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Launching a business in a recession – 3 of 4 – Pre-Launch

This is a post in a series of four detailing how you can start a business during a recession (find them all eventually under the startup innovation tag). I think it is a commonly held view that we are about to enter into or are already in a recession. For whatever reason you are thinking about starting a business at this time, I am helping a startup on a similar path and thought I would share what I am thinking about to help them (more on my mentoring here). The focus in this series is the really early stages prior to launch and the emphasis is on how to do things on the cheap ;)

You could go all out with a launch from the get-go where you prepare everything in stealth mode and then when ready, you launch fully to the market. Or you could take a more measured approach where you start in semi stealth, i.e. you don’t disclose all details of your product or service, but you do go live with some basic details online. I prefer this latter route because you can make your online presence minimal until you are ready to share more but still have that work for you. The benefits are multiple in that you can start to build awareness and get crucial feedback before the formal launch.

Landing page


SeedProd is one of the more popular website builders and is used by many startups.

It comes with many templates, including one for landing pages, this being the standard way to have a minimal presence that can still work for you. Typically, you will communicate that the full product/service is coming soon but you can start to build awareness and anticipation for what’s to come and brand.

This is by no means the only tool you can use; in fact you don’t even need to use such a tool. With WordPress for example, you could use the full site editing tools that are now available.

Research


The next stage is to gather feedback from visitors and potential customers on key elements of your intended product/service offering.

Why not add a simple poll or survey on the landing page. There are many options for this and one such option is Microsoft Forms.

Whatever you do, keep it simple, that’s why I suggest a poll, rather than a long-winded survey. And try keep visitors on the page instead of sending them somewhere else to fill out the form, e.g. embed the poll.

Bonus Tool/Service: Lead Management

A final stage to consider is adding some kind of lead generation component. At its simplest this could just be a way to get visitors to provide their contact details so you can reach them when you are ready to launch and they can be informed of this and more besides.

The easiest way to do this is to put a simple, single field form on the site to collect email address.

But the crucial thing is what you do with that lead afterwards and many tools offer ways to manage the lead from first contact. You could integrate website efforts with other lead generation efforts via social media too. Most important is that you can automate the entire lead journey through various stages, including many follow-up efforts.

Here again there are a plethora of tools available to you. I use Mailchimp and have found it to be a superb tool covering many of the elements mentioned above.

NOTE: Consider using a lead magnet, also commonly called opt-ins, freebies, or swipe files, are valuable free pieces of content that you give to people in exchange for an email address.

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Why globalisation is still important despite headwinds and here is how to leverage it

I’ve just returned from a week in Japan with colleagues from all over the world – the featured image has yours truly pictured in one of sessions we held 😎 I look after Microsoft Japan’s global accounts in EMEA (disclosure) from a customer success point of view – these are global companies with regional operations outside Japan. The last global connection we had was in late 2019, pre-pandemic. I’ve been doing this particular role coming on 5 years, the latter years it’s all been done remotely due to the pandemic of course. Even before this, most of my roles have been regionally or globally focused (in startup or established company) so I write with a degree of experience.

Some context for a modern day global organisation

The opening paragraph sets the scene. Here’s more.

I also work very closely with colleagues in North America and Asia Pacific who look after the same customers with their regional operations there. They also attended this session. The attendees also spanned multiple technology workstreams, many of them highly interdependent. Finally, we had attendees from Japan who look after the customer in their home country.

As you can imagine, this made for a very complex set of meetings. The fact we had been working together remotely for many years helped but it was amazing how the physical setting accelerated things and helped overcome much of the complexity.

Of course much background work happened by some very talented organisers before the week started so that helped too. We also had many attendees that couldn’t make it so this was a hybrid event as they attended remotely, another added layer of complexity.

The purpose of all the conversations and meetings were many fold but chief amongst them were to answer the following questions:

  1. How can Microsoft support our customers better in their global operations and to achieve their goals?
  2. How can we achieve our goals with these accounts by collaborating within Microsoft better, globally?
  3. How can we reconnect and reignite our relationships and network for better outcomes, again globally?

I make these points just to set the context of how globalisation works at the company where I work. Clearly I cannot share specific details and this also does not get to the heart of what globalisation is, where its at, why its important and how it can work best. For that see the next sections.

I also want to recognise that the organisation I work for is pretty exceptional. There are a lot of global corporations and organisations that work on a similar scale but not that many, that they are pervasive. Nor do many of them have the kinds of resources, wealth and capabilities that Microsoft have with a presence in 190+ countries around the world.

