The Best Innovation Consulting Firms to Join in 2022

Top innovation consulting firmsWhat are some of the top innovation consulting firms you could join?

In this article, I want to do two things:

  1. To explain the different types of innovation consultancies,
  2. To share with you a selection of some of the best innovation consulting firms.

Let’s dive in!

What’s an innovation consulting firm

An innovation consultancy is a firm that helps companies prepare themselves for the future.

How does this work?

Innovation firms partner with their clients to solve the challenges that are going in the way of exploring new sources of growth.

They provide support through different type activities, including:

  • Spotting new opportunities
  • Facilitating innovation workshops (more about this here)
  • Creating an innovation portfolio
  • Developing a strategic narrative
  • Testing new ideas
  • Providing innovation training
  • Piloting a new business model

When I talk about this, people are often surprised that companies do not do that themselves. But, when you’re in the driving seat, it’s extremely difficult to plan your journey at the same time.

It’s the same for companies. It’s hard to execute a plan, while figuring out what you should do next.

Where innovation consulting firms come from

In the early 20th century, companies started growing at scale. They needed support to optimise their operations. This led to the birth of management consulting.

Innovation consulting firms were born out of another problem in the 1990s and 2000s. The changing business environment requires companies to reinvent themselves. It’s not just about being better at what you already do, it’s also about figuring out what else you can do to grow and remain relevant in a rapidly changing space.

Let me explain by comparing management consulting and innovation consulting:

  • Management consulting is about helping companies better operate and manage themselves. It’s about processes, efficiency, resource allocation, cost management, etc.
  • Innovation consulting is about helping explore new products and business models. It’s about discovering and testing new ways to generate revenue.

While management consulting focuses on improving upon the existing, innovation consulting is focused on figuring out what comes next.

Read more: If you want a more in-depth explanation, have a read of my detailed definition of what’s innovation consulting.

Different types of innovation consultancies

As you might expect, not all the firms are the same. To help you better understand the landscape, I divide the innovation firms in three buckets:

  • Independent consultancies
  • Departments of large consultancies
  • Acquired consultancies

For each category, I’ll share the specificity of working for such a firm.

Independent innovation consultancies

Independent innovation consultancies are private companies that deliver their services under one brand.

You can notice differences between:

  • Larger consultancies, which tend to reach a critical mass of a few hundreds consultants
  • Newer consultancies, which look more like startups with a handful of employees

I make the distinction because working for one type or the other feels very different. I’ll explain.

Larger innovation consultancies

In the “older” category, I put innovation consultancies that have existed for 5 to 30 years.

They tend to be led by their founders, but those may have been replaced by a non-founding executive team. This can have an impact on the culture and how the company runs. A founder-led consultancy tends to rely more on their ideas and vision. When the founders aren’t in the leadership team, ideas and the vision can be a bit more decentralised. Note that every consultancy will have a different governance system.

One noticeable difference: An older agency will have recurring clients and more inbound sales, as it can rely on its creds and reputation.

That being said, the size of the deals can be limited compared to consultancies that are part of public companies. To differentiate themselves, they may also focus on a smaller number of industries or types of services they provide.

Newer innovation consultancies

Newer consultancies will be led by their founders with very little hierarchy. For junior consultants, it will be easier to get more exposure and responsibilities.

What’s appealing is that it’s likely you’ll be working on new ways of approaching innovation. When you start a consultancy, you need to differentiate yourself. This will mean showing to your clients that you provide innovation services that do not exist, e.g., a new methodology, new ways of working, and new tools to use.

You also tend to have more freedom to create and take initiatives.

One thing to note with newer firms: There is a massive focus on sales and building credibility. This is especially important for senior consultants, who will spend lots of time pitching and responding to RFPs.

Departments of large consulting groups

Looking at the success of independent firms, large consulting groups also started delivering innovation services by setting up their own departments.

There, you will tend to have less freedom than in independent consultancies because you’ll have to follow the “mothership”. It means more admin, strict staffing and promotion policies, and less flexibility regarding how you spend your time. It comes with advantages and disadvantages.

  • One thing that’s quite appealing is that you’ll benefit from some momentum when selling work, as you’ll be selling new services to existing clients.
  • One of the risks is that the innovation department is in the service of selling other kinds of work. Some departments end up just running workshops rather than inventing new products and delivering strategic recommendations.

Talking about workshops: If you want to know more on how workshops are run, have a read of my guide on how to run great workshops.

Acquired innovation consultancies

An alternative for setting up an innovation department is to acquire an independent agency. Over the last few years, there’s been a big wave of consolidation with many independent firms being acquired by large consulting groups.

Here, it feels like a blend of the previous types. But note that it can evolve quickly. You may have a lot of freedom at the start and rapidly have to adopt more and more set processes. This depends on the type of integration strategy.

When speaking with people who work for companies that have been acquired, I noticed two types of acquisition strategies: Swallowing and scaling.

  1. Swallowing means that the company lost its brand name and merged with another acquisition or an existing innovation department,
  2. Scaling means that the acquirer sees potential in the brand and invests to open new offices and recruit more consultants.

While the former scenario can be deceptive, the latter one is exciting as it opens many opportunities for growth.

If you’re looking to join an innovation consultancy, spotting a recent acquisition that is scaling can be a great idea, as they will have more job openings.

Getting a job in innovation: If you’re interested in the innovation space, read my advice on how to get a job in innovation consulting.

Comparing different types of firms

To sum up the points I made before, let me share with you a table that compares the different kinds of innovation consulting firms.

[table id=4 responsive=scroll /]

As you can see, there isn’t a perfect type of firm. Every type has pros and cons. It all depends on what you’re after.

A list of top innovation consulting firms

Now, I want to share with you a list of innovation consultancies that make it to the top.

[table id=5 responsive=scroll /]

There are many more innovation consulting firms. You can find a good set of smaller innovation consultancies, and also, most consulting groups will have an innovation department.

I just wanted to give you a good list so you can kickstart your journey into applying for those firms.

If you want to broaden the list, you can have a look at some resources such as the FT Ranking and Sifted.

What’s next to join an innovation consulting firm

If you’ve read this article on the top innovation consulting firms because you want to work in innovation, I would suggest you read my series of articles on innovation consulting, especially the one on how to get a job in innovation consulting.

To go deeper and understand the type of work you’ll be doing, I also recommend reading my last two books.

Have a look at:

With all this, you’ll be set for success to get the job you want at an innovation consulting firm.

What’s Innovation Consulting, Everything You Need to Know

What is innovation consultingOver the last few years, innovation consulting got a lot of traction because of the way it enables companies to get better at building the future.

But not everyone knows what innovation consulting means.

I’ve been working with a leading innovation consultancy for more than five years. Let me use my experience to explain what innovation consulting is all about.

Lack of a clear definition

It’s hard to define the concept of innovation consulting because there is no set model. Every firm has its own approach. And even within these organising frameworks, they adapt how they do innovation to each of their clients (and sometimes to each project they run).

The reason?

Every innovation challenge is unique. You can’t tackle all of them with inflexible ways of doing things.

To explain what innovation consulting means, I’ll do four things:

  1. Define innovation
  2. Answer why companies need support to innovate
  3. Tell you about the main objectives that innovation consulting seeks to achieve
  4. Map the innovation landscapes with the main alternatives to innovation consultancies

Let’s get started!

A short definition of innovation

Innovation is often assimilated to new technologies. Artificial intelligence, blockchain, virtual reality… All these technologies sound like they’re connected to innovation.

Yes. Innovation often includes new technology. But that’s not it.

In the world of business and strategy, innovation is about new things that we didn’t do before and that allows us to grow a business.

Is it invention or innovation?

In general, innovation is treated as a synonym of invention. But not all inventions become innovations. And not all innovations come from new inventions.

Let me explain.

An invention is a new idea that can be patented. The patent documents the legal right of having thought of something new first. But it doesn’t mean that this new idea is useful and/or can lead to anyone being interested in buying the underlying product or service.

Invention vs. innovation - Meaning
Invention and innovation are two different concepts

From a business perspective, an innovation is something new that creates value for others and allows the company to capture some of that value in exchange for having created that value.

Remember: The distinction between invention and innovation is twofold: the right of having thought of something new (invention) and the ability of creating value for others, while capturing value in exchange (innovation).

What’s innovation? What’s not innovation?

An innovation can be as big as a new business that operates independently and as small as a new feature or new marketing initiative that helps grow sales or customer retention.

Meaning of innovation
To qualify as an innovation, it must be useful and allow a company to grow sustainably

And it can also be about being innovative in the way a company operates, e.g., creating a better hybrid working experience or setting up modular manufacturing capabilities.

Innovation is in the service of creating more value for customers and society to generate growth for a company.

So here’s the question: Why do companies need support to innovate?

Why companies buy innovation consulting services

Large organisations are excellent at executing a plan. Most of these companies have been in the business of doing the same thing well for decades (even centuries).

A lot of these companies have to create new capabilities to challenge themselves and pursue the new opportunities offered by the digital era.

Scaling machines

Organisations that operate at scale are well-oiled machines.

But they are missing one thing.

They’re missing the ability to discover new ways of doing things, and building new brands and new businesses.

A few weeks ago, I heard a senior executive of a global consumer goods company saying that “creating new brands is too hard”, which is why they are now partnering with consultancies.

Exploit or explore?

In the world of algorithms, we make a distinction between two activities:

  • Exploiting is about scaling, i.e., the systematic improvement and growth of an existing business
  • Exploring focuses on discovery, i.e., creating, testing, and implementing new ideas

Large companies are great at exploiting. They know how to use their resources to generate maximum return on the things they know well.

Innovation: Explore or Exploit
Exploring correlates with high uncertainty regarding the results, while exploiting relates more to things that a company already knows how to manage

But they need help to explore. Large companies aren’t great at experimenting with new ideas. They tend to need help to deal with high uncertainty.

Exploring is where innovation consulting has a role to play.

Innovation is today’s challenge

The Industrial Revolution led to the creation of complex organisations. In the 20th century, we saw the birth of management consulting firms such as Arthur D. Little (1909) and McKinsey & Company (1926). Their objective is to help companies to optimise the way they operate, so they become more efficient.

Timeline of management consulting and innovation consulting
When you look at the dates when the management consulting and innovation consulting firms were founded, it gets clear that the challenges that their clients face have changed

Then, in the 1990s and early 2000s, the Digital Revolution led to the emergence of new technologies and new business models, creating new opportunities to grow. This is a different business landscape where things change much faster. Going after new opportunities requires companies to be fast, operate differently, and get better at innovating. This is in the context of the digital era that innovation consulting firms have a role to play.

A new challenge: If I had to continue the timeline and talk about a third era, I would call it the Sustainability Revolution. Now, most innovation projects have components of sustainability. This is driven by changes in customers’ expectations as well as stricter regulations.

The objectives of innovation consulting

Every company faces different challenges when they try to innovate. That means that innovation consulting has to show up in many different ways to help them.

Go from spotting new business opportunities to generating ideas to seizing those opportunities to helping incubate and build new products, services, and businesses.

What innovation consulting firms do
Innovation consulting covers a large range of activities that are all necessary to better innovate

Let me share a non-exhaustive list of what an innovation consultancy does.

