I remember how excited I felt about what I’d learned after attending my first Pragmatic Institute course. What I didn’t immediately realize was how quickly I could harness that enthusiasm and use market data to make a real impact on my company culture.
Shortly after training, I had a meeting with customer support. The conversation went something like this: “We have this terrible error. We have to release right now.” I channeled my recent training and asked, “So, how many calls have we actually received about this error?” I did some quick calculations based on their response. “Okay,” I replied. “So we received calls from less than 1 percent of the client base.”
Everyone’s jaws dropped as I put that information into perspective for them. Bringing the conversation back to facts quickly changed the conversation and the rhythm of the team. When the problem was put into perspective, it was much easier to work together to assess what needed to happen and whether a fix was necessary.
That conversation with customer support sparked a change in the way we handled hot fixes out to the market. Instead of having a sky-is-falling mentality, we started digging up whatever facts we had available and did fixes in a more logical way.
Getting involved in when to release a hot fix is a tactical exercise, but I was able to prime that team to start thinking in terms of facts. Sometimes companies believe that they have to act based on instinct, based on the loudest person in the room or based on what the boss says; many times, they don’t realize they have an option. Market facts will transform your teams, your products, even your companies.
Using facts that customer support themselves provided also helped to increase buy-in. It empowered the entire team to say, “We will make the best decision if we all understand the situation.”
When you pull out the facts you have available, you change the conversation. You also change the mindset because you no longer have to guess. You can work collaboratively to figure out what the facts are and then find the best solution.
Using Data for Executive Conversations
Before you can have a credible conversation with executives, you must have some facts under your belt. Even doing a handful of market visits and gathering those market facts will allow you to inject better information into the conversation. Executives are often accustomed to driving the company based on their available data. This can cause problems, depending on the data they are actually exposed to.
I remember having conversations with executives who basically said, “Based on what I know, the entire market is going to move in this direction.” By asking, “How do you know that? What have you heard?” I could better understand where they got their information.
For instance, one vice president of engineering was a technical, brilliant engineer. He was participating regularly in analyst briefings, hearing all about what those analysts thought was going to happen in the market. He became confident that he knew exactly where the market was going, which problems people were having, and what they were doing. I said, “I’ve been out to three client visits in the last month, but I’ve never seen anything like that. What makes you think that?”
I was not in a position to go head-to-head with this VP based on my opinion; but when I shared my facts and asked him where he had gotten his facts, it enabled an objective conversation about what the analysts were predicting and whether there was any correlation with our market data. As it turned out, there was not a lot of correlation. The analysts were off; they had a myopic view, which they passed on to the VP. If no one had asked whether those facts were reflective of the actual market, we could have invested a lot of money in something that would not have succeeded.
It’s a good illustration of what happens when you don’t see all the parts. You can think you’re headed in the right direction, but you must get enough information to validate.
Your job is to tease out the facts from others and share your market data. Remember, they have a tiny part of the picture. If each person puts their facts on the table, everyone can take a step back and say, “Wow. None of us had the right answer.”
Start With Available Data
You can begin to identify trends right away by identifying what data you already have. Available sources of data might include trip and event reports, sales engineer reports, enhancement requests, or information gleaned from employees who have returned from trade shows.
Get some really good qualitative discussions in as well with the buyers and users who are most important to your business or product. Once you get a handful of market visits within a particular market segment, you have some numbers to share.
You do need to be careful about how you share that information. For instance, if you have done five market visits and seen the same market problem three times, it’s not fair to say “60 percent of the market has this problem.” It is fair to say, “I don’t know the entire market, but I have done five visits in the last couple of months; I’ve seen this problem crop up in at least three of those visits.” Be open about the data you’ve collected, though, and don’t exaggerate or extend.
There are many things that can skew your initial sample. Maybe you did a half-dozen visits, but they were all in the same city. Perhaps you did five market visits, but they were all during the same week as a major international event that impacted what people were focused on. When you reach a point where you want to make an investment, you don’t want to proceed based only on five market visits, especially when you understand how easy it could be to have a bad initial sample. To mitigate that risk, you’ll want to do surveys with a larger audience to ensure you’ve accurately identified the trends.
Changing your culture isn’t actually about changing the culture—it’s about changing the conversation. It’s about changing the relationship between people. It’s about changing the rhythms inside your company and inside your meeting rooms. You make that change by becoming truly market-driven: by injecting facts into the conversation. Bring people together, get them centered with a common understanding of the facts and allow them to make the right decisions. When you follow this approach, one day you’ll look around and realize that you have dramatically changed your culture.