You could see it as the standard for the global organisation.

Globalisation headwinds

For this you should look at this article on HBR: The State of Globalization in 2022 (hbr.org). The pertinent piece for me is this one, the authors’ conclusions:

The growth and geographic reach of international flows can rise and fall over time, but the fundamental drivers of success in global strategy remain unchanged. The similarities and differences between countries define the landscape for international value creation, and the task of the global strategist is to navigate the opportunities and threats presented by both the bridges and the barriers between markets. As the landscape shifts, global strategies must be updated, but managers should avoid the costly overreactions that tend to follow major shocks to globalization.

The death of globalisation has long been talked about, since way before Trump happened to the world and Brexit, with their distinctive anti-globalisation and nationalistic stances.

Despite all of the negativity and barriers to globalisation I am as optimistic as the authors of the HBR article conclude their piece. Here is why 👇

The need for and means to leverage globalisation

The world (i.e. the planet) is getting smaller.

More and more people are filling it, we are increasingly bumping up against each other. No longer can we assume that what happens in one place will not effect another. Climate change is a great example of this – we are all in it together.

Although global travel is down, we are more interconnected than ever before. Technology helps us to connect and collaborate. This removes some of the barriers that used to be in place for us to be able to work with colleagues, customer and partners beyond our borders.

But we can’t sit back and believe that it will all just work. My getting to Japan to work with far flung colleagues reaped untold benefits but it came at a cost. I’m not talking about monetary costs, although they were substantial. I’m talking about the effort required to get clearance and visas, the time it took and the toll on energy and then what was required to make things work. It was all worth it in the end but we have to make an effort to make globalisation work.

It needs diversity.

I don’t mean the tick box of corporate responsibility. I mean diversity of thought. The more of us from different backgrounds, experiences and skills that get together, the better will be our solutions. I’m convinced of this.

None of us individually is better than all of us together. Especially in complex environments, it makes sense to understand solutions that can transcend ideology, cultures and habits.

People of all natures and type coming together to discover solutions that effect and benefit us all is beautiful to behold.

Physical interaction is still the gold standard.

After two years of virtual meetings, it has been so good to be together. The outcomes are better, as I’ve observed. The closeness, the energy, the vitality adds a palpable improvement.

But remember what is better about physical meetings and don’t try replicate what could be done virtually. I think the pendulum may have swung so far the other way after 2-3 years working mostly remotely, it has built some ingrained habits that are difficult to lose. The result can be ineffectiveness and inefficiency.

The best way out is through.

I learned even more about the fascinating culture that Japan represents in this recent trip (more on my Instagram account). What I didn’t need to learn was about the state of the Japanese economy. This has been written about endlessly starting with their so-called lost decade in the 1990’s which some posit goes much further.

The point is that Japan has to reinvent itself to again become a powerhouse of innovation and global leadership that it once was. Nothing speaks to this fall from grace as much as Sony’s loss to Apple in the audio wars in the late 1990’s. I used to work at Sony because I saw the potential it had then to dominate in the category and wrote about it briefly here: The end of ownership and the rise of usership.

Sony had everything it needed to win. Hardware (it dominated with Walkman), content (it owned several of the major Hollywood studios and music companies) and software, although this was perhaps where it was at its weakest. Still Apple beat it with the iPod and then iPhone.

This article by McKinsey (Japan’s globalization imperative) was prescient in that I hear a lot of the same things now. Which means that it is still an imperative. And the only way out is through stringent application and adherence to the belief that this will help.

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Launching a business in a recession – 2 of 4 – Branding

This is a post in a series of four detailing how you can start a business during a recession (find them all eventually under the startup innovation tag). I think it is a commonly held view that we are about to enter into or are already in a recession. For whatever reason you are thinking about starting a business at this time, I am helping a startup on a similar path and thought I would share what I am thinking about to help them (more on my mentoring here). The focus in this series is the really early stages prior to launch and the emphasis is on how to do things on the cheap ;)

Branding is not highest on the priority list when starting a business, but it is when launching and if you intend to have any kind of presence, even if it is minimal as you will see in later posts, you will need to look semi-decent. In other words, you can create branding that is not final but at least it looks good enough for initial activities. For this, these services that I cover in this post will more than do, and do not have to cost the earth, if anything.

Canva


Canva is such an amazing tool for designing just about anything and you don’t have to be a designer to use it.

It comes with many templates, including for logo design which is probably where you will start with your branding efforts, this plus fonts and colours.

