As business leaders, we spend a lot of time developing our company’s products or services. We devote man hours, resources and funds to help us reach our goals as quickly as possible. Frequently, we are successful and enjoy a smooth ride. Other times, we fail to create and evaluate our processes, which adversely affects our end results.
Whether you're trying to improve certain aspects of your business, pivot entirely, develop new products or just better scale your efforts, it's important to develop solutions that work for your actual customers.
Start With Self-Reflection
In the case of my business, we had spent a great deal of time and money on the visualization layer of our platform. Although we started out on a high note, with both staff and clients happy with what we had created, success was short-lived and we soon realized we had created a bottleneck. System maintenance upgrades demanded our staff work on weekends and made it so we couldn't run platform-wide report updates. Our performance simply didn’t scale.
Our team had many long discussions about our next moves. Ultimately, we found that to be successful, we needed to build the visualization layer ourselves. We needed to commit to a better way of doing business. We decided a 12-week development marathon was just what the doctor ordered. We put everything else aside—everything. And for 12 weeks we focused on the task at hand. It was time to accept the short-term pain in an effort to realize long-term gain.
During those 12 weeks, we had daily meetings with the team, embraced old-school product management and dusted off our whiteboard. We ordered in all our meals so the staff could eat for free. We plotted our milestones, and, week after week, we met our goals.
7 Steps for Improving Your Business
The most important part of this story is that we started from scratch. We didn’t try to fix a broken system. More than knowing what was wrong, we needed to know what clients cared about. So we asked them. This query allowed us to think of solutions rather than focus on problems. Happily, many of these discussions resulted in the creation of what are now some of our most unique selling points to date. We committed to solving real-life problems for real-life clients. No theory; just reality. How did we do it?
1. Brainstorm. What are customers, employees and other stakeholders saying? What do they want to see? What complaints can be addressed and resolved? What improvements can be made? Throw out all the ideas that come to mind; let the imagination work its magic.
2. Vet. After the no-holds-barred idea-fest, it’s time to evaluate what’s been tossed out there. What’s viable given the company’s manufacturing, technical or financial resources? Do the ideas mesh with the company’s mission? What would make customers take notice?
3. Develop. Once you’ve decided which ideas to pursue, it’s time to fully develop and test them. This may employ several different iterations or approaches, but it's a critical part of creating something new that is well-received.
4. Analyze. Bring in colleagues from different departments to do a business analysis of your concept. Will it pay for itself? Will it resonate with customers? What additional resources might the company need to execute the idea?
5. Test. Nothing should be launched or fully executed until the proper market and/or beta testing is completed. Does the technology work when used in everyday scenarios? Is the end result the same in the “real world” as it was in our insulated bubble? Have we created something that’s too confusing? Or too simple to be of value?
6.Implement. Whether it’s a technical improvement or a tangible product, the implementation is essentially the same. Both employees and customers should understand the who, what, why, where and when. Deadlines should be set (and met!) and priorities need to be in sync to ensure everything is in place to properly execute the idea.
7. Commercialize. Commercialization is the process by which you introduce a new product or method to the marketplace (whether internal or external). During this phase, it’s important to ask questions pertaining to the launch and solidify whom to target. The creation of a comprehensive action plan can help.
Talk, Listen and Adjust
When your goal is to accommodate your clients and meet their needs, there’s no need to make the discussion about anything else. Improve your customer experience, plain and simple.
Although many will suggest investing in expensive consultants or other commercial solutions to fix what ails a company, that isn’t always the answer. All too frequently, the solution is quite simple: Talk to clients and listen to their input. Then, follow the seven steps to ensure that problem turns into a solution.
Matthijs Keij is the co-founder and CEO of FlxOne, and previously co-founded Fresh Fruit Digital. He seeks to bridge the gap between technology and marketing, build a team with smart people, and enjoy the startup vibe and growth opportunity. He is also a member of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs.
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