Selling Experience at a Trade fair

Many of us shudder at the idea of “selling” and often shy away when required to do so. It is the fear of approaching new territory, of being rejected by customers or elaborating more on a product or service that overwhelms us.

On Thursday 23 January, my Design thinking class activity for the day was to sell our products/service at a trade fair at The Business School, Kingston University. This was an opportunity to showcase and sell our products to the public for the very first time.

The purpose of the trade fair was to have an experience of talking to real potential customers, who would test our product assumptions, test our knowledge of our products, test our people and selling skills, and also test our entrepreneurial attitudes.

But also secret judges were to attend the trade fair to judge our start-ups in 3 categories: Best Product, Best Sales Team and Best Trade Stand. I must admit that it was daunting as we were not certain of how the day would turn out. But nonetheless preparation was vital for my team particularly in terms of:

The product/prototype

Our product is/was the Journal of Memoirs, which is a family oriented activity book that helps to fight loneliness and improve mental health through weekly interactive activities. We therefore ensured that prior to the trade fair we collated the content required for the book and shared with the graphics designer who further created visual impression of the content.

The leaflets

Our intention was to say more with fewer words through the leaflet. We therefore expounded on our product in the leaflet, the product benefit in addition to our contact details i.e. email address and social media platform for further customer engagements.

Planning for the trade stand

Inexpensive but also creative ways of making our stand attractive and approachable for customers is what we imagined so we created motivational quotes as take home for our customers, printed out both the prototype and the fliers to hand over to customers, feedback forms for instant feedback et cetera.

Dress code

Our intention was for customers to easily identify us from the other teams so we agreed on a dress code with a touch of red.

And on to the actual trade fair, ready to meet customers and sell our product. Despite the fact that we were literally frightened of selling, the passion for our product motivated us to approach many customers which earned us an award for the best sales team.

Team DT4, awarded Best Sales Team

An amazing experience it was and some tips learnt for the next trade fair include;

  • Understand the product/service by heart to be able to explain the same to customers.
  • Customers judge the brand personality from afar therefore being approachable is vital.
  • Ensure that the display designs, packaging and branding communicate exactly what one intends to communicate to the customers.
  • The trade stand communicates a story therefore tell more with less on the stand.
  • Customer feedback is vital for continuous learning and improvement

An experience of empathy mapping

Ever imagined you were visually impaired or unable to speak? How would you cope? For us to understand what people with physical challenges experience, we have to empathize with them. According to the Cambridge dictionary, empathy is the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation.

A few weeks back in my design thinking class, we carried out a role play on empathy mapping with the primary purpose of having a bathroom experience for three persona roles, namely;

  • Visually impaired persona (we blindfolded one of our colleagues)
  • Robot whose role was to follow nonverbal instructions from the support persona who does not speak(mute)
  • Support persona (mute) was to give nonverbal instructions to the robot to replicate the same to the visually impaired persona.

Upon returning from the bathroom, we did an empathy mapping to reflect and understand each persona’s experience and behavior under the circumstances and to also appreciate the five senses (smell, sight, touch, hearing and taste.

Team DT4 sharing their empathy mapping experience after the role play

Our experience is summarized below;

Who are we empathizing with?

Under the circumstances, we were empathizing with all the three personas. The visually impaired persona who depended on the robot for movement, the robot who depended on the support persona and could not independently make decisions, and the support persona who could only use nonverbal communication to the robot and hoping that the instructions would be followed. 

What do they need to do?

The visually impaired persona needed to use the bathroom and both the robot and support persona had to accompany her to that space.

What do they do?

Since the visually impaired persona was already worried of her movement, her sense of smell and touch became more alert to the environment. While in the bathroom, she used her hands to touch the walls to make sure that she had been brought to the right place. She also felt need for privacy and locked out the two personas.

What do they hear?

The visually impaired persona was cautious of the environment and therefore her hearing sense was more alert in hearing noise within the surrounding, doors opening and closing, hearing movements and hearing communication from the robot.

What do they smell?

Major emphasis on visually impaired persona had high sense of smell from the surrounding and could differentiate the smell in the bathroom from that of the environment.

