5 Key Questions to Get New Business Ideas Off the Ground

frame We all have great ideas, or work with people who do. How many of them actually go anywhere? Brainstorming is fun, coming up with new ideas is exciting. But to turn that fun and excitement into tangible products or business you need to answer some key questions to frame your idea and give it some structure or foundation to help it get off the ground.

I’ve had the privilege to work with some people who are exceptionally bright, visionary, idea-generation machines.  For some people this is a hobby.  My colleagues tell me I’m good at providing structure to their ideas, so here are the questions I ask, and help them answer:

  1. What problem are you solving, or what possibility are you offering?
  2. Why should your customers care? Why should you care?
  3. What makes you unique, different, or memorable?
  4. What skills, people, or services are you missing that prevent you from presenting a complete offering?
  5. What is your business model? How do you make money?

Answering these questions will tell you if have, or don’t have, a viable business concept worth further exploration.  All five questions should be answered from the “customers” perspecitve and the need that is being filled.  Remember if your business doesn’t have customers, then you don’t have a business, you just have a hobby.

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Book Review – “Answering the Ultimate Question”

260692_cover.inddSince I have written in the past about Net Promoter Score (NPS) the publishers of this most recent book sent me a copy and it’s about time I posted my review.

There has been much criticism of NPS as a single measure of loyalty.  With most of the criticism centered around the disbelief that a single metric can be reliable, and the inability of others to reproduce the results from the original book.  With this recent work it looks as though the authors are more on the path of using NPS as a process for building a customer-centric business than as a single indicator of ability to grow.  The authors state “Net Promoter is a metric and way of doing business.”  So while the book answers some questions, it still leaves others unanswered.


  • It backs off from the single metric concept and offers a good framework or operating model for collecting, analyzing and acting on customer feedback.
  • It provides several good options for understanding and segmenting customers and what to do with each segment. It also offers a good methodology for driving organizational change towards becoming a more customer-centric organization.
  • It finally talks about multiple question surveys for gathering customer feedback.
  • They urge caution when using NPS to impact employee compensation.


  • It lists a major tenet as “linkage to financial outcomes” but doesn’t discuss or show how to really do that.  How does one prove that an improvement in financial performance is due to an increase in NPS?  They state that it does, but don’t show how to prove it.
  • Their discussion around correlation, regression, and relative impact analysis without a detailed example is a major fault.  They tell you why it’s important, but it really falls short on implementation.
  • Much of their discussion around customer-centricity is not all that new.

So if you are struggling with how to start on the path towards a customer-centric culture it’s a good read.  If your still hoping that asking one question will get you a loyal customer base, keep hoping my friends. It’s just not that easy.

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OT: San Diego Firestorm 2007 – A Spirit Check

firefighter.jpg Many of my blog readers don’t realize I live in San Diego. For those who do, and those that sent emails asking how I am doing, all is fine with me and I’m counting my lucky stars. The fires are burning to the northeast and southeast of my home so I’m thankful that I could offer my home as refuge to a few friends who were evacuated.

As the winds seem to be subsiding, I am hopeful that the conditions will now get better for the rescue workers and firefighters. My neighborhood has served as a refuge, and the streets are full of cars loaded with the critical items people were able to rescue from their homes. The air is smoky, the ground is covered with ash, and the sky is an ominous grey and orange color as the sun is setting.

It’s been a surreal experience watching these fires burn so out-of-control, destroying everything in their path, and painfully waiting to see where it goes next. The news reporters have been doing an amazing job it and it was especially painful watching a long-time San Diego news reporter file his story right in front of his own home of 25 years while it burned to the ground.

Some people complain that San Diego doesn’t have a strong community feel to it since most residents of San Diego come from somewhere else. Well, they can stop complaining. While this firestorm is showing us the worst of mother nature, it is showing us the best of human nature. San Diegans from all over are pitching to help those less fortunate – from offering refuge, to volunteering at shelters, to communicating the latest info through the various media sources.

Those that are truly demonstrating the best of the human spirit are the rescue workers and firefighters who are putting themselves in harms way to save our lives and our homes. Many have been working for 72 hours+ with little or no sleep. They will humbly tell you it’s their job. There is no way to thank them enough.

While our human spirit is literally burned around the edges, I’m confident it is still in check. I’m going to take the next few days and renew my faith in human nature, in our ability to give to those less fortunate, and our desire to pitch in and give selflessly. The only things worth keeping in life are the things we give away.

As the temperatures run high, the winds still ferocious, and the fire still intense, I’m so thankful that the human spirit is just as high, ferocious, and intense.

(photo courtesy of NBC San Diego)

Wal-Mart to Online Customers: “Don’t Call Us – Ever!”

no_phone1.jpg  According to a story from NPR, Wal-Mart doesn’t want it’s online customers calling them so much.  So they removed the customer service phone number from their website and want customers to use the online help instead.  This sounds a bit like Sprint’s firing of those “pesky” customers who called Customer Service too often.

I don’t have the details on why Wal-Mart decided to do this, but I imagine it was a cost-savings decision.  According to NSP Strategist, Sprint’s “pesky” customers where costing them $750 per month each. 

At some point a business needs to find out which customers it can service most effectively.  If you are thinking of firing customers or taking away support options, please ask youself these questions before you do:

  1. Why are these customers calling so often?  Do you have a real problem with your products/services that is causing them to call?  Many customers won’t call, they will just switch to your competitor. 
  2. Do you have a communications problem?  Maybe you need to find a better way to communicate the information that is continually requested.
  3. Who are these customers?  Are they profitable?  Could they be profitable?
  4. Are there other options you could provide?  What do your competitors provide?
  5. What is the impact of negative word-of-mouth going to be?  What is your strategy to minimize it?  Here is an interesting case of negative word-of-mouth where the court has encouraged consumers to air grievances online.

One would have to venture that both Wal-Mart and Sprint have some idea of what is most valuable to customers, and the role that customer support has in that value equation.  If they really don’t know, they will learn quickly from these actions if they choose to – but at what cost?  For smaller businesses who may not have that level of insight, before you make a decsion to cut support you need to know the answers to the questions listed above.  You need to know what customers value, and which customers are most valuable to you.

Welcome to Customer U!

My new friend Becky Carroll got me excited about blogging, so look out world here we go.