Let Your End Users Talk

When starting your own business, it’s important to do solid market research – you must be sure you’ll have customers and lots of them. When talking with potential customers, or end users, you want to seek information about their pain points. You are researching, not selling. You must accept the possibility that your product or service idea may drastically change or disappear after these conversations, and be okay with that. Poor listening to the market is a major reason for the high failure rate of new businesses.

Last week I observed a “discovery session” for four entrepreneurs (Es) who were creating tools for adult learning.  45 older adults were invited to share their frustrations with learning. The participants were divided into four groups with one E to each group. Two of the four Es spent the hour talking more about the virtues of their product idea than listening to the needs of the group. One E threw out a series of yes/no questions, which came across as a way of corralling participants into agreeing with the E’s proposition. When a few members piped up and suggested different features, alternatives or hailed the competition, you could see these Es bristle. These Es were clearly in love with their own solutions and could not help but shift to selling mode instead of gathering unbiased and constructive information. The other two Es, however, had the right approach.  As a matter of fact, you could not tell whether these two Es even had a product idea. They sat back and let the participants vent about their struggles with learning how to use a cell phone or installing a computer. These Es asked open-ended questions  resulting in so much content that the scribes could barely keep up. In addition, these Es, not blinded by their own solutions, were intensely interested in how the participants valued existing tools.

Need help learning how to deeply listen and ask questions that put you on the path to entrepreneurial success? Contact me at [email protected]                

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Connection Conversations

Founders short on time and money tend to short communication with staff. Hasty hires, ignoring minor office tiffs, hazy objectives and the like can cost more time and money in the end. These problems aren’t too great for your health either. Minutes of wholehearted, attentive listening can save a company millions. Research shows that founders who foster a mindful listening environment meet their deadlines and quotas more often, are more successful and have happier and sustainable teams. It’s never too late to infuse more mindful listening into your startup.

Hands down, the best ways to improve communication is to have quarterly face-to-face, electronic-free, 20 minute meetings  with each employee. The goal, simply by listening, makes your employees feel valued and respected for their ideas and opinions. I have found that giving an employee just five minutes of uninterrupted, earnest listening can be transformative.

Discovering an employee’s learning and communication style can be very helpful in forming teams and meeting expectations. Are they high energy and assertive, meek and agreeable, task driven or deadline driven? Are they static or growth oriented? What are their values, and why do or don’t they show up to work every day? Expensive surveys are a time hog, touted as a time saving way to get a pulse on the opinions of the group, barely skim the surface of what employees need and want to make your company great.If you offer these periodic connection conversations, come performance review time, your employees will show greater willingness to accept feedback and make needed changes.

Founders alert: Short on time and money? Can’t afford expensive consultants and training? Get a 60 minute personalized coaching session with me. Learn how a few simple changes to your listening style can upgrade your team’s efficiency and productivity. Contact me at [email protected]  

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An Intrapreneur Asks: How Can I Be Heard?

Are you an employee of a start-up itching to play more of a leadership role in your company as an intrapreneur? If you are a founder, you can bet that there are a some employees deep in the trenches with an entrepreneurial mindset; they want to develop, manage and lead smaller, revenue-producing projects within the company. Do you make it easy for them to share their ideas? I received this query from a frustrated employee that said it all:

Dear Rebecca,

How can I share my ideas for making my company better? I work in the customer service end of things, and I have ideas for speeding up orders and retaining customers. When I have suggested ideas to my bosses in the past, they seemed to agree with me, but nothing ever came of it. How can I get heard?   

A Frustrated Intrapreneur 

Dear Frustrated,

Here are 5 steps that will make it easier for your idea to be heard by the right people:

1) Check with your boss or HR to see if your company has a process or a proposal format for getting ideas to the decision maker. Just throwing out half-baked ideas is a good way for others not to take you seriously, or for your ideas to go nowhere.

2) Does your idea fit with the company’s mission and values? Is there a need for your idea? Have you any data or documented customer feedback regarding the problem you want to solve?

3) Can you explain your idea in a couple different ways (Power Point, graphics, a flow chart, etc) that are concise, simple and easily understood? Perhaps you haven’t been heard before because you speak in generalities, digress or talk beyond the average boss’s attention span of 15 seconds (or less)? If so, see my earlier blog for “Getting to the Point.”

4) What are the costs associated with the development and execution of your idea? How would your idea positively affect the bottom line? Or, if your idea had been implemented earlier, how would it have saved time and money, retained customers, decreased stress, etc?

5) How would your idea affect others in the company? Can you get the buy-in from those who would implement it?

If you address all these points and present them with a good dose of passion, don’t be surprised if you get an invitation to the boardroom!

If you are an intrapreneur wanting more tips for “getting heard,”
contact me at [email protected]

 

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