and so forth.

Although the ranking would accurately report how customers rated the choices they were given, there’s still one little problem. Their actual “hot button” might never have been on the list.

There are also many case studies that add richness and depth to the ideas. The volume and variety of case studies is the best part of the book.

I wished Goodman and Helin talked more about the sensemaking process – the method of distilling insight from the interviews. In my experience this is the “secret sauce” of the entire approach and not a straightforward process. It would have been valuable for the authors to describe how they got from the customer interviews to the “emotional triggers” that were central to each of their projects.

Finally, I would have loved for the book to cite external sources that inspired their thinking. It’s possible that they came up with this approach completely alone, but it’s more likely that their ideas stand “on the shoulders of giants“–it would be a significant benefit to their readers if Goodman and Helin could, in a future edition or on their website, include notes and a bibliography.

(Thanks to Tom Gibson for pointing out the book to me.)

Related posts:
The weird, alchemical process of distilling insight from stories
“Marketing Metaphoria”: the deep insights behind the products we buy

Customers are talking: the weird, alchemic process of distilling insight from stories

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

Book clubs are big these days. A group of folks read the same book, then get together and discuss it, accompanied by refreshments (often of the wine & cheese variety).

Besides the social aspects of the book club, there’s something powerful about a group of different people, who’ve read the same story, discussing and deciding what it’s about.

When I try to describe to folks the work I do helping companies gather, find patterns and put to use stories their customers tell, I say that the “discussing and deciding what it’s about” is the secret sauce of the whole process. It’s the part that can’t be automated or left to algorithms to decipher–it requires a diverse group that shares key experiences to root their assessments in common ground.

You can find and collect stories by hand, by computer or by applying algorithms to data sources. (The pluses and minuses of each technique are best left to another post.) But I haven’t figured out a way to computerize the weird alchemy that allows a group of colleagues to distill 100 stories into 10 deep insights in 4 hours, and I’m fairly convinced there may never be a way to automate it.

The mechanics of the process are mundane, at least the way I’ve practiced it. I spread the stories, printed one to a page, around a conference table. Graphs that show the correlation of certain story attributes (the graphs are also stories) are arrayed on the wall. People immerse themselves in the stories. Perhaps they are sales calls. Or complaints. The people read slowly at first, tentatively. Then one person writes something they noticed on a sticky note. Then something else on another. Soon everyone is writing.

They may share thoughts while this happens. I scramble around the room collecting stickies and plastering them to an empty wall. Eventually the pace of writing stickies slows. It’s like cooking microwave popcorn. When the frequency of popping slows down, it’s done.

They cluster the stickies, finding relationships. Then they name the clusters–those are insights. Perhaps they go through another round of clustering and naming, if they have time and energy.

Then we talk. There are 8-10 clusters that stand out. They may be issues their customers are facing–which present opportunities and threats for the company’s products. They may be values the customers hold–which are key to marketing and positioning the company. They’re always interesting, usually surprising, and often unveil conflicting or contradictory views. For instance, a very strong attribute the company or product has often is highly valued by one constituency but viewed negatively by another.

It’s an amazing process to watch, to see a group of people take the same material, view it from different angles, reconcile their assessments, and come up with “the truth” as they see it.

It’s a lot like a book club, without the wine and cheese.

UPDATE, 6 May: Per Stephane Dangel’s comment below, here is a fictional example of a story told by a graph:

This chart tells a story, don’t you think? It’s a crosstabs chart comparing people who bought a product over the phone versus those who didn’t, under two scenarios. In one, the sales representative used established best practices; in the other, he/she didn’t.

I get two themes from this “story.” One, when reps use best practice, more sales are made. Two, best practice is not frequently used.

Both are valuable insights for a company seeking to improve its telesales. The first is probably no surprise (though it’s possible to imagine a situation where using best practice would make no difference in closing sales–that would be a surprise!). The second theme is probably surprising under any circumstance!

Related post:
Another kind of value proposition

[If you're interested, the new version of Cynthia Kurtz's "Working With Stories" e-book contains a case study I did on my first story project. Check it out here.]

