• Ferhan Bulca

    I am an executive leader and a serial intrapreneur focused on innovation and design thinking. My purpose in life is to create products and services that make the world a better place to live in.

    In the course of my career, I have developed a deep understanding and expertise on all aspects of technology commercialization and product/service development. As a result, I have built multi-million dollar businesses from the ground up.

    I am the creator and the Lead Instructor for Business Innovation Certificate Program at University of Toronto, School of Continuing Studies.

    I offer business consulting services and I am available as a speaker for private and public events.

    Watch my recent talk at Ashoka Canada's Changemakers event at University of Toronto on YouTube.

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How To Gain Customer Insight?

Recently, I was working with a client when he told me that he was mandated to develop customer insight so that their products attract better adoption. Being in business for over 20 years, he had good ideas about what customers cared for. He also recognized that there was probably a lot more he could learn about his customers but he did not know where to start. So, we put our thinking hats on and started brainstorming.

First, we needed a framework to work on. Inspired by Using Customer Insight to Build Competitive Advantage (2003) by Carlson Marketing Group, we created this:

Customer insight cycle

Customer Insight Cycle

Let me explain this framework a bit: We all have assumptions and convictions about what customers value in our offerings (products/services). We have an idea about the tough problems we solve for our customers. This knowledge is customer insight. We take actions based on our insight but, most of the time, we do not fully validate our understanding of the customer. Our actions are, most of the time, not purely based on our understanding of the customer, either. Many internal (organizational) factors contribute to the decisions we make and the actions we take. These multiple factors add complexity to the next two steps, Assessment and Data, making it difficult to make a direct cause and effect relationship.

Second, we discussed applying this framework to his problem to see if it fit. The first question was where to start. It is a cycle and it is hard to identify where one steps in. We decided that Insight box was the place to start. This may come across surprising because customer insight is our end-goal. If we knew it already, why would we need all this exercise? In fact, we knew that we did not know everything but we had theories. In fact, the person I was working with and his peers all had theories (my word, not theirs) about their customers. The problem is that those theories were not always consistent with each other. But, who was right? That is why we start with the “Customer Insight Theories” and validate them by going through the above cycle a few times.

Third, we developed a plan for my client to work with his peers using the framework. He left the conversation energized and motivated to take the steps that will give him the insight he is looking for. Equally importantly, now he has a framework to institutionalize how the company gains and retains customer insight.

I welcome your comments on my blog. If you have specific questions, please feel free to contact me at ferhan.bulca@intrascope.ca.


Lack of Ethics in a Financial Product

The other day, I received a letter from Royal Bank of Canada, promoting a “0% interest” campaign. It states that any cash advances I would make on my credit card would be interest-free for a period of six months. Being a businessman, free money always gets my attention. Being analytical-minded, I read the fine print. And, there I find the details, which led me to write this about the ethics of product positioning and product definition.

Here is what made me think that the offer was unethical: The fine print states that any payments I would make would be applied to various components of the bill, in the following order:

  1. Interest, fees, penalties – this makes sense
  2. Balance with LOWER interest rate – this made me curious!
  3. Balance with HIGHER interest rate!

Do you see what I see? They leave the higher interest balance to the end.  In other words, the so-called 0% promotion is nothing but! It is a method to take advantage of the trust of most people or, worse, pull those who need the cash most even further into debt.

Now, if one considers the objective of a bank, which is simply to make more money, the product is quite cleverly designed and promoted. The bank gives you a carrot and makes you pay the cheaper debt first, leaving your more expensive debt open for a longer period of time and collecting their fees, interest and whatever else along the way.

This situation exemplifies the importance of alignment between an organization’s objectives and those of their clients. Royal Bank, at least in this case, chose a “we win-you lose” strategy, which is costing them at least one client (yours truly). The challenge for the organization is to find “win-win” scenarios where the clients are happy with to buy the products of an organization where they see value and the organization makes money.

Many brick and mortar companies learned this a while ago and took specific steps to ensure ethical compliance (at least relatively speaking) in the way they source and sell their products. Take, for example, Wall-Mart’s “roll-back prices” tag line. They found a way to align their bottom line objectives with those of their customers. It appears like financial organizations have a few things to learn from Wall-Mart, Costco, and many other goods re-sellers.

What Product Development Companies Can Learn from a Neighborhood Entrepreneur

I have been watching a local entrepreneur build his business from scratch over the past two years and I applaud him for doing all the right things to establish his company, which appears to be very successful so far.

He is a restaurateur, who set himself apart from a very crowded market in Toronto, Canada. Here are the things he has done over the course of two years:

Identify a Niche and Stick to It

He started with one single dish (smoked meat) with appropriate condiments. Nothing else! He did not copy other successful smoked meat delis, but developed his own style and flavor.

Develop Effective Partnerships

He started his business as an add-on to an existing pub. He served his signature dish while the pub served everything else. The partnership made sense when I first saw it and gave the entrepreneur a chance to start with a very small investment.

Test Your Product Early & Modify as Needed

In his early days, when he operated out of the pub, he would personally serve his dish and ask for patrons’ opinions on the food. He experimented with a few flavors and asked for feedback. He has always been friendly and easy-going. For the first few times, I did not even know that he was the main guy behind this. I thought he was the cook, who had a bit of idle time to chat with customers.

Move to Market at the Right Time

He opened his own deli, when the buzz started build about him and his dish. By that time, he had developed a level of recognition and support from the local community. In addition, he was featured in a few newspapers and magazines.

Stay True to Your Core Business

His deli shop continues to offer his great dish as the signature food. He carefully expanded his menu but kept it small. He continues to offer excellent and friendly service and comes out of the kitchen to chat with customers.

In case you are wondering, I am talking about Caplansky’s Deli (http://caplanskys.com) in the Little Italy neighborhood in Toronto. But, that’s not the point. The point is that Zane, the owner, did everything right in the book of product development. A lesson to learn from a local guy.

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