Spotting new opportunities

A large part of innovation consulting is about helping companies make sense of what’s happening in the world, gain insight of what their customers want, and turn all of this into seizable opportunities.

Read more: If you want to see how companies spot new opportunities, have a look at my latest book, The Opportunity Lenses.

Generating ideas

Another challenge for companies is to come up with ideas that are worth being implemented.

The trick is that to come up with good ideas, you must have lots of bad ideas. But then, you need to eliminate the bad ones quickly, without killing a good one too early.

In reality, we’re far from the infamous brainstorming session.

  • Done well, generating ideas involves many people in the company to bring a diversity of perspectives and connect new ideas with existing initiatives.
  • It’s iterative in the way it uses several testing cycles to refine those ideas by involving potential customers, suppliers, and employees.

This process is very much iterative.

To sum up: You start with a starter idea and push it through until it becomes a fully formed concept with an action plan attached to it.

De-risk the next steps

This is a critical objective of any innovation project: landing the work in the organisation.

For new ideas to be implemented, several things need to happen:

  • They must be connected to the overall strategy and possibly to existing initiatives and workstreams;
  • Executives must have confidence that the ideas are feasible, economically viable, and desired by the customers;
  • This new plan needs to be packaged into a narrative that’s easily digestable.

Most consultancies will talk about new trends, and cover the importance of being creative and advocate the adoption of a startup mindset.

It’s less frequent to meet consultants that truly emphasise the importance of how new ideas will live and grow in the company.

Note: The outcome isn’t always the internal implementation of an idea. It could also be acquiring a business that will help go after an opportunity.

Incubating the future

At the inception of the era of innovation firms, the focus was more on the strategy and the storytelling than on the actual delivery of the innovation.

To differentiate themselves from the competition and companies getting smarter at innovating, innovation consultancies started behaving more like design studios offering both the strategy and the delivery of innovation.

This happened through two ways:

  1. Building capabilities in-house by hiring designers and software engineers;
  2. Joining larger consulting groups that already have delivery capabilities.

The holy grail of any innovation engagement: Consultancies aspire to go from spotting an opportunity to imagining new ideas to partnering with the client to deliver the innovation and generate revenue and sustainable impact.

Alternatives to innovation consulting

Innovation consultancies aren’t the only entities that partner with companies to push their innovation agenda. There is a whole suite of partners that do that.

Companies can also set up programmes that can help do this internally.

Other innovation partners

There’s a long list of partners that can help companies to innovate and be more innovative.

Alternatives to innovation consulting
There are many alternative ways that can help companies to get better at innovating

Let me present some of them.

  • Market research firms provide insight into new trends and emerging needs to make it easier to spot new business opportunities.
  • Media companies (e.g. The Economist, The Wired, The Information, Axios) can run projects that leverage their reporting know-how to inform executives on new trends and help them form a view of how the business landscape is likely to evolve.
  • Venture capital firms share their views on what they believe will be the important technologies and business models of the future (though possibly biased by their own investments). They can also facilitate the intro of the startups in their portfolio.
  • Startups play a big role in helping experiment with new technologies and new business models. They can do this through partnerships with larger companies or as being part of a corporate venture portfolio. This may even lead to the company acquiring the startup.
  • Freelancers tend to play the same role as innovation consultancies, but they are often more specialised and don’t cover such a large range of competencies.

As you see, executives can rely on a wide range of partners to encourage innovation within their companies. Each kind brings its own advantages and disadvantages.

Keep in mind: There is no silver bullet. What’s relevant depends on the challenges that the company faces, and what its executives need to explore the future.

Internal initiatives

There are also many solutions that can be developed internally.

Internal initiatives to foster innovation
Companies can a do a lot of things internally to challenge their existing models and explore new ideas

Let me mention a few of them:

  • Internal incubators encourage employees to become intrapreneurs and run a startup project within the company.
  • Corporate venturing is a way for companies to partner with startups by investing and bringing new expertise and capabilities into .
  • In-house consulting plays the role of an innovation consultancy, but it is ran by employees of the company.
  • Hackathons are events where employees (and often customers and partners) get together for a few days in order to solve a specific challenge or answer a question about the future.
  • Open Innovation includes hackathons but also other ways to involve customers and partners in solving current challenges and encouraging innovation.

This isn’t an exhaustive list. But it captures the main initiatives that you can find in large companies.

Note: In larger organisations, it’s frequent to see that these internal initiatives are actually run by partners such as freelancers or consultancies.

The unique approach of innovation consulting

When you compare innovation consulting to other alternatives, a few things stand out:

  • There isn’t a set type of project. Innovation consulting is flexible and projects are tailored to fit the challenges of the organisation.
  • It brings end-to-end support. Innovation consulting can touch any part or all parts of the innovation journey, while other alternatives tend to be solutions that help accelerate a specific step.
  • It requires a multi-disciplinary team. Innovation consulting isn’t the work of hyper specialised teams. You won’t find a research team and a product team. These capabilities are blended within the team that drives a project, and each team member tends to be a jack-of-all-trades.

All these characteristics make innovation consulting easier to deploy, as you can tailor how you help a company.

But, it also makes it less scalable, as you need to design a different process for each project you sell. The consultancy must also make sure that it recruits top performers to deliver the work.

More about innovation consulting firms: If you’re interested in innovation consulting, have a look at this list of some of the top innovation consultancies.

Get a job in innovation consulting

Over the last few years, I’ve had such a great ride working in innovation, solving some of the most interesting challenges that large companies are facing.

If you’re interested in joining the space, I encourage you to read my reflections on how to get a job in innovation consulting.

You can also support this type of content by having a look at my two books about innovation:

  1. The Value Mix will help you learn how to create new value propositions
  2. The Opportunity Lenses will tell you how to identify new business opportunities

How to Get a Job in Innovation Consulting (7 Top Tips to Join a Consultancy)

How to get a job in innovation consultingGetting a job in innovation consulting is tricky.

Innovation consultancies are very selective, and there aren’t many roles.

To help you get a job as an innovation consultant, I have organised what you need to do in seven steps to share a lot of top tips.

In this article, I answer these good questions.

1. Understand the innovation space

First, you need to have a clear understanding of what innovation consulting means.

What’s innovation consulting all about?

Innovation consulting is the practice of helping organisations spot new opportunities and create new products, brands, and/or businesses.

Read more: If you’re interested in joining the space, I encourage you to read my reflections on what innovation consulting is all about.

Who tends to work in innovation consulting

Due to the complex nature of innovation, this type of consulting is at the cross-road of many disciplines:

  • Economics
  • Psychology
  • Design
  • Marketing
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology
  • Engineering

As a consequence, innovation consultants tend to have very different backgrounds.

Innovation consulting job disciplines
Jobs in innovation consulting involve a mix of disciplines

You can see consultants who were lawyers, who studied business and administration, who are engineers, who worked in advertising, or who use to be entrepreneurs. Actually, innovation consultancies welcome a diversity of thinking. They welcome hiring people with less traditional backgrounds.

One thing though:

By definition, innovation is about dealing with the unknown.

It’s not about following a manual. It’s about exploring things that haven’t been done yet. So, the projects you’ll work on will require you to be curious, resourceful, and comfortable with not having answers to all the questions and challenges you’ll be facing.

Note: Your background matters less than you curiosity and your ability to deal with the unknown.

A creative or analytical job?

What do you think? An innovation consultant is more creative or analytical?

So?

Here’s a myth:

“Innovation consulting is all about having great ideas.”

It is a creative job—no doubt. But having ideas is just a small part of the job. Innovation consulting is also very analytical. And the key here is being able to balance both creativity and analysis.

  • There are moments when you need to be creative (e.g., to generate new ideas) and,
  • Other moments when you need to be more analytical (e.g., to generate insight from large datasets).

These are two types of skills that tend to be considered as “soft skills” and “hard skills”. And in practice, every innovation consultant needs to master both.

Innovation consulting job skills
Innovation consulting is a combination of creative and analytical skills

Remember: Innovation consultants are both creative and analytical, and they can quickly switch from one mode to the other.

Step 1: Do you research, and get a better understanding of what innovation consulting is all about. Here’s a starter with my reflections on this.

You can also have a look at The Opportunity Lenses. There, you’ll find more examples of how companies identify new business opportunities.

2. Map the consultancies you want to work for

Now, you want to find the innovation consultancies you want to work with.

But know that not every innovation consulting firm is the same.

There are a few elements that set them apart, including:

  • Their size
  • Countries where they have offices
  • Their areas of expertise
  • Industries they focus on
  • The clients they work with

The size of the consultancy is maybe the most important differentiator. Working for a smaller firm will feel very different compared to working with a larger one.

Make sure to have those elements in mind when you select the companies you want to work with.

Some innovation consultancies

Let me list a few leading global firms here.

Best innovation consulting firms
5 of the major global innovation consulting firms

You can find more innovation consultancies by doing some research on Google and LinkedIn.

?What If!

?What If! uses an experimentation-based approach to crack innovation challenges and help its clients build new sources of revenue.

Originally started in the UK, the company has two big offices in New York and London (with lots of work in Europe) and a smaller one in Shanghai.

One book to read: The Science of Serendipity by Matt Kingdon

Network: Accenture (American tech consulting company)

(If you read the blog frequently, you may know that I have been running innovation projects at ?What If! for more than five years.)

IDEO

IDEO leans more towards design with strong focus on product innovation. They’re known for having popularised the design thinking methodology.

Originally from the US, the company has a strong American presence and smaller offices in Europe.

One book to read: Creative Confidence by Tom and David Kelley

Network: Kyu (Japanese creative collective)

ReD Associates

ReD Associates tends to focus more on insight and market research to inform strategic decisions. They make a real emphasis on sociology and ethnographic studies.

Originally from Denmark, the company is also present in the US.

One book to read: The Moment of Clarity by Christian Madsbjerg

Network: Cognizant (American tech consulting firm)

Frog Design

Frog Design also uses design as a catalyst for innovation.

Originally from the US, the company has offices in Europe and Asia.

Two books to read: A Fine Line by Hartmut Esslinger and How to Kill a Unicorn by Mark Payne

Network: Capgemini (French tech consulting company)

Note that Farenheit212 merged with Frog Design. Farenheit212 was used to be known for following a process that distinguishes between “magic” (insight and creativity) and “money” (business strategy).

Farenheit212

Farenheit212 follows a process with the distinction between “magic” (insight and creativity) and “money” (business strategy), where consultants specialise in one or the other bucket.

Originally from the US, the company has a big office in New York and a smaller one in London (with lots of work in Europe).

One book to read: How to Kill a Unicorn by Mark Payne

Network: Capgemini (French tech consulting company)

Selecting the right companies

As you Make sure you apply to firms that fit with who you are, what you want to be working on, and where you want to be after.

Jan Chipchase, author of The Field Study Handbook, listed 100 questions you should ask yourself or your future employer. It’s worth reading for inspiration.

Step 2: Make a spreadsheet with all the innovation consultancies you could work with (based on where their offices are located and recruitment policies).

You can use this list of some of the top innovation consulting firms to help start your research.

Then, select the ones you want to work with (according to size, type of work, industry focus, and clients).