You can even build a brand kit from what you have designed using the templates. Much is available for free, but I pay for that little more flexibility – check pricing here.

Fiverr


Fiverr is a marketplace for design resources where you have a whole world of freelance talent at your fingertips.

From Graphics & Design, Digital Marketing, Video & Animation to much more, you can find someone to do the work for you at a price point that works.

I generally start with basic designs in Canva and then take them to a pro designer on Fiverr to tweak and get professional artwork as required.

Bonus Tool/Service

Behance is the world’s largest creative network for showcasing and discovering creative work. It has now been acquired by Adobe but it remains free and open source and you can use it for a great many things, even to find designers or freelances. But I use it for inspiration.

You can filter your search by many different options and as you can see in the screenshot below, Logo Design is one of them. Here you get a vast array of inspiring designs from some of the world’s best creatives.

A good idea is to have an idea of what your logo should look like or represent and then do a word search for the term that best represents that. You can also just use Google if you want to broaden things further.

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Launching a business in a recession – 1 of 4 – Business Planning

This is a post in a series of four detailing how you can start a business during a recession (find them all eventually under the startup innovation tag). I think it is a commonly held view that we are about to enter into or are already in a recession. For whatever reason you are thinking about starting a business at this time, I am helping a startup on a similar path and thought I would share what I am thinking about to help them (more on my mentoring here). The focus in this series is the really early stages prior to launch and the emphasis is on how to do things on the cheap ;)

First off just to say that the topic of this post, business planning, is not necessarily something you can do on the cheap. Nor should you. If there is any one activity that you should spend money on, it should be this one. That’s because this is probably the most important one. It sets the tone for all your other activities and is the one that sets you up for success or failure. Having said that, you can get away with some free tools which I will cover. But the real trick in this area, is the framework, method and thinking you use – not so much tools as with the other topics, as you will see.

Business Model Canvas


A simple framework for defining your business, no need for lengthy business plans no one reads and besides, brevity forces focus.

Useful to also visualize and communicate a simple story of your business model to founders, employees and investors alike.

Use the canvas to explore new business models whether you are a start-up or an existing business. Some elements/tools require payments.

Jobs to be Done


JTBD is a framework to guide your perspective and innovate through a different lens. Especially if you need to transform and disrupt (product, company, industry – select as needed), this is for you. It requires you to replace a solution lens with a problem lens. It contrasts seeing the world of innovation through the lens of what the company is doing (a product perspective). It advocates seeing the world of innovation through the lens of what the customer is trying to get done (a problem perspective).

Lean Startup


Lean startup is a methodology for developing businesses and products that aims to shorten product development cycles and rapidly discover if a proposed business model is viable; this is achieved by adopting a combination of business-hypothesis-driven experimentation, iterative product releases, and validated learning. Lean startup emphasizes customer feedback over intuition and flexibility over planning. This methodology enables recovery from failures more often than traditional ways of product development.

Bonus Tool

Microsoft’s Whiteboard is a digital application that functions like a traditional whiteboard, but is hosted virtually. Digital whiteboards can integrate with other video conferencing and screen sharing platforms to allow for collaboration even when you are not physically in the same room – crucial for remote teams. It has many templates to choose from and allows whiteboards to be saved in shareable files for easy access in the future. It is these templates that provide an easy way to guide your thinking but of course you can bring in any methodology you want to the tool. It’s free for students and educators or you get it as part of your M365 license (work or personal).

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A jobs to be done primer to transform your innovation thinking

Tony Ulwick, Founder of Strategyn and leading proponent of Jobs to be Done (JTBD) theory and innovation thinker extraordinaire, ran a webinar the other day. I could not attend due to the time it was being held but I did watch the recording that was sent out to registrants. Fascinating stuff and here are my notes.

Straw poll results

He ran a straw poll to start with and the answers were interesting and also set up the rest of the talk and focus points. Results in bold at the end of each question.

  1. Is there agreement on your product team as how to best define the markets you serve? Roughly 50/50
  2. Is there agreement on your product team as how to best segment the markets you serve? Roughly two thirds no.
  3. Is there agreement on your product team as to what a customer “need” is? Roughly two thirds no.

Intro

JTBD theory in relation to innovation is mostly about having a new perspective and seeing innovation through a different lens. Especially if you need to transform and disrupt your (product, company, industry – select as needed), this is for you. It requires you to replace a solution lens with a problem lens. It contrasts seeing the world of innovation through the lens of what the company is doing (a product perspective). It advocates seeing the world of innovation through the lens of what the customer is trying to get done (a problem perspective).