What do they see?

The robot saw and followed instructions from the support persona as the support persona had the visual directions.

What do they say?

Emphasis on the visually impaired persona became more aware and alert of her environment by asking several questions as a way of reassurance that she was actually being led to the bathroom.

What do they think and feel?

This captured our emotional state and what worried us throughout the experience. The robot did not think or feel because it was following instructions; the support persona had to make quick judgments throughout the journey to avoid interruptions while the visually impaired persona felt helpless and worried of bumping into items along the journey.

I must admit that it was a challenging experience role playing and imagining what it would be like to be in the situation of visually impaired persons. And to also learn that the senses of hearing, smell, taste and touch are also very important aspects while designing a product or service.

Further information on empathy mapping can be found at: https://www.solutionsiq.com/resource/blog-post/what-is-an-empathy-map/

The Re-Design experience

My previous blog post on what entrepreneurs need to know about the design thinking process introduced the concept and the steps therein. In this blog, I will explain another distinct but related step i.e. redesign. A few weeks back in my class, we were tasked to redesign either a product or a service of our choice that we thought needed a little re-designing. The re-design exercise was to give us an experience of having a more practical approach and understanding of the design thinking process.

Following the process steps, we went on a fact-finding mission of problems facing our community. My team and I brainstormed on different problems that we thought were either affecting our community but that was not really conclusive since we had to engage the target group. We further agreed to have a day off just to observe and understand our surroundings better. On the next day, we concluded on a problem that seemed to affect many shoppers who we empathized with, i.e. carrying heavy grocery bags.

We then quickly designed a questionnaire to make our interaction and interview with the shoppers. The questionnaire had to capture the right information in the shortest time possible considering that most shoppers are always in a hurry. A number of challenges were raised by the shoppers regarding some of the grocery bags on the market. The main issue related to the poor quality of bags as demonstrated by low durability of the fabric used. Others did not have compartments to carry different items while others had fragile handles and could easily break. This means they were unable to carry groceries in one bag and had to carry multiple bags, et cetera.

As a team, we thought of how we might make the shopping experience for the shoppers better, especially for those that are looking for a shopping bag with all the good qualities combined. This was indeed going to take a lot more creativity to redesign the right bag. We then decided to brainstorm on a number of ideas and zeroed down on the most appropriate. This process birthed the collapsible grocery trolley bag.

On to creating a prototype, we had to get materials that we could easily play with but suitable for building our first sample that could easily be seen but also experienced. We therefore designed a portable two wheel collapsible trolley bag with folding handles that can be crumpled and carried in one’s handbag. It also has compartments that can carry a lot more items and we intend to use recycled material. We believe the bag will resolve the problems that our target users identified.

Team DT4 at work prototyping collapsible grocery trolley bag
Team DT4’s final collapsible trolley bag prototype

The practical experience was amazing and we learned that designing a product/service requires a lot of interaction and engagement with the actual users/target group from the initial stages to the end. This process minimizes errors and enables one build a solid and quicker solution to the problem.

What entrepreneurs need to know about the Design thinking process

Many times, entrepreneurs come up with solutions to societal problems without the input of the ultimate users of the idea. They operate on the hope that the idea will work, which is fine until it does not. I am personally guilty of this. The time and energy spent on ideas which become a non-starter or backfire can hurt one’s entrepreneurial spirit. This is where the design thinking process comes in handy.

The concept of the design thinking process, was one of the recent discussion topics in my class, It is a methodical and customer-centric approach that emphasizes the consumer’s input in the design of a product/service to solve their problems and satisfy their needs. The concept comprises of a five-step process that I would like to share with you.

Step one: Empathize with the customer

This entails understanding another person’s situation or feelings. Empathy gives you “new eyes” into the customer’s problems by observation and having engagements through conversation, interview et cetera. This is so important because it minimizes loss of important information that will be shape the idea.

Step two: Define the problem/Problem statement

You have probably gathered several challenges/problems which need to be synthesized so as to zero down on the most pressing issues for the user. Try to recollect what really stood out for you from observation and engagement. Upon zeroing down on the right problem, you are then able to formulate the problem statement. Remember that only defining the core problem will help you find the right solution which should be meaningful and actionable.