3. Build your portfolio

Here’s something important to know:

Innovation consulting firms hire doers–someone who is fueled by an entrepreneurial spirit and likes making things happen.

From resume to portfolio in innovation consulting

What’s the best way to show that?

Demonstrate that you’ve been running projects and delivering meaningful work.

I call this the Portfolio Mindset.

It’s not about the job titles you had. It’s about the work you’ve been delivering—your impact in the world.

The Portfolio Mindset
Like a designer, showcase the impact and results of your work, not just the activities

Designers use portfolio to illustrate what they are capable of. It’s an effective way for them to show the results of their work.

The Muse puts it well:

“Working in a role where your product isn’t visual—like sales, product management, and the like—shouldn’t keep you from having a portfolio to show off your stuff. You just have to think a little more creatively.”

As an innovation consultant, you should be able to do the same. Show that you’ve run projects that have delivered something meaningful.

This is how you’ll stand out.

How to design your portfolio as an innovation consultant

An innovation consultant, you need to be able to make things real, i.e., illustrate visually abstract elements such as ideas or processes.

Here’s what I recommend to create your portfolio:

  1. Build a portfolio of case studies
  2. Add visual elements to your case studies

Doing this will help you convey your messages much more powerfully.

Build a portfolio of case studies

Choose the projects you’re the most proud of. This can be an entrepreneurial project, a side project, something you did in a previous job, or some volunteering.

And explain:

  • The backstory: What was the context?
  • The process: How did you go about it? What was your role?
  • The output of your projects: What were the impact and the results?

As you can see, the case studies turn activities into projects.

Add visual elements to your case studies

Illustrate the process and results with photos, drawings, or mock-ups.

Are there any visual elements you can share that would make the impact of your work look more real?

How to design a portfolio as an innovation consultant
Having a portfolio of project and showcasing the impact makes a real difference

Being able to demonstrate the impact and results will increase your ability to impress your future employer. If you can’t use any visuals, you could also use quotes or numbers to illustrate what you did and the output of your work.

Step 3: Gather all the things you’ve and built to create your portfolio.If you feel that your portfolio is a bit empty, be creative and explore things you could do (e.g. solving the challenges of a local business or a charity, running your own project, or publishing audio or video content).

Note that you can do many things that do not require you to have a job to build an interesting portfolio.

4. Find job openings or get under their radar

Innovation consulting firms tend to list job openings on their own website. And you can find many openings on recruitment platforms such as LinkedIn and Indeed.

These are the obvious places to start.

But let me share a secret:

Many consultancies work with headhunters to find the right candidates, especially the smaller ones. So, you may want to get in touch with local recruiting firms to see if they have heard of any openings. For example, have a look at Bamboo Crowd (if you’re in the UK).

Here’s another tip:

It’s easier to reach out directly to senior people who work at smaller firms. You may want to find ways to connect on LinkedIn, or by attending events or webinars that the firm organises. Make sure to polite, well prepared, and respectful of their time.

Note: Innovation consultancies tend to use different names for innovation consultant: ?What If! calls them “Inventors” and IDEO uses the term “Business Designer“.)

Step 4: Check company websites, explore recruitment platforms, and get in touch with recruiting firms, and connect with the recruitment teams of the consultancies.

5. Prepare yourself for the interviews

There’s no set process. Unlike management consulting where case study interviews are very formal. Every innovation consultancy tends to have its own way of interviewing applicants.

My suggestion is to prepare yourself across three areas: innovation, product management, and management consulting.

To get a job at innovation consultancy, there are a few basics you need to know:

  1. Some frameworks that will help you organise your thinking
  2. Advice to nail your job interviews
  3. A better understanding of how consulting works (from a recruitment and a sales perspective)

Here’s a list of some good books that cover these three important topics related to innovation consulting.

Innovation frameworks to better organise your thinking

Best books about innovationThere are many good books about strategy, marketing, and innovation.

As a starter, I recommend the following two books. They will give you a good set of frameworks.

The Value Mix: Create Meaningful Products and Services for Your Audience

The Value Mix equips you with a robust framework for creating new value propositions (i.e. new products and services).

Why read this book: It’s important to have the tools to translate a market research into actionable insight and turn ideas into a proper product strategy.

Get The Value Mix here.

(I wrote The Value Mix as a support for lectures I give to Masters and MBA students who are interested in entrepreneurship, venture capital, and consulting.)

Business Model Generation

Business Model Generation gives you a conceptual tool that many firms use for business modelling.

Why read this book: It’s crucial to understand the components of the business model of a company.

Get Business Model Generation here.

Advice to nail your job interviews

Best books about job interviewsHere are two books that will significantly increase your abilities to manage a job interview.

Active Interviewing: Branding, Selling, and Presenting Yourself to Win Your Next Job

Active Interviewing was a revelation for me. It reframed how I understood the process of interviewing and completely changed the way I prepared and went to an interview.

Why read this book: This book will change the way you show up in an interview and boost your chances of landing the job.

Get Active Interviewing here.

Cracking the PM Interview: How to Land a Product Manager Job in Technology

Cracking the PM Interview gives you a lot of advice on how to prepare yourself to answer questions the interviewers will ask you.

Why read this book: The way innovation consultants are interviewed is very close to the way product managers are interviewed.

Get Cracking the PM Interview here.

Insight into how consulting firms hire people and sell their services

Best books about consultingMany innovation consultancies are now part of larger networks owned by management consulting firms. It is important to understand how these companies are used to hire consultants and sell their services.

Case Interview Secrets

Case Interview Secrets digs into the many details on the hiring process and shares many simple frameworks for solving the infamous “consulting case studies”.

Why read this book: The standard way that a management consulting firm interviews applicants has inspired a lot of innovation consultancies. So, you should be fully aware of how it works.

Get Case Interview Secrets here.

Rain Making: Attract New Clients No Matter What Your Field

Rain Making dives into the many ways consultants can build their reputations and grow a network in order to sell their services.

Why read this book: This is a great read for the more senior people who want to get into innovation consulting, as they will be expected to sell projects.

Get Rain Making here.

Step 5: Read books about innovation and about job interviews to prepare yourself.

You can also do mock interviews with friends or classmates. There are companies that offer training. Note that some universities also offer coaching (via their career service or student societies).

6. Plan the questions you want to ask

An interview goes both ways: you’re as much interviewing them, as they are interviewing you.

Each innovation consulting firm is different. And so, you want to better understand what they value, how they work, whom they work for. Also, you may have questions about the recruitment process and the onboarding experience.

Here are some topics you may want to dive into:

  • Their IP and methodology
  • The industries they’re involved in
  • The type of project they work on
  • Their portfolio of clients
  • The kind of people they hire
  • The way they’re structured
  • Their values and culture

Step 6: Do you research first. Prepare a list of questions based on what you couldn’t find online. Have a balance set of questions about the culture, the work, and the recruitment process (if anything is unclear to you).

Make sure to ask the questions in an informal. Don’t make it feel like you’re interviewing the interviewer. ;)

7. Wow the recruiters during the interview

Let me debunk a myth:

An interview is not about showing how smart and amazing you are. Actually, the more you are trying do to this, the more likely you will come across as pretentious or insecure.

Instead, be human and friendly. Make them feel like you’d be a great person to work with. You want them to think: “I’d enjoy working with this person”.

Step 7: Pay attention to how you come across when you meet new people in a professional context.

You may want to do mock interviews with people you don’t know, practice networking at an event, or take some improv classes. (The last option is a lot of fun, and I recommend it a lot!)

Interested in reading more?

Subscribe to my newsletter to get more content like this! :)

You can also support this type of content by having a look at my two books about innovation:

  1. The Value Mix will help you learn how to create new value propositions
  2. The Opportunity Lenses will tell you how to identify new business opportunities

Convince Your Boss: 11 Tips to Make Them Say “Yes!” (Updated 2021)

Convince your bossWhat if you could actually convince your boss?

I know…

From playing the game of politics to slow decision-making to lack of time, we often face many obstacles at work. ?

It can be hard.

So here are 11 effective tips to persuade your boss to make change happen.

People who’ve used these tips got their boss to implement new ideas and made an impact at work. This is a guide to help you make innovation happen too.

Warning: you are NOT going to find anything about being a bootlicker (dull) or working hard (boring) here.

Now that you’re ready:

Let’s explore each of these 11 ways to convince your boss to try new things.


1. Frame your suggestion to match the goals of your boss

If you get this first tip right, you’ve got 80% of the job done.

As humans, we tend to think about ourselves first. But this is not how you can convince someone.

Take this approach instead:

Frame your suggestions in terms of how it can help your boss.

Ideas to convince your boss
Except if your boss is the CEO, she may be reading the same article (in most cases, what she wants is to convince her boss)

Here’s what matters to your boss: convincing her own boss, improving how your team performs, generating more revenue, or simply making your boss look good in front of everyone.

For this you need two things:

  1. Understand where your boss wants to be—the goals;
  2. Find how your suggestion can help your boss get there—the way.

Here’s an example about convincing your boss to work from home:

Your boss may not care about the fact that it will make your commute less stressful. But she will care if you explain that you can start working an hour earlier.. or that you’ll get work done faster because you’ll be less interrupted.

Put yourself in your boss’s shoes.

As a side note: I’m using the term “boss” to keep it simple. I should say: “decision-maker“. In many cases, the person you need to convince is not your boss but a team member or a colleague from another function.

They want to know how your ideas can help them.

What are their goals? What will get them look good in front of their own bosses? What do they need to get promoted?


2. Pay extra attention to your boss’s problems

It is natural to think first about solving your own problems. “If I could automate this task, it would make my life so much easier.”

New ideas often come from problems we face every day at work.

But here’s the thing:

Your boss cares more about making their lives easier than yours. For example, instead of presenting an idea as a way to make your life easier, frame it as a way to make yourself more productive.

Convince your boss by paying attention to her problems

The more you understand what your boss wants, the more chances you have to persuade him.

This is an example of emotional intelligence.

Definition of Emotional Intelligence

You must genuinely care about your boss’s problems. Read How to Win Friends and Influence People to understand what I mean. (It is such a great book.)

Stop considering your problems first. Look at the world from the perspective of your bosses.

Ask yourself:

What is bothering them? What do they have in mind? How can you solve their problems?

3. Build the reputation for being a great performer

Any boss would trust more a great performer than the average employees.

This is normal:

Heroes get praise and attention.

In an organisation, what I call the “hero effect” is similar to how brands impact consumers.

Your personal brand—i.e. reputation—is the result of how people perceive you at work.

The Hero Effect - Example of cognitive bias

The “hero effect” leads people to value you, your work, and your opinion. If something goes wrong, you’ll earn the benefit of the doubt.

In his great book Power (recommended read), Jeffrey Pfeffer highlights with sarcasm that, as long as you keep your boss happy, performance doesn’t matter that much:

“Make sure that those in power notice the good work that you do, remember you, and think well of you because you make them feel good about themselves. It is performance, coupled with political skill, that will help you to rise.”

Getting noticed is primordial.

The more you see and hear about it, the more you trust it.

And the best way to get your boss’s attention is to pay attention to what your boss cares about.