The famous analogy from JTBD theory is that rather than see the world through the eyes of a drill maker (company and product), see it through that of the hole maker (customer and problem).

People buy products and services to get a job done.

  • Accomplish tasks
  • Achieve goals or objectives
  • Resolve and avoid problems
  • Make progress in their lives

Some more contrasts between JTBD and a company lens

Market definition:

JTBD LENS: A market is a group of people and the job they are trying to get done.

COMPANY LENS: Markets are defined around products, verticals, demographics, etc.

Needs definition:

JTBD LENS: Needs are the measurable outcomes that people want to achieve when getting a job done. Example, when cooking a meal, minimise the time it takes to prepare a meal.

COMPANY LENS: Needs are solutions, benefits, requirements, gains, exciters, specs, latent, etc.

Unmet needs:

DEFINED AS The important, measurable outcomes that people struggle to achieve

Segment definition:

JTBD LENS: Segments are subsets of people in a market, each with a different set of unmet needs.

COMPANY LENS: Segments are personas, use cases, people with different attitudes, demographics, etc.

Innovation Definition:

The process of devising a solution that gets a job done better / more cheaply.

In summary, you have a process (see below) that will allow you to conceptualize products you know—with certainty—will win in the marketplace BEFORE development begins.

The rest of the webinar is mostly about success Strategyn have had with customers (great examples given) and how to implement the ODI process.

I love this framework for so many reasons. I’ve written about if before as part of the research I did for my As a Service trend report in this post: As a Service trend research – customer solutions. As I said in the post about the JTBD framework: A framework for understanding customer needs, if ever there was an approach intended to help find solutions to customer problems or needs, this is it. So moving towards customer solutions, as opposed to having a product or company lens, that is crucial for all kinds of success going forward, least of all for innovation.

And also in that article and indeed the JTBD framework, is the business outcomes focus which I am also enamoured of and write about a lot.

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Infinite experience at the intersection of employee and customer

As I am writing a new trend report on the subject (Employee Customer Experience Connection), I’m always on the lookout for new indicators that the trend is catching on through the writing or research of others. I’ve found two such pieces just today which are definitely good indicators, especially of the “connection” part.

The first is an article on Computer weekly that references Forrester Research, Qualtrics and others. It also includes case studies and some useful onward links – articles including the onward links below:

The other article is from the MIT Technology Review: Customer and employee experience: The new normal.

It is based on a survey of 277 business leaders and decision-makers globally – around 79% of whom are C-level executives or at director level and includes a full report you can download.

I won’t share a PDF version of the report I have for fear of transgressing copyright, I’ll just share pertinent points below but first I’ll make an important distinction.

Infinite or total experience is the key

Something both the articles above and the report from MIT refer to is the total experience. The total experience is when you look at EX and CX in combination. It’s the first time I have noticed this reference since I started writing about this combination, or connection as I refer to it. From the linked articles in the landing page for the trend report I am writing; you will see it has been at least 18 months I have been pushing this combination/connection as a key element of the trend. So, it’s really good to see it being validated.

In terms of terminology, I prefer a reference to infinite rather than total because of the use of the graphic and the way this shows the interconnectivity of EX and CX. Regardless of the term used, it is this connection and how this is managed that is the interesting thing – experience optimisation as I have called it.

You can read the articles I linked to and below are some interesting facts from the MIT report. You will see there is not too much emphasis on this so still something to be worked on.

Highlights of the research on employee and customer experience connecting

1 The pandemic accelerated already existing trends toward digitization of customer experiences (CX) and employee experiences (EX), as well as the adoption of more tech centric business models. This shift is happening in both expected industries (digitally native organizations) and legacy enterprises (traditional finance and public services organizations).

2 CX and EX are just two facets of a more holistic “total experience” that enterprises must seek to deliver over the coming months and years. On top of service-oriented digital offerings that transcend transactional use cases, enterprises are also developing hybrid experiences that blend both digital and real-world elements.

3 Disintermediation—engaging, serving, and delivering directly to the end user—will be a critical component of success for enterprises as they build effective “total experience” ecosystems. Another key component will be establishing and sustaining digital trust among users.

An interesting stat from the survey responses

And I love this quote from a customer case study:

“We aren’t just focusing on digital transformation from an IT perspective. We’re thinking, ‘What is it that we need to work with our communities? With our residents and businesses? Who are the people who have interactions with us? And how do we enrich their experience?’”

