Taming Alligators to Reclaim the Swamp!

By Dave Kreimer, Principal of Next Step Consulting

As the participants' hostility toward my client’s new product steadily increased, I could tell that this focus group would be challenging. The “alligators” were feverishly criticizing the product after viewing a short presentation. The cumulative level of fear in the room rose each time the participants fantasized how this new product might be used against them. The group was dramatically demonstrating the powerful negative impact of the client’s open-ended presentation. The problem was not that the participants disliked the product, but that the participants' objectivity was compromised by unfounded fears and misguided speculation. As the moderator, my challenge was to shift the respondents out of their panicky attitudes, correct their faulty assumptions and direct further evaluation of the product from a more objective point of view. Additionally, I had to accomplish this without appearing biased toward the product or in opposition to the 10 Ph.D. practitioners receiving over $2,000 dollars for this group. What would you do?

I chose to reverse the participants' point of view. My goal was to restore objectivity by directing each participant to look at the situation from the opposite viewpoint. First, I stopped all discussion. Next, I summarized all the expressed concerns, confirming that each participant felt satisfied that I was aware of their fears. Finally, I enlisted their support. I explained that, in light of their fearful reaction, my client was in a serious dilemma regarding how to present this new service to their peers. I asked the participants to remove their professional hats for a moment and imagine they were working for my client. Their mission was to sell the benefits of this new service in a way that addressed the fears of other alligators, I mean practitioners, like themselves. To begin, I asked them to help me identify the true benefits of the product. Initially, the silence was deafening but, in time, the participants provided valuable information regarding the perceived benefits of the service. They also discussed effective ways to present the product to other practitioners. Most importantly, I was satisfied that the respondents had regained an objective viewpoint and were evaluating the product realistically.

Despite vivid memories, I keep a reminder of this technique and about 20 others on a page of my portfolio in which I take notes during focus groups. When I sense that a group needs redirection, I scan the list and often find a technique that successfully makes the desired shift. Future newsletters will portray additional alligator management techniques.

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