If you are looking for inspiration, besides reading Power, I also recommend that you read Tribes. In this book about leadership, Seth Godin tells stories of people who have had a significant impact within and beyond their organization.

Keep in mind:

Bosses are more likely to consider ideas from those they see as the best in their team. It depends on two things:

1. The quality of your work—what you do;
2. How your boss sees the results—what people say about you.

Building a good reputation takes time. Be patient. Match the size of your suggestion to the quality of your reputation.


4. Take advantage of the FOMO

Most organisations are (very) conservative…

People don’t want to risk their reputation. They do not like change and avoid any bold decisions. So they love killing new ideas.

Here’s what you can do:

Create a sense of urgency. Comparing is a great tool for that. Mentioning what competitors do can trigger a fear of missing out (FOMO).

FOMO is a scientifically proven phenomenon. Dr Andrew K. Przybylski, a research fellow at Oxford University, defines it this way:

“A pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent.”

You can make a strong case by establishing that some competitors have implemented a new idea with success. (Nobody wants to stay behind the competition.)

You can also use an analogy.

Tell the stories of organisations in other industries. It can help your boss understand how this would work in your own company.

Mentioning what other organisations do can support your ideas. Bonus: you’ll be more likely to convince your boss if you talk about companies she respects.


5. Look for inspiration

It’s easy to get stuck in our own thinking.

In this case, what you need is external stimuli.

One way of getting inspiration is to read books. It gives you new ways of approaching things. And most books also share interesting examples you can share with your boss.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say you want to influence your company’s recruitment process. You could get some inspiration from books about Google and how the HR team uses data to make decisions.

Your boss doesn’t have to read these books.

You can just create a one-page summary and share it with your team, for example.

I’m talking about books. But actually, any format works. Search for blog articles, scientific publications, podcasts, or YouTube videos.

Searching for a good book? Have a look at my reading list.


6. Build a coalition

Build an internal network.

If you’re not alone to suggest an idea, it will sound more compelling.

Think about how your idea can also help your colleagues—how it can be useful to them. If possible, try the idea at a small scale with them. If you want to roll out new software, you could invite them to try it with you.

When should you talk about your idea?

The best moment is over a cup of coffee in the kitchen or corridor. I find that scheduling meetings with colleagues to talk about a new idea can be too formal, especially at the beginning.

Once you’ve found a few people interested in your idea, your boss will be more likely to agree on trying it.

Try to get your colleagues involved.

You may even want to let one of them lead the initiative, instead of you


7. Use data to tell a story

We say “numbers don’t lie”.

But they can be difficult to understand.

For example, the human mind can’t get the concept of billions of dollars. But once you make it visual, it’s easier to understand.

Here’s a visualisation of things that were worth billions of dollars in 2009:

Convince your boss with numbers

You can now see the size of the Beijing Olympics Games 2008 compared to the funding of NASA.

Stories are more convincing than numbers.

Data visualisation helps us see new patterns.

It’s a visual story changes how we see things—i.e. how your boss makes decisions.

The word “data” can be scary. Fortunately, you don’t need obscure numbers to make people see things differently.

Here’s an example:

Look at how the blog Wait But Why changes how you may look at life. It simply shows the life of a typical American (data available to everyone).

It’s simple. But it can really help you think about how you spend your life.

But where can I find data?

We’re lucky. Finding the data is easy.

You can find a lot of data in secondary research. You can also have a look at your marketing tools—e.g. online analytics and CRM. Have a chat with the accounting department and use financial reports.

These sources of data can already give you a lot.

If your idea involved creating a product, you can also leverage customers interviews. (Read my reflections on how to ask better questions in a customer interview). For example, interview several potential customers and record their reaction in audio or video. You can be able to visualise their reactions plotting quotes on a graph for example.

There are tons of things you can do to convince people using data visualisation.

8. Derisk the decision for your boss

Low risk, high reward.

These are the characteristics of a decision that is easy to make.

The reward is how helpful your idea is to your boss: Does it help her achieve her goals? Does it solve one of her problems? Does it make her look good inside and outside the company?

The risk involves costs, the likelihood of failure, and the consequences of failing.

The lower the risk, the more convincing your idea will be. So find ways to lower how risky the idea is. One way of achieving this is by experimenting.


9. Experiment with your idea

If the risk is high, your boss will struggle to make a quick decision.

A solution is to go step-by-step:

A small-scale experiment will help you test your idea, without costing too much.

It could be testing a new feature for your product using a prototype.

It could be experimenting with a new way of working for a couple of weeks.

What’s important:

1. You need to define what success looks like;
2. You need a way to measure the result of your experiment.

Experimenting makes the chat with your boss more concrete. You’re getting real data to prove your case. It will help you make your boss more confident that your idea can work.

Bonus: You can use data visualisation to tell a story with the result of your experiment.

10. Know how to pitch it to your boss

The infamous pitch.

It’s the moment you get to persuade your boss to say “yes”.

How should you do it?

You need to know what your boss likes. Should you discuss it informally while having a coffee? Should you book a meeting with other stakeholders? Should you first send a one-pager to present the idea? It depends on what your boss is used to.

Observe how other people pitch your boss and what tactics seem to work best.

My rule of thumbs is to keep it low profile at the beginning. It makes things less scary (and more human). Obviously, it depends on your boss.

If you want to become better at pitching:

1. Read this article about how startups pitch investors (a lot of good examples);
2. Pick a book about negotiation. They teach you how to persuade other people. Pitch Anything by Oren Klaff is a good one.


11. Make sure people know about it

Getting your boss to say “yes” is just the beginning.

It’s often when an idea becomes a project.

A project needs a leader—someone who is accountable for it. A project creates results that you monitor overtime.

And managing a new project requires a lot of effort. I often see my clients, who are running a new project, doing it in their spare time.

New ideas can lead you in many different spaces. It could be a project about improving a way of doing things, launching a new feature for your product, or creating a new subsidiary. Some are more complex than others. But they all have one thing in common:

You need to make sure people know about it.

It’s your role to advertise the project internally (and externally when relevant). It’s your role to get people excited about it. It’s your role to make sure people get involved if you need them to do so.

Once your boss has agreed to give it a try, you have to focus on two things:

1. Do everything you can to make sure that it will work;
2. Get people involved and make sure everyone knows about the new project.


It’s now your turn to persuade your boss to try new ideas

I hope you’ll use these tips to make stuff happen in your company.

Keep in mind:

Focus first on what you want to achieve and why. Once you have an answer to these two questions, find out how your idea can help your boss and the rest of the company.

This approach will help you convince your boss to try new ideas.

This Is How You Plan & Run a Great Workshop

Running a workshop is an effective way to train a group or get them to do collaborative work.

But there’s still lots of misunderstanding around how to do this.

As part of running innovation projects at ?What If!, we use workshops as a tool to harvest and leverage the creativity of our project teams.

Though I cannot recreate online the exciting experience of participating in one of these workshops, I wanted to share with you some of the most useful things you can implement in your workshops.

As more people work remotely, most workshops happen online. I often get the question: “How do you do this online?”

What a Workshop Really Is

First, a workshop has to be interactive. It isn’t a lecture. Scott Berkun explains this well:

“A cooking workshop means [participants] cook things. A writing workshop means [participants] write things. If most of your “workshop” is people not actually making anything, you should perhaps call it a class, a lecture, or a mistake.”

I see workshops as a way to get a group to collaborate efficiently or learn in an interactive way.

Usually, workshops are organised at the start of a project or as a milestone in the project.

In many cases, a project team is made with people who do not work together on a daily basis. Organising a workshop gives you the opportunity to get everyone in the same room in order to:

  1. Facilitate collaborative work (planning, ideating…);
  2. Teach new skills to the team;
  3. Tap into the tacit knowledge of each team member
  4. Update the team to get everyone aligned on the current state of the project (this should be a secondary goal, as it’s not the most efficient way to update a group);
  5. Get the participants to make a decision (be very careful of decisions by consensus).

A great workshop requires preparation. Here’s how you can do this.

Planning a great workshop using Post-it notes

How to Prepare a Great Workshop

There are five key phases in preparing a great workshop:

  1. Analysing
  2. Planning
  3. Developing
  4. Rehearsing
  5. Evaluating

The distinction among these phases will help you focus on answering the right questions at the right time, i.e. avoid putting the cart before the horse.

1. Analysing

Before preparing and running a workshop, you must be confident it’s the best way to get the outcome you need. When it’s not the case, a workshop becomes an entertainment or a time waster, i.e. a mistake.

You must be clear on the context of the workshop.

  • Why do you need a workshop? What do you want to achieve?
  • Do you really need a workshop for that?
  • If yes, what is your vision of success (ideal outcome) for this workshop?
  • What outputs do you want to have by the end of the session?

Analysing should lead you to a clear objective for the workshop.

Workshops are often scheduled weeks or months in advance. Preparing a workshop will force you to think ahead of your project plan.

2. Planning

Planning is about creating the structure of the workshop.

Start planning a workshop with the end in mind. Visualise the outcome and outputs you want. Then, work backwards so your plan really gets you there.

It’s better if you can create a detailed day plan for your workshop. This includes:

  • Headlines for each moment of the workshop
  • The detail of each activity: what you will tell the participants and ask them to do
  • A time box for each activity
  • Who does what
  • What materials you’ll need for the session

At each moment of the day, you should be able to picture exactly what you do with your audience. The more people in the room the clearer you have to be.

This is also the moment to ask yourself who should attend the session. You should also identify what state you want the group to be in, e.g. energise the team; focus on an intense planning session…

In my experience, if you’re clear on the context and what you want to get out of the workshop, planning becomes easier.

3. Developing

The Developing phase is about creating the content you will need (or sometimes, finding it, if you already have a log of content and exercises).

If you think you’re going to reuse the content, I encourage you to write scripts. This will allow you to remember what happened and have other team members run similar workshops.

There’s a reason I make a distinction between planning and developing. Both activities require you to focus on different things:

– Planning is about creating the outline of the workshop.
– Developing is putting all the things in place to be ready to execute your plan.

It’s like writing and editing. They require two different mindsets. You need a clear focus on one or the other.

4. Rehearsing

If you feel nervous at the beginning of a workshop, the chances are that you didn’t spend enough time rehearsing with your team.

Rehearsing is a good way to gain confidence and sense-check if there are any issues in the plan. In the ideal situation, you’d like to run a pilot workshop. But it’s hard to find time for this (except if you run the same workshop several times with different groups).

Fortunately, you can get your team ready just by going through the plan ahead of the session. Make sure everyone is clear on what they have to do and say.

(5. Evaluating)

Evaluating how the workshop went will help you achieve two things:

  1. On a project-level, you’ll get a clear understanding of the problems that need to be solved in order to ensure that the rest of the project is going to run smoothly;
  2. On a personal level, it’s the best way to improve your ability to run workshops. It’s also the chance to improve your preparation process.

You can evaluate the workshop and the process with your team or by yourself. I encourage you to follow the feedback analysis method (comparing expectations with results) or the clearing session approach (spotting what worked and what didn’t work).

That’s it about the preparation process.

Now, let’s get into the arena. I’d like to share some practical tips that will help you run great workshops.