Rehana Ramesh, Head of Digital Transformation, Brent Council

It resonates with me because it illustrates so well, like the 3 reasons retailers are leading at the intersection of employee and customer experience that I captured, how public services can be a key driver of this connection.

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At the intersection of inner and outer worlds – the individual and company

The inner and outer worlds are indivisible and if you are to make a sucess of yourself as an individual, you need to think of both. When it comes to work, companies also have to think about these worlds, in relation to employees and customers. We have to think about how we, as individuals, bring our best to how we live and work every day. Leaders of companies need to think of how to enable this, so the most important stakeholder of a business is satisfied: the customer.

Click to enlarge

How to optimise a strategy for personal and company success

1. Start with yourself first and look inside

We are often tempted to focus on externals. Material things, how we look, how we attain wealth, etc. Thats because these may appear more tangible and easier to quantify and handle.

But it would all be for nothing if we are not happy and healthy, and this work starts first on the inside.

Start with your thoughts and take care of them. As Buddha once said, “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.”

Thoughts give rise to emotions so you are best placed to start with thoughts, but emotions are also highly spontaneous and can be leveraged or managed for successful living.

All these thoughts and emotions go to creating an inner set of beliefs and values over time and help mould your purpose.

2. Monitor your lived experience

No man is an island, as John Donne famously penned in a poem and no plan survives first encounter with the enemy as German field marshal Moltke the Elder once said.

Unless you want to become a hermit or are debilitatingly introverted, you have to interact with people.

The way you come across is a reflection of how you see and value yourself.

Being acutely aware of your interactions and the impact your personality and identity have on others when you are interacting with them is fundamental for success.

The behaviours you display and elicit are a reflection of you and ultimately effects the experience others have with you. And this needs to be understood and evolved as you do, and change based on the feedback you get.

3. People power

Few companies and leaders understand the importance of their most important asset – people. A lot of lip service is given to employee well-being, but still not enough is done.

With the advent of technologies like AI, automation and robots, there is also a danger that people are overlooked for these sexier alternatives.

But that is changing. Many are now realising the importance of the employee experience and the impact this has on the bottom line and ultimately, the company’s success.

Employee experience is the culmination of efforts a company takes to ensure the well-being of employees while optimising their capabilities around a company’s strategy and execution.

The outcomes, if managed well, are higher levels of productivity and therefore business performance and a positive company culture which has material impacts on the same.

In essence: The Key to Happy Customers? Happy Employees.

4. Customer Success

Customer success is when your customer reaches their desired outcomes while using your product or service.

Assuming this happens, you will have satisfied customers and satisfied customers tend to want to stick around and continue using your company’s products and services.

Now there will be many more factors at play than just the people generally responsible for ensuring the customer is successful with your product or service. Things like systems, processes, methodologies and technologies.

But it is when the people efforts (all people and all efforts, not just of those with customer success in their titles), all come together and connect to make exceptional customer experiences, that you have magic.

This connection, the middle bit of the diagram above, is something I am writing a trend report about and you can find out more about it by clicking on the link below.

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How Artificial Intelligence is Changing Marketing Forever

Today, marketers need to be agile, intuitive and strategic to thrive. In future, they’ll need intelligence, of the artificial kind. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is changing how we market forever. AI is the ability for computers to process data and make decisions based on that information. It can solve complex problems, identify patterns in data and learn from new information. AI uses Machine Learning algorithms so that computer programs can learn as new information becomes available. Marketing programs are using AI in everything from audience segmentation and targeting, to content creation and social media optimization. Let’s explore how businesses are using AI in marketing today.

NOTE: This article was written with the support of Writesonic. In fact it should take credit for about 60% of the content you read in this post. I wanted to make a case in point and test out the options. I read about the options from this article: 31+ Best AI Writer: Free AI Writing Assistant [July 2022]. That article was pointed out to me by a friend on LinkedIn. If you read that thread on LinkedIn you will see that that start of it is a similar case in point – I was trying to automate some content publishing functions. As you can see this topic is very much top of mind and that’s because a lot is happening in this space. In this article, I took the copy that was produced by Writesonic and tweaked it, exactly as my friend suggested and I was left feeling inspired and not that I was cheating. You be the judge on how it worked.

Why Is AI in Marketing Important?