Step three: Ideate

This is done by focusing on solutions to address the problem. The idea is to generate as many solutions to the problem as possible before narrowing down to one or two. Through brainstorming, it is possible to generate several solutions or ideas and zero down on the most appropriate solution to the problem, based on the first two steps.

Step four: Prototype

A prototype is the first sample or an early product or service that is used to experiment or test if it can solve the user/customer’s problem. This is something that the user can experience or interact with which is why it is important to build the prototype with the user in mind.

Step five: Test

The product/service can be tested on the user/customer for feedback to be able to learn what worked and what did not work. Either way, if it does not work, keep going back to step four to ideate and keep refining the prototype until you get the solution that deals with the problem.

That is the design thinking process in a nutshell. It fascinated me as it was a total opposite of what I was initially doing in the past while hoping to get the right results. This is a powerful and hands-on process that puts the customer at the centre of product development. By doing this, entrepreneurs can build solid, scalable and sustainable solutions to society’s problems.

The design thinking process: https://youtu.be/qyoZTUGzdGY

Dragon’s Den

Imagine you were given an opportunity for only five minutes to present a business pitch before a panel of judges at Dragon’s Den, what would you say in such a short time…Nerve wrecking right?

Dragon’s Den is a five minute opportunity given to budding entrepreneurs at Kingston University to pitch their business ideas to a panel of judges and after each business pitch the Dragons/judges have the opportunity to ask questions regarding the business.

The opportunity is training ground for equipping entrepreneurs with business knowledge but also as a hub to incubate business ideas and be able to learn how to pitch the businesses to a panel of reputable judges, potential investors or business partners in future, it is therefore preparation for the real business world.

My team and I (Chinwe, Bettina and Nikita) and the different teams in my class had the opportunity to pitch our start up business ideas to a panel of judges at the Dragon’s Den on 6th December 2019.

DT4 Group

After weeks of preparation and refining our business ideas, it was finally time for all the teams to present their business pitches before the judges. But what exactly were the judges looking for in our start up business presentations, and also what would possibly be a good business presentation to a prospective business investor in the real business world? In the session, I learned that steps below can be adopted for a good start up business presentation;

Demonstrating an understanding of the business idea through a compelling elevator pitch is crucial in explaining the product/service and how one intends to sell the product on the market. This is the most important part of the first impression and should be memorable.

Understanding the core of the problem that is affecting people or need that has been identified, defining the target market for the product/service and subsequently have a product or service that is tailored towards resolving the underlying problem.

Clearly defining the product/service with emphasis on the key features and the benefits of the product towards the target market. A good demonstration of the product is important either through showing the actual prototype or giving a visual impression of the product/service for the judges to have a real feel of what product one intends to put on the market.

Having research on competition within the business environment, either as direct or indirect competitors and showing clear distinction of the product/service from the existing competitors.

Demonstrating a sustainable market strategy and growth plan is important indicating market penetration strategy and how one intends to attract customers aiming at a profitable business.

While the business presentations required business facts as detailed above, it is also important for an entrepreneur to demonstrate good presentation skills to be able to win over customers, business opportunities or potential investors as required in the contemporary world.

The session was very engaging and insightful and each team had the opportunity to respond to questions raised by the judges to make  clarity and subsequently recommendations given for areas of improvement.

Social media & Personal Branding

A lot can happen in a decade. When I set up my Facebook account in 2009, I intended to use it for mainly social networking and keeping tabs with my friends.  The thought of using this platform to build a professional brand seemed far-fetched. Ten years later, social media has an undeniable place is cementing one’s professional and online outlook. This was the gist of my class discussion on 15th November 2019.

The session commenced with an interesting exercise which required all the students to do a personal online search on the Google search engine. The joy that filled me when my profile popped in my former employer’s website was indisputable. Besides the excitement of having my name and image on the website of a reputable company, it made me realize how maintaining a good reputation online is crucial. Equally, I realized how the reverse could pose a huge reputational risk to not just me but the institution too.  A clean online personality is important because prospective employers, business partners and investors could use the information available online to make first impressions or even major decisions with a bearing on their career or business.