Welcome flip for a workshop

15 Practical Tips to Run a Great Workshop

1. Start with the end in mind

Share a clear vision of what you to want to achieve this workshop.

It will help onboard the participants and make sure that they understand what you will expect from them.

2. Start communicating clarity on the why, the how, and the what

At What If, we use a framework called Purpose, Process, and Payoff.

Since we want [purpose], we are going to do [process] in order to arrive at [payoff].-

  • The purpose is the result. It’s the reason you want to do this workshop, i.e. where you want to be at the end of the workshop.
  • The process is the way you’ll get there. It’s an explanation of who does what and when.
  • The payoff is the output. It’s what people can expect to get at the end of the process.

Explaining these three elements to the participants will ensure that everyone is aligned with the agenda and the outcome of the workshop.

3. Create a collaborative environment

The environment–the space and the atmosphere–has a huge influence on us. In The Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande highlights an interesting concept called the “activation phenomenon“:

“Giving [doctors and nurses] a chance to say something at the start [of an operation] seemed to activate their sense of participation and responsibility and their willingness to speak up.”

An easy way of doing this is to get everyone to introduce themselves in an engaging way.

Besides asking them about their name and their job, you can also ask them about: what excites them the most about the workshop or their best memory eating out or driving a car. These questions sound naive but they will encourage everyone to share a personal story and will make them more comfortable.

Masterclass about innovation for MSc Management at UCL

4. Make it interactive

There are moments in a workshop, where you need to explain concepts to the participants.

Make this part interactive too.

Ask them questions. Run an exercise to put the concept into practice and have them share back and debrief on what they did.

5. Run exercises in a structured way

All exercises follow the same framework as your session. They have a purpose, a process, and a payoff.

You brief the exercise by doing the following:

  1. Remind the participants of the purpose;
  2. Tell them exactly how it’s going to work: who does what, when, and for how long;
  3. Be clear on timing;
  4. Explain what output you expect to get once it’s done;
  5. Ask if there are any questions.

Once the exercise is done, you may want to do two things (depending on your goals):

  1. Share back. Have each person or group to share the result of the exercise with the rest of the participants. It can be a chance for them to build on it or ask questions.
  2. Debrief. Depending on the context of your workshop, you may ask if there’s any additional comment, whether they found that fun/hard/frustrating, what are the key things they learnt, when they are going to use this process…

Then, you can repeat with the next exercise.

6. If you want them to learn something…

There are three things to keep in mind when you plan to teach something new.

  1. The starting pointWhat do the participants already know about it?
  2. The learning objectivesWhat do they need to know about it?
  3. The context of useHow will they use it in the future?

The last question is really important.

Emphasising the situations in which what you’re teaching will be useful increases the likelihood that the participants will remember it and use it at the right time.

7. Manage the team’s energy

Make sure that people are in a positive/constructive state of mind.

At What If, we use what we call “energisers“, which are playful activities (such as doing a short team building exercise, or asking an unusual question). This helps keep the energy going and build good group dynamics.

There are plenty of ways to make people relax and adopt a constructive mindset. For example, Equal Experts, an IT consulting company, uses icebreaker cards.

You can also change the energy in the room by varying activities: make the participants stand up, go to another room, work in pairs, or reflect on their own…

Even when the space isn’t the best, like a lecture theatre, you have to find ways to energise the participants (Workshop at London Business School)

8. Be in the moment

You have to drive the group. In a workshop, every participant follows your lead.

And at different moments, the group needs to be in different states. You have to adapt your own state to prime the rest of the group.

Running a workshop requires you to play various roles: at times you need to be a teacher, other times you become a coach facilitating what’s going on, and other times you are a leader driving the whole team in the same direction.

Some activities require a lot of energy, while others can require people to be more reflective. It’s up to you to get the group to that state.

9. Be a good speaker

A workshop isn’t a speech or lecture. But you need the ability to address and engage with an audience.

I listed here my top advice for speaking in public. What’s key in a workshop is that you can make this interactive. Tell them a story. Ask questions. Encourage the participants to illustrate the concepts you’re sharing with their personal experience.

There’s a wealth of knowledge that participants can share in a workshop.

10. Use the space

Most workshops end with tons of things stuck on the walls.

That’s because we often do our best thinking best when we use the space around us, rather than when we limit ourselves to a computer screen. Jake Knapp, Googler and the author of Sprint, a book about running innovation workshops, explains this phenomenon:

“As humans, our short-term memory is not all that good, but our spatial memory is awesome. A sprint room, plastered with notes, diagrams, printouts, and more, takes advantage of that spatial memory. The room itself becomes a sort of shared brain for the team.”

Two things are important here:

  1. Using the space and sticking things on the wall help us think more effectively;
  2. Landing outputs on the wall encourages collaboration, as all the work remains visible to everyone.

11. Constantly assess what’s going on

There’s the plan. And then, there’s the reality.

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
― Dwight D. Eisenhower

Of course, you need a day plan. But once you’re in the arena, you also need to rely on your intuition to find the best ways to get to the ideal result.

It’s important to keep the main structure. However, since new things may come up, you also need to be flexible.

12. Encourage collaboration

Having many participants means that there are lots of different opinions in the room. As a workshop aims to be collaborative, it’s important that the team stays open-minded.

At ?What If!, we talk about “greenhousing“. This refers to three actions: suspend your judgment, understand what the person means, and nurture the idea.

In my workshops, I encourage participants to say things like “let me build on what you said…”. Have a read of Sticky Wisdom that gets into the details of this and many other innovation behaviours.

People from Pixar talk about “plussing“. It is a similar approach but uses a different metaphor:

“The practice has been built on the core principles [of] improvisation, which are: accept all offers (accept the idea, don’t reject it), use “yes, and …” instead of “yes, but …”, and make your partner look good.”

In both cases, the ambition is the same: to encourage collaborative work (and keep a positive dynamic).

When someone just criticises an idea and doesn’t provide an alternative solution, or a means to improve the original idea, they’re not really helping the team. You can find more on the practice of group creativity techniques in this article.

Watch out: What I said doesn’t mean that you should welcome all ideas. If an idea is irrelevant, find a way to refocus the conversation. You don’t want to waste everyone’s time with a discussion that is off topic.

13. Highlight the progress

Remind the participants of your goal at the beginning of the workshop. Then, talk them through the headlines of the journey to show how much progressed you’ve made.

Make sure they realise that the group did what needed to be done (answering important questions, making key decisions…). And put an emphasis on the key things they learnt.

Keep the outputs in front of them. It signals progress. You may even want to talk them through what the group achieved, step by step.

14. Follow up

Once the workshop is done, you need to keep the momentum going:

  1. Highlight the key takeaways;
  2. Share the outputs;
  3. Explain the next steps and clearly underline the actions you’re expecting from them (put a name on each action, and give them a deadline).

15. Enjoy

The best way to run a great session is to make it as nice as possible. If you enjoy running it, the participants will feel that and it’ll motivate them too.

 

Value Proposition Canvas: How to Use Better Alternatives to This Template

Here you’ll find a guide to best alternatives of the Value Proposition Canvas.

It’s a template that is supposed to help you create new product and service ideas.

But…

It’s actually not the best tool to achieve that.

There are better alternatives to the Value Proposition Canvas.

So in this article, you’ll find better exercises for your innovation workshops and landing your buyer personas and product ideas.

What is the Value Proposition Canvas by Strategyzer?

A “value proposition canvas” is a way to capture the main things that make up your proposition, who would buy it, and why.

There are many different value proposition canvases out there.

But today, I want to focus on one of the most popular ones: Strategyzer’s Value Proposition Canvas.

This canvas is supposed to zoom in on two elements of a business model, the value proposition itself (what you offer to your customers) and the customer segments (who your customers are).

(For more information about creating compelling value propositions, have a look at The Value Mix).

The template of Strategyzer's Value Proposition Canvas
The template of Strategyzer’s Value Proposition Canvas zooms in on the Business Model Canvas

But it’s not really working.

While Strategyzer’s Business Model Canvas beautifully summarises the main elements of a business model, their version of the value proposition canvas has some major limitations.

Business Model Canvas - High resolution template
The Business Model Canvas, a great template to capture how a business creates, delivers, and captures value

Let me tell share my review of the Value Proposition Canvas:

I’ll tell you what’s good about it and what’s missing.

And then, you’ll learn about some better alternatives to the Value Proposition Canvas.

Pros of the Value Proposition Canvas

1. The use of pain, gain, and job to be done

The concepts of pains, gains, and jobs to be done are a good starter to understand your customers.

(If you haven’t heard of jobs to be done before, read these reflections about jobs to be done.)

But these concepts are even more useful when you visualise them dynamically (more to come below about the customer journeys).

2. Trying to visualise everything on one page

The Business Model Canvas is a useful structure to adopt when you are developing a new venture or trying to map an existing business model to see how it can be changed or “disrupted”.

It’s helpful to have a one-pager on two occasions:

1. In an innovation workshop when you want the participants to focus on a specific area during a design exercise;

2. When you share the output with your team and your stakeholders (boss, investors, sponsors, etc…). It makes it visual!

The Value Proposition Canvas aims to do this.

And it does look visually satisfying. :)

But as we’ll see it’s not enough…

Cons of the Value Proposition Canvas

1. Too simplistic

It’s just good at highlighting potential benefits but without any context. It’s built on the idea that value is an equation where:

– “pains” match with pain relievers
– “gains” match with gain creators

But it’s too simplistic.

Customer Profile Map template: pains, gains, jobs to be done
The Customer Profile Map shows only a few ways to analyse your market segments: pains, gains, and jobs to be done)

2. Not easy to use in a workshop

It makes it hard to get to a good outcome in a workshop when you use this template.

The Canvas isn’t a good template to come up with new ideas and capture the description of each of these ideas. And it isn’t a good tool to think about the benefits and user experience of a product or service.

There are better tools for that.

(More to come in this article.)

3. Missing the nuances of human emotions

The customer side of the Value Proposition Canvas is too mathematical. It misses many of the nuances of human behaviour and psychology.

It’s too utilitarian.

What’s missing is this “irrational” desires we experience.

What about impulse purchase? Or buying only organic or fair trade food?

The canvas doesn’t give a good explanation of these reasons to buy something.

4. “How to fill the canvas?”

There’s a problem with using such a canvas:

It makes you feel that you just need to fill the boxes. It turns the art of creating value propositions into a simplistic equation.

But innovation isn’t all black and white. Simplifying too much can limit your creativity.

While I recommend reading the book Value Proposition Design as a good summary of the Lean Startup process, I know there are better tools than the Value Proposition Canvas when you want to create new product or service ideas.

Better alternatives to the Value Proposition Canvas

Your objective is to create new product or service ideas.

In that context, there are two tools that can really help you.

Customer journey mapping - Innovation workshop

1. Map the customer journeys (Understand your market)

Objective:

Mapping customer journeys help you identify the circumstances in which your potential customers are struggling. It’s a great way to identify opportunities to create a new proposition.

What’s really helpful is to visualise dynamically all the steps your target audience goes through.

How to create a customer journey:

Creating a customer journey map is quite straightforward.

