Harvard Business Review recently posted an article by Anthony Tjan, CEO, Managing Partner and Founder of the venture capital firm Cue Ball.
He suggested that one way to know and understand customers better is by studying the broader context in which your customers use your product or service. To do this, ask what your customer is doing three minutes immediately before and three minutes after he uses your product or service.
The examples included Thomson, a media and information provider, asking the questions about products provided to investment analysts with financial earnings data. Immediately after getting the data, a large number of analysts were painstakingly importing it into Excel and reformatting it. This observation led to developing a more seamless Excel plug-in feature. The result was an almost immediate and very significant uplift in sales.
In a study of female drug store shoppers, a significant number of women picked up a disposable camera after putting newborn diapers into their shopping carts. Follow-up interviews confirmed that snap-happy moms were often new moms. Placing disposable diapers close to inexpensive disposable cameras furthered this purchase pattern and would not have otherwise been an intuitive merchandising or cross-selling strategy.
In the book, Why We Buy, author Paco Underhill describes how shoppers who do not have a shopping basket or shopping cart go quickly to the checkout when their arms get full. A casual observer says that is obvious. A savvier approach might be to interview people in a checkout line with an armful of goods to ask where they were three minutes earlier and if they would have considered buying anything else if it hadn’t been so difficult to carry so many items. Underhill concludes that more establishments should consider putting shopping baskets in the middle of the store to keep customers in shopping mode longer (since research showed that few would go back to the front of the store to get a cart once engaged with shopping).
These situations illustrate how easy it is to fall prey to narrow thinking. In the Thomson example, they thought of themselves as a data provider, though they were really part of a broader workflow solution. In the cross-selling and shopping-basket examples, the three-minute rule reminds us that rearranging the context of a shopping experience to better meet customer patterns can be extremely effective. Customers seek solutions, but it is likely that your offering is only part of one. The three-minute rule is a mechanism to see the bigger picture and adjacent opportunities.
Are you thinking of what your customers are doing? Is there a way we can help you provide a more complete solution?