For decades, marketers have been using data to inform their strategies, but manual, human-led processes are limiting. Manual processes aren’t scalable, and it’s difficult to get the level of precision that an AI solution can offer. AI offers marketers a chance to automate and increase the effectiveness of their strategies by creating the right technology to meet their unique needs. There’s evidence to suggest that AI adoption in marketing will increase significantly over the next few years. Past reports from a CMO Survey indicated that 41% of marketers were planning to increase their AI spending in 2018. The same report predicted that AI adoption in marketing will grow globally by 5X, with $37 billion being spent on AI in 2020. Considering it is now 2022, you’d expect that to be borne out and a quick search finds many studies corroborating that, like this one: AI Marketing Adoption: A 5-Step Guide | Emarsys.

Audience Segmentation and Targeting

One of the best uses for AI in marketing is audience segmentation and targeting. AI helps marketers create more personalized marketing campaigns by segmenting their audience and targeting specific groups. For example, AI can help marketers identify which customers are more likely to buy their products. Some marketing software can automatically collect data about customers, campaigns or website visitors. That data can then be used to build customer profiles. Other marketing software can use your existing customer data to create audience segments. AI can also be used to explore your existing customer data to find patterns that can be used to create audience segments.

Content Creation

With AI, marketers can use technology to help with this task, as I have. This could significantly reduce the time and cost of creating content. A few ways that AI can be used to create content include:

  1. Sentiment analysis – AI can help analyse the sentiment of your current content to provide insights that can be used to create more effective content.
  2. Automated journalism – AI can be used to create articles based on what’s happening in the world, or on topics you want to cover. This technology can be used to create weekly or daily content without the need for human intervention.
  3. Automated content curation – AI can be used to collect, organise and publish content from various sources. It can be used to maintain your social media channels and from the video at the end, you can see how the tool can be used to arrive at SEO optimised material that is useful for attractive and relevant post titles.

What I fear is that authenticity and originality is lost. And what about the nuanced perspective that you get from deeply personal insights in a specialist topic in which you have deep experience – can AI ever replace that?

I think that as long as you use it to support your writing and not in place of, this could be a winning combination. One I am willing to try and evolve with.

Summing up

Artificial Intelligence has been around for a long time and has always been used to automate repetitive tasks, but only recently has it been used to replace the most creative tasks in marketing such as content creation. With AI playing a significant role in marketing, there is no doubt that it will change the industry forever and it will be difficult for marketers to ignore this technology. Check out a video demo below of the very same function I used to create the basis for this article.

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How Microsoft Viva can drive Performance – Correlating and Tracking Business Outcomes

I’m doing a lot of Microsoft Viva work with customers (disclosure) as well as working on a trend report on a related subject, so I am constantly thinking about where this work leads to. The obvious question is what kind of business outcome you are trying to achieve and how do you measure it. This post is to share some initial thinking. Anyone who reads this and is involved in similar work, I’d love your input so I can advance this very quick attempt (hence thought rocket).

So first let me elaborate on the format briefly. It’s just a simple table. I felt it was a nice way to achieve what I wanted. Aside from the structure you can create, it kind of helps to list things out. I wanted to have almost a catalogue that I could capture existing work with but also help stimulate future work (or at least thinking around it). The table below is a combination of those things. Considering there are so many modules in Viva, the structure was helpful to work around them too.

Click to enlarge

I don’t think the structure and the breakdowns need much more elaboration – they are fairly self-evident. What is much more important is what goes inside them and the references and descriptions I use.

I’ve had to make this generic and I’ve not added specific targets but the clues to what those would be is in the KPI/Outcome column.

As mentioned, some of these are based on real work and some just ideas. As mentioned, would love any input – just add a comment if you have any. This is still very much a work in progress and any work I do or input I receive I’ll progress this perspective further with.

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The SenseMaking Funnel

I’m pretty keen on SenseMaking as a key 21st century skill and I also use it as a main category I write under. In most posts where I use the category, I am writing or doodling (an integral part of the process) to make sense of things for myself and sharing it in case it helps others. I have written about it as a skill though and initially tried to make sense of SenseMaking. This post does more of the latter as I delve deeper with the help of a DanelDoodle.

First the DanelDoodle then some elaboration.

A funnel and all seeing eye – geddit 👀😜 – you can click to enlarge

Info

On the receiving end at the beginning of the funnel, a necessary step. We have to start with gathering information. But if we stay here too long, we get stuck, confused and lose the plot.

Here most of all we have mostly a jumble of facts. Maybe worthwhile in parts, but as a whole pretty useless.

Most people operate at this level – passing on facts and passing them off as knowledge.

Knowledge

This is where you start with the real process of making sense of facts.