Here’s a simple explanation:

1. Decide on a journey you’d like to map (Which customer? In what circumstances?)

2. Write down all the steps your customer goes through. At this stage, include even steps that may seem trivial. This will help you consider the nuances of the journey that you may normally overlook.

3. Organise the steps into a map. A customer journey is often visually displayed sequentially in a timeline. In case of a complex journey, your map could include branches to show alternative paths in the customer journey.

A map of one customer journey of Codecademy
A map of one customer journey of Codecademy

3bis. Or.. write the story of your customers. Instead of visualising the journey, you can write about the customer story as if it was a novel.

Codecademy gives a good explanation of this process:

“Every good story has a main character and problems they encounter, so I began with our main character — our target persona. Then pulling from our research, I used quotes from users, the key problems that persona faced, and a ton of ideas from our team — everything I needed to start writing.”

4. Identify their struggles. What are the steps that feel frustrating to them? What are they trying to achieve?

If you’re interested, there’s a detailed explanation of how to build a customer journey in The Value Mix.

5. Look for the missing blocks. What you may realise is that you knew less than you thought about your customers. You may need to dive into more customers interviews to fill in the gaps. If possible, show the map to an expert who is familiar with your audience or test it directly with your target audience.

6. Ask yourself how you could create value at each step. Alternatively, you may see some patterns emerging. Maybe something surprising? Or an obvious opportunity to improve the overall customer experience?

Example of a customer journey: Airbnb

An Airbnb host may have a high mortgage to pay. She’s about to go on holiday and would like to rent her flat for the time of the holiday in order to pay for the flight tickets.

What the journey could look like:

Planning to travel > Looking for ways to pay for the trip > Chatting to a friend who recommends Airbnb > Looking for testimonials online > Registering to Airbnb > Getting a booking > Finding someone to manage the check-in while away > Finding a cleaner

By doing additional customer interviews, you may realise that finding someone to manage the check-in and clean the flat is a big frustration.

This piece of insight led to startups such as GuestReady.

Ideating - Having product ideas

2. Value proposition statement (Create new product ideas)

Objective:

The value proposition statement helps you clarify your proposition. It’s a template used to frame your product or service in a way that is differentiated from the competition.

What’s the value proposition statement:

When landing your value proposition statement, remember these principles:

What makes a good value proposition:

– Clarity! It’s easy to understand.
– It communicates the concrete results a customer will get from purchasing and using your products and/or services.
– It says how it’s different or better than the competitor’s offer.
– It avoids hype (like ‘never seen before amazing miracle product’), superlatives (‘best’) and business jargon (‘value-added interactions’).
– It can be read and understood in about 5 seconds.

To help you, here’s an easy template to fill in:

A template to capture your value proposition statement
A template to capture your value proposition statement

The value proposition statement deserves some explanations.

How to use the proposition statement template:

While most elements of the template of are self-explanatory, I want to explain:

  • The key attributes of your target audience: Try to capture some key characteristics of the segment you want to target as well as how they feel.
  • What they want to get done: It’s about identifying the outcome they expect from using your proposition. For more info, have a look at these examples of the jobs-to-be-done theory.
  • The reason to believe: It’s a “logical” explanation of why your proposition is better. In marketing, a reason to believe aim to reinforce the trust in the fact that your proposition will create value for your audience.

For more tools about creating new products and services, have a look at The Value Mix.

The book presents gives you a useful framework to:

1. Know your target customers better in order to create real value for them;
2. Build a coherent strategy for your new products and services.

 

5 Jobs-to-be-Done Examples to Help You Innovate with Confidence

The jobs-to-be-done framework is the most trendy innovation framework at the moment.

Why?

It helps to understand what causes people to buy a particular product.

You can use it in two ways:
1. To understand what people want in a specific market;
2. To create a compelling customer experience.

In this article, you’ll see a few examples of jobs to be done.

This will help you understand how to uncover the needs and desires of a market using the job. And how to think about the benefits and customer experience that should shape your value proposition.

What does “Jobs to Be Done” mean?

The jobs-to-be-done framework uses “jobs” as a metaphor to explain what people are trying to achieve when they buy something.

Here’s a good definition of a job to be done :

“A job is the progress a customer seeks in a particular context.”

Another way to think about jobs to be done is to see them as the things customers are trying to achieve in very specific circumstances.

Some examples of jobs to be done and products/services you can hire to get them done
Some examples of jobs to be done and products/services you can hire to get them done

In Competing Against Luck, Clayton Christen adds:

“This definition is specific and important: Fully understanding a customer’s job requires understanding the progress a customer is trying to make in particular circumstances and understanding all of its functional, social, and emotional dimensions—as well as the trade-offs the customer is willing to make.”

People do not just buy a product or service. What are they trying to get done?

They “hire” them to make progress.

Interested in the topic?

Have a look at The Value Mix. There, you’ll find more examples and tools that help you identify the jobs your target market wants to achieve.

The Job Theory: A way to put the customer in the centre

The “job” metaphor forces us to focus on the customer. It emphasises the progress they are trying to achieve. We’re then less likely to think about the product first.

Christensen explains this in an article called Marketing Malpractice:

“Theodore Levitt used to tell his students:

‘People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!’

Every marketer we know agrees with Levitt’s insight. Yet these same people segment their markets by type of drill and by price point; they measure market share of drills, not holes; and they benchmark the features and functions of their drill, not their hole, against those of rivals.”

— Clayton Christensen, author of Competing Against Luck

As an alternative to the concept of “jobs to be done”, I prefer using the term “goals“. I dig into that in The Value Mix. I have found it makes it easier to explain the concept to my team members and clients. (But for the purpose of this article, I’ll stick to “jobs”).

(By the way, Theodore Levitt is the author of Marketing Myopia. This an article that has had a big impact on what marketing means today. The article highlights the importance of defining your industry, i.e. known as the “Law of Category” in 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing.)

What makes the Job Theory useful?

The jobs-to-be-done framework focuses on what customers want to accomplish.

Why is it useful?

It’s that being clear on the outcome gets you to understand what causes people to buy something.

Example of job to be done in Super Mario

Here is how the Christensen Institute explains the framework:

“The jobs-to-be-done framework is a tool for evaluating the circumstances that arise in customers’ lives.

Customers often buy things because they find themselves with a problem they would like to solve. With an understanding of the “job” for which customers find themselves ‘hiring’ a product or service, companies can more accurately develop and market products well-tailored to what customers are already trying to do.”

Once you get clarity on why someone wants to buy something, it makes it easier for you to create the right products.

Let’s jump on some examples to make this more concrete.

Example 1: A good JTBD example: Milkshake Marketing

I first came across the jobs-to-be-done framework through this example:

The Milkshake Marketing case study.

I use it often as it helps explain the power of understanding how jobs emerge in people’s lives. It’s about customers who “hire” milkshakes for breakfast in fast-food restaurants.

You can watch this video that summarises it:

The Milkshake example comes from the research of Clay Christensen. It’s about a fast-food company. The company used the job framework to create milkshake recipes tailored to the needs of their customers.

By doing customer interviews, they realised that people “hired” milkshake on the morning for a surprising reason.

The insight: Milkshakes were hired instead of a bagel or doughnut because it was relatively tidy and appetite-quenching, and because trying to suck a thick liquid through a thin straw gave customers something to do while driving during their boring commute.

Milkshake job to be done example

The new value proposition: Understanding the job to be done, the company could then respond by creating a morning milkshake that was even thicker (to last through a long commute) and more interesting (with chunks of fruit) than its predecessor.

The example is good for three reasons:

  1. The reason why customers buy milkshakes for breakfast is surprising;
  2. It shows the importance of understanding customers’ jobs in a particular context;
  3. It illustrates how jobs can be used to segment a market.

To put this into practice, read this article on templates that help you a value proposition.

Example 2: Using jobs to write a book tailored to your readers

In the functions of product and marketing, people share an obvious job to be done:

“When I’m creating or designing a product, I need to be able to understand what my customers or users will really want.”

At a higher level, they may want to understand their target market for various reasons:
– a startup founder is motivated by the success of her company;
– an employee wants to share good data as he may be hoping for a raise.

Ranking jobs to be done framework
Like for the Hierarchy of Needs, it is possible to rank jobs to be done

At a lower level, they may have different jobs to get done:
– a market researcher wants to draw a good picture of the market for his client;
– a product manager is trying to reduce the churn rate;
– a designer has to create the user interface of a new app;
– a marketer is working on a new campaign to acquire new customers.

Understanding this led me to write a new book to help them do that.

The Value Mix on Amazon
Understanding my target audience helped me write the Value Mix to make it useful for them

Insight: After numerous customer interviews, I understood that all of these people needed to share a common framework to analyse and segment their market and create their product strategy.

Value proposition: The Value Mix came as a way to do exactly that. The book digs into a few tools you can use to understand your customers and what they want. It then explains how to frame a coherent product strategy.

Example 3: Photoshop vs Instagram: When a new job to be done arises

The Photoshop/Instagram example is a good way to explains the importance of jobs.

Both products are photo-editing software.

Same product category. But, actually, they allow users to achieve two different jobs.

Example of job to be done with Photoshop and Instragram

The insight: Smartphones users take photos all the time. But not all of their photos are high-quality shots that deserve hours of editing in Photoshop.

The opportunity: Smartphone users want that helps them do the job (editing pictures) quickly and easily.

This why today, Photoshop and Instagram are used for two different jobs:

  1. Photoshop: For professional photographers who want to edit high-quality shots;
  2. Instagram: For amateurs who want to edit and share beautiful everyday pictures.

Example 4: The iPod and the difference between “Jobs” and “Benefits”

Here’s another example I use to explain the difference between a “job” and a “benefit”.

When Apple released the first iPod. It used a catchphrase that has become a marketing case study:

“1,000 songs in your pocket.”

At the time, people didn’t know what the feature “5 GB” meant for them. By translating “storage size” into “number of songs stored”, everyone could clearly see the benefit.

Example of benefits vs features

What’s the difference between a job to be done and a benefit?

In a recent conversation, I had with Karen Dillon, author of Competing Against Luck, a book about the jobs-to-be-done framework, she clarified the meaning of a job vs. a benefit:

“So features and benefits are geared to solving a job. But if they aren’t well matched to the job someone is hiring a product or service to do, it doesn’t matter how good they are, they won’t attract and keep those people struggling with a job.”

The job is about the customer.

The feature + benefit are about the product.

I dig into that idea in The Value Mix. Have a look at how it can help you create successful products.

An example of when we “hire” an iPod

An example of job to be done that we have is to motivate ourselves with music when we go running.

In that context, we were used to hiring a big Walkman. See Monica from Friends doing this in 1994:

Example of job to be done: Feeling motivated while doing some sport

The job remains the same in 1994 and in 2001—when the iPod was released. People still wanted to achieve the same progress: to motivate themselves with some music when they go running.

An example of job to be done

But in the iPod offers better features, which means better benefits.

Overall, the user experience is better tailored to do the job of feeling motivated when you go running. The iPod is smaller, easier to use, and it allows you to have more than one CD (12 songs) on your playlist. You don’t have to listen to the same music over and over again or be bothered to change the CD.