B2B Buyers’ Purchase Decisions Hinge on Emotion, Not Facts

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

Jon Miller over at the Marketo blog summarized the results of a study Marketo conducted along with Enquiro Research to delve into how B2B buyers make decisions.

The results will not surprise readers of this blog. Rational B2B buyers are a “myth,” and negative emotions drive the buying decision:

The Enquiro research shows that B2B buying decisions are usually driven by one emotion: fear. As a result, B2B buying is all about minimizing fear by minimizing risk. There is organizational risk, which can often be dealt with rationally, and personal risk, which is usually unstated and hidden from the rational process. Yet personal risk is a huge factor in B2B buying.

This irrationality and desire to mitigate risk and complexity leads purchasers to return to an old-school tool for making decisions: the recommendation. The post suggests, among other things, that B2B marketers capitalize on what I would call the “fellow traveler” syndrome–generating positive references from people elsewhere in the buyer’s company and industry is a significant help for vendors seeking to overcome buyers’ fear instincts and win new business.

(Hat tip Futurelab blog.)

Related posts:
Complex sales: it’s all about the negatives
Another kind of value proposition

Using values: connecting deeply with customers

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

(This is another in a series of posts about gathering & using customer stories via social media. Prior posts are listed at the bottom of this post.)

Last post I talked about using emergent constructs to determine customer values related to a company’s product or service. Values are things customers find value in, don’t find value in, or find negative value in (that is, they buy & use in spite of a characteristic).

Knowing the values that apply across customer segments is a powerful tool for companies. They can use this to architect their services, products, support, etc., to emphasize the values that connect with the customers they want to attract. They can also focus their attention on those customers who share the values that they offer, and ignore customers who have other values.

Companies that understand what their customers value often have very deep connections with those customers, and strong attendant loyalty. Examples like Harley-Davidson, BMW and Apple come to mind.

Startup companies by definition espouse a set of values, often set in place by their founders. At least in part, this is because startups have to make explicit tradeoffs between what they will and won’t do. This address by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, at the recent SxSW Interactive Conference, illustrates the tradeoffs Zappos made:

For established companies, espousing values isn’t so easy. They don’t have the resource scarcity nor the founder’s focus of a startup. But they have a crucial resource most startups don’t–a customer base and history serving it. So, they can tap that base to gather stories and use the emergent construct sensemaking processes set out in the earlier posts in this series.

The story-gathering approach can measure values as the companies and markets change–and as the company’s leadership grows more disconnected from customers and their values, an inevitable result of business growth. Another powerful advantage: story-based values can trace back to the actual stories that influenced them. This is useful for communicating the values and their importance to internal groups and the outside world. “We help our customers save precious time by providing an easy-to-use, intuitive system. For example….[real user story here].”

[A similar type of assessment was described in the recent book "Marketing Metaphoria" by Gerald and Lindsay Zaltman. The Zaltmans use interviews and constructed collages to derive the values (what they call "deep metaphors"), rather than by gathering and looking at stories.]

Prior posts in this series:
Many ways businesses can listen to customers
Are 200 stories more useful than 2,000,000 data points?
Dealing with what customers tell you online

Dealing with what customers tell you online

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

Earlier this week, I posted on ways businesses can monitor what’s being said about them in various social media outlets. Perhaps in a challenge to myself, I promised a follow-up dealing with what businesses can do with this information. Finally, egged on by Amber and David from Radian6, here it is.

Companies are getting good at quickly responding to, and engaging in, conversations that others start about their products. For example, Amber and David quickly submitted thoughtful, interesting comments to my post. Dell is also very responsive, and so is Comcast. Your company should participate in these conversations as these companies do. You should be authentic and respectful and all that. Many social media consultants can help you do this. I am after something else.

Specifically this: it’s time to find useful, actionable patterns out of those gigabytes of chatter–Tweets, blog posts, comments–you’ve collected about your products, company, customer service from all these sources. And while these snippets may not follow a complete story format (i.e., “this happened, then this, then this”) per se, I treat them as stories and recommend using narrative sensemaking approaches to find the patterns.