Mostly it’s about organising the facts into some improved order. You structure the information you have received and convert it into some degree of knowledge.

The end result should be a knowing of what all the facts mean, in totality. That is, the collective meaning of all the facts and the impact they might have on actions. This last point, a conversion into something more meaningful that can culminate into improved behaviours, is deeply important.

The knowledge could simply take you to a deeper level of understanding, but this is less useful.

Wisdom

So true SenseMaking is when you convert all the knowledge and meaning into action and ideally a lived experience.

Then you are at the seeing stage, with your own senses you have learned, understood and acted on what you have learned and seen how this works.

I include the practical, experimental elements to this phase because I think it is what really brings knowledge to life. But it doesn’t have to be.

You can just see things better, more clearly. What a pity though don’t you think, if you can’t translate it into some that takes you beyond your starting point?

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Managing innovation is a misnomer – better to prepare for serendipity

I’ve been involved in many innovation activities in the past, from participating in and supporting hackathons, corporate ventures to being involved with startups. I’ve observed that often times, best results come not from better management, but from being ready to pounce when serendipity presents its sweet opportunities.

Okay maybe startups are slightly different in that they are not so much an exercise in innovation, even though their outcomes often result in disruptive innovation.

Let’s focus on enterprise innovation efforts.

Whether it’s through formal innovation programs (of the type that I supported and recount here) or hackathons, I have found that in the main, less is more.

And the alarming statistics confirm it: More than 90% of high-potential ventures fail to meet projected targets, while roughly 75% of the products released each year bomb.

Why control is so ingrained and so counter productive

Just as in this doodle (one of my favourites) and with creativity, you cannot force innovation, much less control it.

In a world in constant flux where the rate of change is accelerating and uncertainty is increasing, I get people’s tendencies to exert ever greater control over things they perceive they can.

But I don’t believe this is effective.

To take a leaf out of Buddhist practice, I believe in ‘non-action’, which is an integral part of the Right Way, and a better way to approach things.

Non-action isn’t about holing yourself up in a cave and ignoring everything. It’s more about practicing detachment or letting go, which are also key related tenets. Moreover, it’s about diving in and embracing uncertainty and opportunity in an effortless way.

Preparing for serendipity

So how do you go about preparing for serendipity? For being ready to recognise and then act on good ideas when they land?

1. Learning mindset.

Innovation is about discovery and the more you learn, the more you discover. If you drive a learning mindset and culture in your organisation and allow people time to learn, they will be equipped for discovery. In this state, when new challenges present themselves, they will be ready and able to respond with new solutions and ideas.

2. Cutting bureaucracy.

Not just in the innovation process, everywhere. Bureaucracy is what holds things back, saps energy, presents hurdles and provides excuses for not trying. The blight of bureaucracy is everywhere, in all departments and growing, but it is especially pernicious in frustrating innovation efforts so do all you can to get hurdles out of the way of employees. Whether in formal or informal innovation initiatives, adopt the way of the minimalist and “remove until it breaks”.

3. Experimentation is the new planning.

Use of data in measuring the outcomes of your experiments is crucial in this approach too. But mostly it’s about making time (sometimes funding even) for experimentation and making this the emphasis of any evaluation, not plans that span pages and based on wishful thinking. Far better a small-scale experiment, even if with negative results, but results where learning can move you forward. I’ve alternatively described this as a way of success hacking.

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Starting out as a customer success manager – first 10 things to do

I was asked by a new colleague who is just two months into his role, what advice I could provide. Here it is in a short, sharp list of 10 things to focus on. I’ve tried to make it generic since there are some things specific to the company I work for that I could not mention here (disclosure).

Follow the numbers

Because everything is measurable and measured these days, especially in the customer success field, this is a natural starting point.

1. Find out what metrics the company use to measure customer success effectiveness and how your performance will be managed in this regard.

2. Find out what tools are used to track your impact and outcomes against these metrics and master them. These will most often be transactional and analytics or reporting based solutions focused on either revenue and/or usage or telemetry-based metrics. You will find out more about this after doing your homework from point 1.

3. In addition to the tools, find out what will help you achieve the numbers in terms of processes and supporting resources. Things like content, funding activities or programs that drive customer activity, etc.

4. Find out who will help you achieve them internally. Identify top performers and what makes them tick and why they perform well, i.e. why the company has rewarded them for being top performers based on quota attainment. This also refers to supporting or complimentary functions like sales, product engineering, etc.