Here’s a summary of the example:

Feature: 5 GB
Benefit: 1,000 songs your pocket
Context: when you go running
Job to be done: you want to motivate yourself with some music

Example 5: JTBD in Retail Banking

The role of banks in our world sounds really complex. Indeed, banks offer so many different financial products with lengthy T&Cs.

So how can the jobs-to-be-done framework help us?

The framework allows us to go back to the first principle—i.e. what is the essence of what banks do.

Example of jobs to be done in banking
Example of jobs to be done in banking

If you think about it, banks help us achieve one of four kinds of jobs:

  1. Keep my money safe (e.g. saving account)
  2. Move my money (e.g. transfer, debit card)
  3. Grow my money (e.g. ISA in the UK, IRA in the US)
  4. Lend me money (e.g. student loan, credit card)

At the most basic level, any bank helps us do these things.

Identifying these core jobs has allowed companies like Wealthfront, Revolut, or TransferWise to succeed. They’ve focused on one specific job and have done it very very well!

More resources and examples about jobs to be done:

  1. https://leanpub.com/value-mix/
  2. https://medium.com/the-job-to-be-done/replacing-the-user-story-with-the-job-story-af7cdee10c27#.ca7hfuvbp
  3. https://medium.com/the-founders-blog/when-jobs-to-be-done-backfires-f70dd0ac4498#.q7j13bvke
  4. https://medium.com/@zbigniewgecis/8-things-to-use-in-jobs-to-be-done-framework-for-product-development-4ae7c6f3c30b#.y0ovaqula
  5. https://jtbd.info/know-the-two-very-different-interpretations-of-jobs-to-be-done-5a18b748bd89

 

7 Activities and Exercises for a Brilliant Innovation Workshop

Joining an innovation workshop is a big ask.

Your colleagues are busy so you need to make sure everything goes well.

How?

In these reflections, you’ll find out about useful activities that will help you design a successful innovation workshop.

As more people work remotely, most workshops happen online. I often get the question: “How do you do this online?”

4 activities to start your innovation workshop

The start of an innovation workshop is a chance to set the tone for the day.

How?

At this moment, you can remind the participants about:

  • Why they’re in the room
  • What they’re going to do
  • What the workshop will feel like
  • How you want them to behave

Let’s dig into activities that will help you do that.

1. Objectives

Objectives for an innovation workshop
Every good workshop starts with well defined objectives

Purpose:

When you clarify the objectives of the session, you allow the participants to understand why the workshop is important and how it relates to their day-to-day work.

It’s a way to make sure everyone is engaged.

How it works:

There are two categories of objectives:

  1. The high-level objectives
    These are the context and vision for the overall project. They give the participants reasons to be in the room with you.
  2. The direct objectives
    These are the expected results and outputs of the session. It’s what you will have achieved as a group by the end of the innovation workshop

2. The Agenda

Share agenda - Innovation workshop
The agenda helps the participants keep track of the flow

Purpose:

It’s important for participants to have access to the agenda for the workshop. It allows them to relax as they can anticipate what’s coming next.

How it works:

From my experience, there’s something that works well:

  • Share an outline agenda ahead of the workshop (when you invite the participants).
  • And then, introduce a more detailed agenda at the beginning of the session.

Print it or draw it on a large sheet of paper so you can put it in a place where everyone can see it during the whole workshop.

Bonus if you can give them the exact timings and indicate when the breaks will happen.

As Roger Schwartz wrote in HBR:

“The estimated time enables team members to either adapt their comments to fit within the allotted timeframe or to suggest that more time may be needed.”

It helps the participants plan the workshop in their head and see the relative importance of each activity/topic.

3. Group Agreements

agreements-activity-innovation-workshop
Agreeing on how to behave in the room helps the group to work more effectively

Purpose:

Group agreements help you set the tone by telling your audience how you want them to behave during the innovation workshop.

How it works:

You want to share agreements that are relevant for your workshop.

Here are some ideas:

  • Say yes
    Not everything maybe 100% on point for you, open yourself to it and build on it.
  • Be present
    Stay away from distractions, e.g. don’t use your phone or computer during the workshop.
  • No need to appear clever
    Avoid asking the “smart” question if it doesn’t contribute to anything.
  • Be punctual
    This is a polite way to tell the participants that time is tight and it’s possible that we end a discussion because we need to move on to something else.

I think it’s faster if you share how you want people to be in the room and get them to agree.

But some facilitators suggest to get the group to create their own set agreements. (Caveat: it takes a lot of time for very little impact.)

4. The Parking Lot

Activity - Parking Lot - Innovation Workshop
Having a Parking Lot can help the participants to focus on what is happening rather than on sharing ideas that pop into their mind

Purpose:

Having a Parking Lot is really useful when you want to keep the group focused on a topic.

It allows to avoid distracting or interrupting the flow with something that is off-topic at the moment.

How it works:

You allocate a space on a wall to “park” ideas or questions that do not relate with what the group is working at a specific time.

For example, the first phase of your innovation workshop is about reviewing the customer journeys of your target market.

A Parking Lot is useful to keep the ideas people may have while focusing on the customer journeys. Therefore, they won’t interrupt the flow by sharing their ideas with the rest of the group.

Ideas of exercises for your innovation workshop

There are many exercises that be done during an innovation workshop.

It really depends on what you want to achieve.

Here are some examples:

  • Defining your current challenges
  • Understanding your customers better
  • Reviewing a new innovation process
  • Generating new ideas
  • Deciding on the next phase of a project

Now let’s dive into more detailed exercises.

Co-creating a Customer Journey

Customer journey mapping - Innovation workshop
An innovation workshop is a good opportunity to map the journeys different segments of your customers go through

Purpose:

A good exercise for an innovation workshop is co-creating customer journeys.

Indeed, it’s helpful to leverage the expertise you have in the room to map the different journeys your customers go through.

How it works:

First, you need to pick the segments of customers you want to focus on.

In the room:

  1. You need a lot of space. A big wall would be great.
  2. Then, get a group of 3-5 participants to create the customer journey of a specific segment.
  3. They can use Post-it notes to indicate each step, the touch-points with your company, and (if you have the data) how the customers feel at each step.
  4. Finally, get the group to share back and ask the rest of the participants to build on the journey.

For more information about creating a customer journey, read these reflections.

2 ways to end your innovation workshop End on a high note

At the end of an innovation workshop, you want the energy to be high.

There’s a psychological reason to it:

The peak-end rule.

“It’s a psychological heuristic in which people judge an experience largely based on how they felt at its peak (i.e., its most intense point) and at its end, rather than based on the total sum or average of every moment of the experience.”

Here are two exercises to leverage it.

1. Reflections

Sharing reflections about innovation workshop
Sharing reflections is a nice exercise that get participants to review the day and emphasise important moments

Purpose:

Having the group share reflections at the end of an innovation workshop is a good way to finish on a high note and emphasise the positives.

How it works:

There are many ways to set this exercise.

Here’s one:

  • Have the participants work in pairs.
  • Ask them to write on Post-it notes any important takeaways or anything that stood out.
  • Then, get each pair to share back with the rest of the group.

As a facilitator, you should try to categorise the reflections to reinforce what is being said.

2. Next Steps: Actions and Ownership

Next step planning - Innovation workshop
Next steps are important to give a view on what is going to happen after the workshop and how the outputs will be used

Purpose:

Capturing the next steps allow you to make sure that you will keep the momentum after your innovation workshop.

How it works:

It really depends on how things are organised.

Sometimes, all the facilitator will own all the tasks. In other cases, the ownership is divided between some participants.

But it’s important to answer the following three questions:

  1. What’s coming next?
    Remind the participants of the next milestones for your strategy/innovation project.
  2. What needs to be done?
    Clarify what tasks will be done and their deadlines.
  3. Who owns it?
    Make sure that each task is clear and has an owner who’s committed to making it happen.

You’re about to organise a workshop?

Read these reflections about how to run a great workshop.

Share of Customer: 5 Awesome Tactics to Increase Profit

In this article, you’re going to learn how to increase profit by growing your customer share.

I’ll tell you two things:

(1) Why focusing on share of customer is surprisingly better than increasing market share.

(2) 5 awesome techniques you can use to boost your customer share.

(All of this illustrated with real-life examples.)

The first sale is the hardest

When you want to sell a product to new prospects, your most difficult task is to win their trust. Your prospects need to trust you before buying from you. They must believe your story.

(Here‘s a good framework to improve your marketing storytelling.)

So once you made the first sale, you’re done with the hardest part your job.

From now on, the following sales will cost you less. Your customers have demonstrated a real interest in what you have to offer. They now have fewer reasons to hesitate.

Why? Because your customer believes in you. You have sold him something; it has proved to be all you claim for it; therefore he feels safe in trusting anything you may say to him in the future.

— Robert Collier, copywriter and author of The Robert Collier Letter Book

If you keep delivering what you promise and more, they’ll keep doing business with you.

Customer Share vs Market Share

There’s a big difference between customer share and market share:

Market-share strategy = Trying to get a little bit from a lot of customers

Customer-share strategy = Focusing on getting as much as possible from fewer customers

It is cheaper to retain existing customers than acquire new ones.

(Which means higher gross margins.)

(Which means more profit.)

(Which means a growing business.)

Knowing that, it’s wiser to focus on encouraging your customers to be more loyal. Trying to get a larger share of the market will cost you more and make you lose an unfair advantage: existing customers who have already made the decision that it was worth buying from you.

Bonus:

Your most loyal customers tend to be your greatest salespeople.

Increase the share of wallet

Share of wallet refers to the amount of your customers’ total spending within a product category that your business captures with the products and services that it offers.

Formula of the share of wallet (definition)

A higher share of wallet means that your customers are spending more money to buy your products than to buy your competitors’ products.

As an example, The Coca-Cola Company talks about “share of stomach”, i.e. the ratio of Coca liquids that you drink vs. the competition’s.

Here’s a big question:

Adopting a strategy requires you to make choices.

Do you want to invest in acquiring more customers or in making sure that your existing customers keep buying more from you?

Now, I’m going to share great examples of the customer-share strategy.

Following the success of this article, I published The Value Mix. This new book helps you create successful propositions by leveraging the concept of customer share and 7 complementary frameworks.

Get the book here.

1. Consistency: Fans of your products

What it is:

Consistency is about always showing up in a predictable way. That’s how brands are built.

It’s one of the key drivers of retention. Once your customers took the risk to try your product once, they want to be able to predict what will be the experience of coming back.

How it works:

GoudronBlanc, a sustainable fashion brand I founded in 2012, offers high-quality T-shirts for men made using organic cotton.

We do one thing very well: great T-shirts.

This is our focus.

It’s niche. But our customers love us for that. And they keep buying from us.

GoudronBlanc consistently offers high-quality T-shirts for men
GoudronBlanc consistently offers high-quality T-shirts for men

The brand doesn’t have an aggressive acquisition strategy. Instead, we focus on delivering the best to our existing customers. Since they are happy with what we do, they keep coming back to us.

But that’s not it!

What’s great is that they encourage their friends to have a look at our online shop. I am very proud of this, as it makes me happy to hear they’re happy about our work.

This strategy is a great example of being laser-focused on consistency to increase customer share.