This therefore justifies the need for a deliberate strategy to enable one to build a strong online presence which is persuasive to their target audience. To this end, it is important for everyone to have clear objectives for their social media engagement and identify which specific platform will give them more mileage. It’s also vital for them to zero on what content to share as well as the target audience who will consume it. Lastly and more importantly, one should have a sustainability plan, to not only maintain existing audience but also attract more. This is always tricky because sometimes, there is a temptation to give up if one does not see quick returns from their online presence. Building a successful and credible profile takes time. One needs to create content that will keep people glued to the platform.

In the contemporary world, social media can be a deal breaker. When properly used to brand oneself by defining their skillset, passion and experience, it can enhance one’s employability chances. For entrepreneurs, they can advertise their products or services and attract clients and potential investors. Professionals can use it to network with peers, build synergies and explore partnerships. Depending on how they harness their online presence, with just one click, a lot can change for the better for an entrepreneur or professional. 

Some of the common social media platforms one can use include; LinkedIn, Blogs, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, etc. Each of these has its own strengths over the other. Based on one’s interests, business or target audience, they should be able to pick which of the several platforms to deploy. A combination of two or more platforms could be a plus for creating value online. I found an interesting read by Mckinsey “turning buzz into gold”, an interesting survey on how pioneers create value from social media and increase sales: https://www.mckinsey.com › media › McKinsey › 11-Buzz_into_Gold

The power of team work

As I reflect on my journey so far as a student of innovation management and entrepreneurship at Kingston University, I now realize the importance of teamwork as a powerful strategy to resolve complex business situations.

Our very first team challenge was to “apply and develop creativity” specifically to show creative ways in which a paper clip can be used. This was strange, I thought to myself as my mind went blank thinking of the obvious “for organizing paper” but as we carried on brain storming i realized that actually there are several creative ways I had never thought about like cleaning finger nails, unlocking doors, used as hair clip, et cetera. Brain storming made it a lot more interesting more interactive and a lot easier for us to come up with a list of over 13 different uses of a paper clip.

On to our second challenge was the hackaton for surrey town council that is looking to work with partners to create an environment where residents, individuals and families are resilient and can support one another to be participants with in stronger communities.

This challenge was really confusing at first as very limited time was given to us to come up with a project and pitch to Surrey county council. Unsure as we seemed on first attempt but through further discussions everything became clearer and eventually we were able to understand it better leading us to developing a Problem statement

We quickly developed a problem statement that people are increasingly neglecting their health and wellbeing, exercising less, and not eating right. We as a team are concerned about their mental and physical health, this involves age groups above 20years at all times in all places.

To back up our problem statement, we further had a quick research and found out that 30% of the UK population are suffering from various mental illnesses, over 70% are obese and nearly 600,000 people are reported to be depressed and fight anxiety (statisca), these challenges could lead to stress, loneliness, depression, anxiety and cause both mental and physical health problems.

Our team further brainstormed on possible solutions to address the challenges. For a healthier surrey plans, to run free fitness and wellness classes/events in the local parks and council owned buildings as we plan to enlist the help of fitness instructors, wellness professionals and local counselors/local charitable organizations based in surrey  to offer the wide range of services to tackle health issues. These events would be funded by local businesses in Surrey county presenting them with a platform to advertise their businesses in a way that benefits both them and the community. With the help from healthy food stalls we will be able to promote healthy living. Our project therefore sought to address the challenges of both mental and physical health with in Surrey County while promoting community togetherness and support.

We also Identified Key features of our project;

  • Target group (20years and above) as this age group is more likely to face the above challenges as compared to below 20years that are still in school and may have mandatory physical activities
  • Free space which is indoor and outdoor gym
  • Availability of equipment and professional instructors, both male and female

Given the short time that we had to deliver on this challenge and thereafter pitch to surrey county council, it was only possible through the power of team work. I have therefore learned that two heads are better than one to be able to accomplish tasks that an individual alone would take forever to accomplish: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-Hzzg1AtVs