5. Find out which customers will help you achieve those numbers, an internal quantitative assessment. Hopefully the company will have done an analysis of which customers have the highest propensity to renew, upsell, cross sell and have the money (budget) and intention to invest in your product and company.

Forget the numbers

Because we are too often obsessed with measurement. It can dumb you down and make you myopic (great observations in an interview with renowned management thinker and professor Henry Mintzberg).

6. Understand your customers, their business, wants and desires – do your own customer qualification work not just what was done internally under point 5. This is an external qualitative assessment.

7. Prioritise customers based on intent to use your product – nothing to do with numbers. Its a feel for how engaged they are and how well bought in they are to your product and company. For this you should also look internally, at your culture and how well it aligns with the customer’s.

8. Identify the key stakeholders. These are the decision makers, the champions or advocates (for your product and company). If you don’t find any, you will either have to decide to develop them because the numbers justify it or deprioritise this customer. Also look at how open your organisation and the customers are to open collaboration and transparency – if connection and knowledge is hoarded, this is not a good sign.

9. Identify the business outcomes they are trying to achieve; okay numbers may come into this but think about what problems they are trying to solve and needs they are trying to meet and how your organisation and product/service can support these. Think innovatively and use something like the Jobs to be Done lens.

10. Focus on value that you, your product and your company can bring in trying to meet those unmet needs or problems they are trying to solve. Again, numbers could come into it. But think more creatively and innovatively and bring time into it. What is the customer’s plan for creating value and where do you and your organisation and its product/services fit in – think in horizons – 1-3 years.

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The employee customer experience connection – 6 reasons to focus

With a world that is so binary I’m not surprised there isn’t more attention on this topic. People are either in the one camp, or the other, mostly. There are some, and I consider myself one, that straddle both sides. Here is why I think this is going to become increasingly important and a key differentiator for businesses if focused on properly.

First a little elaboration on my interest and role. I am watching a trend that eventually will become a report on the subject – more on that and other writing here: Employee Customer Experience Connection.

As for my role, I work as a customer success professional in the employee experience industry. Okay, the industry has only just recently identified itself thus and only in part, but effectively that is what its about.

At Microsoft where I work (disclosure), a massive part of its business, the Microsoft 365 part, is about employee or personal productivity. Formally, it’s a “productivity cloud that delivers innovative and intelligent experiences, rich organizational insights, and a trusted platform to help people and organizations get more done”.

The employee experience part that I am now heavily involved in has just recently been emphasised through a product called Microsoft Viva.

But my point is, the majority of my work has been (in the last decade or more) with people in companies concerned with helping their employees get more done for the success of the organisation. This ultimately comes through being successful with customers.

Why the employee customer experience connection matters

  1. Co-dependency. You can spend all the time in the world creating the best employee experience but if you don’t know if or how it impacts on the customer experience and outcomes, you are missing the bottom line. Customers are where the rubber hits the road and revenue and profits are earned – without this being optimised, you wont have employees for long. The rub is, it’s through employees you achieve this 🤔
  2. Data insights gold. There are tons of insights to be had on either side of the equation but if you don’t map it at the intersection, and there should be no reason why you cant, it’s wasted. At this intersection, you find the holy grail. If employee experience is the input side, the customer experience is the output side and how to optimise this, the ideal.
  3. Culture matters. What you do inside is reflected outside and the way you treat people is a linear relationship with the way employees treat customers. Company culture creation is at the forefront of that. Culture efforts are normally focused internally because it is within your control to a greater degree. Company culture impacts on and influences the culture that customer feel and lives too, so best you get it right.
  4. Proximity matters. A great example of this is the retail industry which I recently wrote about: 3 reasons retailers are leading at the intersection of employee and customer experience. Retail stores that give an employee a good experience have low turnover, and, in addition, they have a much better experience. And the firms that focus on this show higher profitability and growth. It doesn’t mean this proximity cannot be achieved in the digital realm, it’s just that in this context and for this industry, the physical experience has greater impact.
  5. Employees as customers and vice versa. You have to keep in mind that outside of your company, your employees and customers operate in both realms and get to experience good or bad encounters as a result of them. If an employee has a great experience as a customer with another company and comes back to yours to realise it’s terrible in comparison, they may not stay around for too long.
  6. Common purpose. Customers and employees alike have aspirations they strive to achieve, aligned with a sense of purpose. This cannot really be separated or compartmentalised. So you need to think about the vision of your company and what you are setting out to achieve and how you are bringing value to the world in the context of both groups alike.