2. Membership: A way to keep your customer hooked

What it is:

Membership is the state of belonging to a group of people that have access to special benefits. It’s about rewarding members—i.e. your most loyal customers—with special offers others—non-members—cannot have.

How it works:

One of Amazon’s biggest win as a retailer is the Amazon Prime membership.

According to a study by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, Prime members shop more than non-members:

Prime members spend an average of $1,400 per year vs. $600 for non-Prime customers
Prime members shop on Amazon 26 times per year vs. 14 times for non-Prime customers

By giving access to free delivery and unlimited video and music streaming, Amazon rewards its most loyal customers.

Amazon uses a membership programme to increase its share of customer
Amazon uses a membership programme to increase its share of customer

And the customers who subscribe to Amazon Prime?

They love it! So every time they want to buy something, they think “Amazon!”.

Rewarding the most engaged group of customers matters.

Prime membership is not about getting more market share. It’s about getting a bigger share of customer.

3. Upselling: Make additional features more attractive

What it is:

Upselling is about encouraging your customers to purchase a comparable higher-end product than the one they are considering buying.

How it works:

You can encourage people to boost core features

I went shopping with a friend recently.

He needed a new pair of glasses so we went to Cubitts, a shop in London.

There, he’d found glasses he liked.

So the sales assistant asked him: “Would you like thin blue light lenses? It’s £50 more.”

Opticians use different qualities of lenses as a strategy to upsell
Opticians use different qualities of lenses as a way upsell

“Yes!”, he said as she was explaining that most opticians recommend these lenses when one works a lot with computers (which is the case for my friend).

Here was the upsell.

As a customer, my friend was happy. He got what he wanted.

An important takeaway about upselling:

You must focus on key features that make your products so much better in the eyes of your customers.

Here’s another example:

When you buy an iPhone XS on the online Apple store, you pick the basic version and then, you can select additional features, such as more memory.

Upsell marketing strategy by Apple
Apple makes it easy to choose more premium versions of the iPhone XS

It’s a smart way to encourage their customers to play with the specs and be tempted, for example, to quadruple the storage of their new iPhone for £150.

You can make it slightly more expensive…

Starbucks has a pricing strategy based on upselling.

A tall latte (the smallest) is £2.10, while the venti size (the biggest, which is nearly twice as big) costs only £2.60.

The upsell strategy at Starbucks
The upsell strategy at Starbucks

For an additional £0.50, you get twice the size.

Seems worth it right?

So when the barista asks their customers about the size, many go for the biggest, as it’s marginally not that much of a difference.

4. Series: Building anticipation into your products

What it is:

A series consists of a number of similar or related products, events, or experiences. They may share the same topic or theme and may also follow one another in a particular order.

This is a technique that authors and filmmakers use a lot.

Star Wars, Harry Potter, and FIFA (video game) are all series.

How it works:

Why are most successful authors and filmmakers creating series rather than standalone pieces?

Simple answer:

It’s just as hard for an author to sell a standalone book as it is to sell the first one of a series. But once they’ve managed to hook a customer into a series, this customer is more likely to buy all the books in that series.

Example: Using series marketing to increase customer share

When J.K. Rowling publishes 7 books of Harry Potter, she does two things:
1. She increases her customer share, compared to a standalone book;
2. She increases a share of wallet (more below), as her readers are more likely to buy her releases of Harry Potter than another book.

5. Insurance: Creating peace of mind (at a premium)

Apple is a great example of a company that does upselling very well.

When you get a new iPhone or iPad, Apple offers AppleCare+.

Offering an insurance and support package is a way to increase customer share

It’s a technique for Apple to increase their share of customer.

Every time someone gets an iPhone or iPad, they are likely to consider a two-year insurance policy.

Airlines do that very well too.

They sell you travel and cancellation insurances. This is a clever way to make sure that they make more profit from each customer while providing additional peace of mind.

A higher gross margin is great!

It allows them to afford to spend more on acquiring new customers. So by increasing their share of customer, they get a stronger budget to increase later their market share.

A corollary of customer share: Increasing Customer Lifetime Value (LTV)

Focusing on the share of customer helps you increase retention.

If someone is happy to buy more from you, it’s likely that this customer will be more loyal.

And as the formula shows, better retention means better Customer Lifetime Value.

Following the success of this article, I published The Value Mix. This new book helps you create successful propositions by leveraging the concept of customer share and 7 complementary frameworks.

Get the book here.

Customer share does win over market share

Instead of focusing on constantly acquiring new customers, why not spending more time and effort to delight your existing customers?

Think about making a profit in the long run.

Amazon, Starbucks, Apple, Uber, and Netflix… They all focus on increasing their share of customer. Market share is just the byproduct of their marketing strategy, not the other way around.

You cannot go wrong when your focus is on growing your share of customer.

How to Give Constructive Feedback That Really Helps People

Give constructive feedbackSharing constructive feedback gives you this ability to guide your team members and help them learn and grow.

Unfortunately, we never learn how to give feedback. We assume that it is intuitive; and that you should naturally master this skill.

But in practice, giving feedback feels uncomfortable.

We even often avoid doing it…

[In these reflections, I focus on “individual feedback” given to a team member (e.g. superior, peer, or subordinate). This excludes traditional employee review, team performance check-in, and managing yourself with feedback analysis.]

Feedback is an undervalued tool.

“Important achievements require a clear focus, all-out effort, and a bottomless trunk full of strategies. Plus allies in learning.”

– Carol Dweck, Mindset

Let me emphasise a key part of what Carol Dweck wrote here: “Plus allies in learning.” This is by giving useful feedback to your team (employee, peer, boss…) that you can make a real difference in their personal development.

In these reflections, I tackle three main mistakes:

  1. No feedback;
  2. Vague feedback;
  3. Not focusing on improvement.

My goal here?

To give you the tools to be more comfortable giving useful feedback to any members of your team.

Mindset: How to approach sharing feedback

If you want to be able to give great feedback, you need to be aligned on the purpose of feedback.

So what is it?

The purpose of feedback is “to improve“. The Oxford dictionary defines it well:

“Information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement.”

Feedback differs from:

  • condemnation (punishing someone for having done something wrong) and
  • criticism (saying that something is bad).

“Any fool can criticize, complain, and condemn—and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.”

― Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

The goal of giving feedback is to seek improvements.

Giving feedback = Gift

We say, “giving feedback” for a reason

As a team leader, you should consider feedback as a gift to their recipients. It aims at helping your team members grow and get better at what they do.

Giving feedback benefits three groups:

  • The recipient, as it focuses on helping them grow and deliver great work;
  • The team, as a better team member increases the overall performance of the team;
  • You, the team leader, as it’s your role to increase the value of what each team member and your team, as a group, can deliver.

Having this in mind, you can agree that the worst feedback is no feedback. It doesn’t help anyone. Unfortunately, it’s an easy way out that many people take, since giving feedback often feels uncomfortable.

So it’s your role as a good team player to help your team members grow and create more value for them and the team as a whole.

Positive feedback vs. Negative feedback

There’s a debate about positive vs. negative feedback.

Praising is important. Positive feedback tells someone that they did something well. And it encourages them to continue. It’s motivating.

“A sincere compliment is one of the most effective tools to teach and motivate others.”

— Zig Ziglar

But giving negative feedback also matters. It helps someone understand what they could have done better, and define how they can improve. It’s empowering.

“Criticism is dangerous, because it wounds a person’s precious pride, hurts his sense of importance and arouses resentment.”

― Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

Negative feedback is very different from empty criticism, which has no positive purpose.

Positive vs. Negative feedback

Both types of feedback are important

Though I like to praise my team members when they do well, I consider that negative feedback can be even more helpful than positive feedback.

That’s the recipe I apply to myself when I do my own feedback analysis.

But be careful:

Being constantly reminded of how you could be performing better can feel overwhelming and demotivating…

As a team leader, you should find the right balance between encouraging your team and helping them spot opportunities to grow. 

What’s constructive feedback?

Simplified to the maximum, constructive feedback is “GUSI”.

That means:

1. Genuine. There’s no point to hide the reality. Don’t ignore the elephant in the room. It doesn’t help anyone. If there’s something clearly wrong, just communicate it to your team member. Be honest about that.

2. Useful. Obviously, your feedback has to be useful. It must help the recipient understands what’s wrong, and how to course correct this.

3. Specific. Giving clear examples will really help the recipient identify what is wrong. Make it fact-based, as much as you can.

4. Immediate. The frequency of your feedback makes a real difference. Every week or two weeks, I try to meet one-to-one with my team members and share my feedback. The chat can be as quick as a 10-minute session (longer if necessary).

So be honest. Aim at helping. Give examples. And do this frequently.

Before: 5 steps to prepare yourself to give feedback

You have to be prepared before you can give constructive feedback.

1. Observe carefully.

Observing is the key to being specific and useful.

You need to pay attention to your team members, their work, and their challenges.

2. Suspend immediate judgement.

When something negative happened, try to understand the context. It’s important to acknowledge the issues the person had to face and the effort they put into doing their work.

Try to understand why they did what they did.

3. Pick the most important points.

Every “battle” is not worth fighting. Avoid overwhelming your team members with tons of feedback. Just focus on the feedback that really matters.

And remember that feedback is about behaviour, not personality.

Theme feedback

4. Create themes.

This is another trick to be more specific and avoid being overwhelming. It is actually easier to receive feedback when they are grouped in themes.

You first share the theme (e.g. public speaking) and you illustrate with specific examples (e.g. Tuesday’s presentation).

5. Identify paths to growth.

Before sharing your feedback, get some ideas of how the person could improve. This is actually the most important part of giving feedback.

Here’s what a friend told me:

“The worst is when you get feedback and no suggestions on how to improve. I’ve had that before. Bloody pain.”

You see how important this can be.

Depending on the situation, you can either encourage the recipient to come up with ideas first and guide them. Or you can share immediately what would be the best way for the person to grow.

What else?

Here’s a framework I find useful when I prepare myself to give feedback:

When you give feedback to someone, you actually comment on either of two things:

1. The what: the content of their work;

2. The how: their way of working, being, and communicating.

 So when you’re creating themes, ask yourself if are you addressing the what or the how.

During: When and how to give constructive feedback

The first few times you share your feedback, you may feel a little bit out of your comfort zone. With practice, it becomes more intuitive.

My suggestion is to keep it informal and human.

Actually, one mistake is to make it feel like a review or a trial. That happens when you make it too formal.

(The only reason to keep this process formal is when something really bad happened. But that’s almost when we jump from giving feedback to managing a crisis.)

What should a feedback “session” look like?

As I give feedback every week (or two), I often do that in a 10-minute chat.

We grab some tea or coffee and chat about how we feel about the work we’ve done. If I’m travelling with my team, I take a cab ride or a flight as perfect excuses to take a step back on our work and share feedback.

I also always make sure to ask for feedback too.

First, it’s essential for you. Second, it makes your team members feel that it’s a two-way process. You’re not being patronising since both of you are working on helping each other become better.

Depending on the rhythm in your workflow, you can schedule regular catch ups. It can help.

Keep this in mind with new team members

If it’s the first time you give feedback to a new team member: explain the role of feedback.

Set the person in the right mindset. Make sure they understand that it’s not empty criticism, but constructive feedback that aims at getting better at what they do.