We want to be efficient, we want to feel smart. When we hear even the first words of a challenge, we categorize it and start trying to solve it based on our available tool set. This prevents you from a real understanding of the problem.
Every print business has a set of technology tools to work with to solve problems.
We are all familiar with the adage, “when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”
Recently I’ve witnessed scenarios like this:
“When the only online tool you have is your web-to-print solution, every customer problem looks like it fits into your web-to-print solution.”
“When the primary thing you sell is print, every customer communication challenge, looks like an opportunity for print.” (that’s a very popular one!)
“When the only tools your team is comfortable with are email, PDFs, and spreadsheets every single business challenge in your company is solved using those three tools.” (manual, expensive, error prone, processes that create isolated islands of data)
What’s wrong with this? Our job is to solve customer’s problems while we leverage the tools we have available to us, right? Yes, it is, and when we rush to solutions with the tools we have or the tools we’re comfortable with we skip the most important opportunity in our business – truly understanding the problem.
I was on a call recently with several people from different functional areas of the print business (sales, management, IT, and operations). The sales team had brought a need in from a current large customer. After a very brief explanation of the need, the entire team jumped into suggesting solutions. This is not a race. This is not being timed. Why are we in such a hurry? What is wrong with asking several more clarifying questions about what the customer is trying to accomplish and where their pain points are?
Humans hate uncertainty.
Defining the problem is staying in that state between a problem and a solution. We don’t like it. We like to feel smart, confident, and certain. Solutions make us feel that way. Undefined problems are an uncomfortable spot for most people. We think “being smart” is being the fastest at ingesting the short description of the problem, making lots of assumptions (without the data to back it up), and then being the first to propose a solution. If I could change one thing about all print organizations it would be; ask three more open ended, clarifying questions about what your customers are trying to accomplish. Then, shut up and listen carefully without trying to solve the problem in real-time using tools you’re comfortable with.
Here is what you’ll find. All businesses are transitioning from inefficient workflows staffed by lots of people, using lots of emails, spreadsheets, and PDFs to workflows that are powered by software, the internet, mostly delivered through their mobile devices. Everyone is in this transition, except maybe companies like Google who look at every problem as a search problem! People are managing the craziest things using complex spreadsheets, I call this role “spreadsheet monkey” not to be mean to monkey’s or to the people who have the mind-numbing tasks of collecting and organizing information from many sources and then trying to keep it all straight through brute force in a spreadsheet. The elimination of spreadsheet monkey’s is the optimization of workflows. It is taking the tasks of communication across a large community of people (replacing email), collecting that information and acting on it (replacing spreadsheets), then producing reports or dashboards to monitor that business process (replacing PDFs).
When you ask three more clarifying questions about what customers are trying to solve and how htye are doing it today, you generally end up at one or many spreadsheet monkeys. These people are bright, can juggle many things at once, and are very detail oriented. Imagine what these epopel could do if they didn’t have to work so damn hard doing what computers, software, and the internet were made to do?
The most important characteristic in this time of transition between analog communication and digital communication is your ability to recognize and understand challenges that are worth solving. You must fall in love with the problem which requires you to stop rushing into the solution. Don’t be afraid of finding out challenges that your current solution set can’t solve. It’s better to find that out very early (in this case ignorance is not bliss, ignorance is costly).
What is the customer trying to accomplish?
How would the customer define success?
What is the customer doing today to solve this challenge (what’s the process)?
How many people are involved today?
What toolset are they using to collect information, store information, disseminate information? (if you hear email, spreadsheets, and PDF you’re probably inside a problem that’s worth solving!)
When you fall in love with the customer’s problem, you uncover all kinds of business opportunities. It is like digging for gold. When you stop short and make assumptions, solving based on a limited understanding you learn nothing and gain little. Ask three more clarifying questions about what the customer is trying to accomplish – it is a small change to your behavior that will pay dividends in both the short and the long term.