Are you brave enough to ask the hard questions?

Last week we did something really scary. We asked our users what they didn’t like about Workible.

Yes, it’s a pretty gutsy move.

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The idea came from an article I read about how engaged users can help you grow a business. It seemed like, on the surface, a great idea. Give people some vested interest in helping to create what they want and they’ll be more invested in it. Sounds reasonable. But the sceptic in me wondered whether they really cared or whether they’d use this opportunity to point out all of the little things they hated.

We spent quite a bit of time agonizing over exactly how we would phrase the survey to “soften any blows”. How would we phrase the questions so that we limited feeling totally ripped apart by the answers? In the middle of the conversation about just that, we decided not to. We decided we wanted the warts and all feedback.

You see, if we’ve built a product that sucks, then we want to know about it before we waste any more time going down that road. (BTW, we don’t think we have – but it’s not really our opinion that counts).

So we put together a survey giving users every opportunity to bag us out, and then held our collective breaths and pressed send.

Within a few hours we had hundreds of responses – and they kept coming in the next day and the one after. And we learnt a massive lesson.

First of all, we were absolutely thrilled with the results. Not only did we have oodles of suggestions as to how to improve, we got tons of feedback on the little things that people wanted. What surprised us more was how engaged people were in telling us how to build the product they wanted – and, amid all the suggestions, how positive they all were.

To be honest, most of the suggestions are already in the pipeline (which is proof that we are on the right track), but we did get some extra gems as well.

Some wanted us to get in touch to help them with their profiles and applications. Some told us that they loved Workible and not to change a thing (although that wasn’t the point of this exercise.) And some of the suggestions also centered around how we should do more surveys and keep asking these questions. What a relief!

The thing is – had we never been brave enough to open ourselves up to a possible barrage of criticism, then we would have never had this insight from the very people who determine our success (or failure).

Our commitment is to get back to each and every one of the hundreds of people who answered the survey – yes, it’s time consuming but we figure it’s a great relationship builder and really good for the “personality” of our business.

Interestingly, the last question we asked was “Would you refer Workible to a friend?”. After giving them 11 different opportunities to talk about what they don’t like, we were thrilled to get over 90% of yesses.

So here’s the kicker…

Your customers, clients or users are the ones who will determine whether your business fails or succeeds – and will determine the level at which you do either. Don’t be arrogant enough to think you know what they want. Ask.

Be brave enough to take the criticism on the chin. Most people won’t, so you’ll stand out for that alone.

Our exercise in asking has shown us a few of things. One is that lots of people are willing to help you. Secondly, people do feel more engaged in a product when they can contribute to its development. And thirdly, don’t make assumptions about anything.

Why business collaborations are marketing gold

Alliances, marketing partnerships, collaborations.  Call them what you will.  This method of growing a business is one of the simplest (and cheapest) about – and one of the most underutilised.

I regularly get approached to speak about this and it’s my very favorite marketing topic quite simply because it’s a way to grow massively and oftentimes without any advertising dollars spent.

For some reason, however, it seems to be daunting for most business owners.  The thought of having to approach someone and ask if there’s a way to work together is something that most small business owners think is only the right of the “big boys”.  But that’s far from the truth.

In my opinion, the real reason behind the reluctance is that a small business owner may think that they just don’t have enough to offer – but, again, that’s often a fallacy.  And that’s also assuming you know what the other business wants.

It seems that a lot of the thought around collaborations is that it’s all about swapping client databases and, in order for you to do that, your database must be as big as theirs.  Again, not true.  Sometimes alliances and collaborations having nothing to do with databases – but they do have something to do with swapping things.

Just recently, our company, Workible,was part of a massive collaboration that saw our user base grow by 26% in just one week.  We weren’t just collaborating with one business, we did it with a whole community.

This collaboration came about from a need – but that’s not unusual.

In fact, here’s the kicker – they all do. 

And it was about solving the needs of another group – our collaboration partner’s customers.  The client we collaborated with, a major regional shopping centre group, was expanding it’s centre and, as part of trying to keep their clients happy during a period of disruption, they asked how they could help them. There were two predominant suggestions – get us access to more foot traffic and make it easier for us to find staff.  And that’s where we came in.

Because Workible is perfectly targeted to these types of businesses – predominantly retailers – we were the perfect solution to solve their clients’ problems.  Initial discussions centered around how we could help the whole community and that opened us up to local TAFEs, the university, job services agencies and a range of other people in the community – all of whom had a need and all of whom could help solve some of the problems for a least one of the other collaboration partners.  This win-win attitude ultimately led to a whole community collaboration around jobs, job creation and getting people into work.  We even had the Lord Mayor at the launch event, singing the praises of this initiative.

The Centre helped their retailers, we helped them and the job service agencies to connect them with jobs and we got our own benefits.  The result for us was the staggering 26% growth but what was more staggering was the marketing cost of the collaboration to us.  It was zero!

All it took was a bit of our time to get an insane amount of growth in an equally insane (and short) period of time.

If you ever doubt the power of a collaboration, don’t.  And if you ever wonder about how to get one started, I’ve already given you the clue.  Ask the questions – “how can I help?”.