For customer narratives, companies I’ve worked with have had success in finding deep customer values within these stories, using an exercise called emergent constructs. [Cynthia Kurtz's free e-book Working With Stories has been a critical resource to me.] By values I mean things customers find value in, or don’t find value in (or even find negative value in).

An example: I worked with a B2B online services company to help them determine what their customers valued/didn’t value in the industry segment the company operated in. We collected 50 or so stories from their customers, and ran the emergent constructs exercise with them to find the important customer values therein. They found that customers really liked responsive, personalized service, but didn’t like suppliers who appeared too small. They also didn’t have enough time so they valued time-savers of any kind. Plus they liked a supplier helping make them smarter, in other words extending their capability. They liked low prices, but were concerned that low price might indicate a supplier that wasn’t “industrial strength.”

These values, as you can see, aren’t straightforward to deal with. Anything the company did to enhance one value had some counter-effect. Amplifying a set of values might drive a customer segment away entirely. So they had to make hard decisions about things they were going to do and things they would do away with; customers they’d welcome, and customers they’d turn down. Once these difficult decisions were made, however, executing the plan wasn’t that difficult, and they could do it with confidence, given that they had a deep understanding of how customers really felt, grounded in the actual stories they told.

Sensemaking exercises like creating emergent constructs involve groups of people reading stories, answering questions, collaborating on meanings. Therefore, it’s difficult to do them with thousands or millions of transactions. How then do you narrow down the data? One simple way is to sample. Another way is to allow people who review the customer data to flag those that stand out in some way (perhaps using an Eureka button approach). Either way, gathering a bunch of stories and sending them through this process (see yesterday’s post for more on this) can illuminate very complex and nuanced issues for your company, products and brand, as illustrated above.

And once you have a grip on those, you’re prepared to use your existing decisionmaking processes to do something about them, and make real, vital improvements in your products and services.

Related posts:
Reading Between The Lines of Customer Stories
The Blackberry Storm/Twitter Project

Another kind of value proposition

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

The term “value proposition” has been in vogue in business-to-business sales for twenty years or more. In short, it means that a product for sale must, in essence, create more money (in increased revenue or reduced costs) that it costs to purchase. “If you buy my widget for $x, you’ll get $5x back over the next 10 years,” or something like that.

Countless sales training programs have taught companies how to create compelling, defensible and measurable value propositions. But how often has a product with a superior value equation lost out to one with a poorer one (or one with no concrete value proposition at all)?

The value proposition is a very logical concept. That is its beauty and its limitation.

Every salesperson knows that for buyers, even B2B buyers, emotion is a significant component of the sale. Jeff Thull taught me that most of the emotions swirling around B2B buyers are negative; e.g., “If I screw up this purchase, I’ll lose my job.”

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. I’ve been working with tech companies as a sort of customer anthropologist, interviewing customers to gather stories the companies can use to demonstrate the value their product brings. I work with the companies to find patterns that illustrate the things that customers value. These stories, the companies know, are very compelling sales tools because they are authentic statements the customers themselves volunteer.

Surprisingly, during these interviews, I haven’t heard one customer say, “I would recommend Company Y because we were able to increase our inventory turns and thereby reduce working capital requirements.” Instead, they say things like, “I really like that they are easy to reach and work hard to solve my problems when I have them.” Or: “They could have nickeled-and-dimed me when I had to make some changes during implementation, but they didn’t do that.” In other words, what sticks with customers, and makes them recommenders, are things like “reliability,” “caring about my business,” “saving me time,” “making me smarter.” In other words, the deeper, emotional, fuzzy stuff. [The best salespeople I've met know this intuitively, and are highly focused on customer satisfaction, intervening whenever they feel it's necessary to ensure a customer situation is handled properly.]

Economic value is no longer a differentiator. It’s a hurdle that every purchase has to surmount. To capture customers’ loyalty, and positive references, successful suppliers also provide this emotional value that customers prize so highly.

If you have satisfied, happy customers, you are providing emotional value too. Do you know what it is?

(Photo by Jamesdcawl via stock.xchng)