Connecting with and understanding customers’ business problems and personal implications is more important today than ever. But in this fast-paced world, bombardment of digital messages, priorities shifting on a dime and never enough time, it’s not easy. However, when you don’t fully understand your customer, you are at great risk.
One of CI Squared’s clients, a large software company, discovered the consequences of not taking the time to truly understand their customer. After an initial demo/presentation to this long-standing customer, CI Squared’s client received negative feedback that they were losing. They were given another chance and came back 8 months later with a renewed presentation. The 12 members of the team devoted their time and effort to the new presentation during these 8 months, but they were again rejected by the customer. What happened?
CI Squared’s lost deal analysis revealed that at the crux of why they lost this sale was a lack of understanding. No one on the deal team connected with the operational team or key leaders. They were not able to uncover the real implications of their customer’s business problem and the time frame needed to solve it successfully. Without these insights, they were proposing a perceived solution they thought would fill their customer’s needs. However, from the customer’s viewpoint it did not hit the mark and would take too long. By contrast, the competition had built strong connections with workers and executives, they understood the business problem, motivations of the individuals, and the sense of urgency needed. The customer’s team felt that the competitor “got them” and could deliver a better, timelier solution.
The damages were huge: time, resources, and opportunity cost. They could directly measure that they lost a 3-year, $1.5 million deal in an existing account, $4.5M. How about the investment in people and time or the opportunity cost? How much did it affect their standing with the customer and confidence?
CI Squared believes that better discovery which leads to understanding the customer, both business and personal, is critical in today’s world. How do you help your customer uncover their real problems and deliver insights when they don’t have time? Better human interaction through empathic communication can help you gather the Customer’s whole story and is at the heart of winning today. Customers want to be understood and want to buy from sales teams that give them insights and confidence. But we often rush to talking about our product or service vs staying in the moment and saying, “Tell me more.”
The world has changed and Buyer 2.0 with it. They do not want the same old sales teams who just pitch their products. They have seen that movie before. Your old sales techniques are not enough today to give you the ability to make a strong human connection and listen well enough to get their complete Story with empathy. However, most salespeople have not been exposed to new and innovative ideas and tools. Why not? Some don’t realize the magnitude of this problem on their performance. Some are complacent because change is hard. Some just won’t invest in their people to fill these GAPS. And some think they do it well already which the research debunks.
You can challenge yourself to see how big of a GAP this is individually or organizationally. Benchmark your win rate % against industry averages. Sirius Decisions statistics show that if you count every deal you work on, best in class B2B sales organizations win 40%, lose 30%, and the final 30% just do not buy. We believe that if you calculate this accurately, you will want to do something now. We can help you dramatically shift these ratios.
Or, why aren’t you breaking through the clutter?
You may ask yourself this question after a series of unanswered emails or a promising deal cut short. Here’s why. People don’t have time. What our research shows us is that the amount of incoming content to every person is staggering. “According to Time.com, the average person looks at his/her phone 46 times every day (up from 33 looks per day in 2014). Our new-ish -“always on” culture, complete with the enormous pressure of the expectation of instant responses, effects everything from the quality of our sleep to the depth of our relationships”. (Forbes)
In a fast paced world filled with overwhelming amounts of external and internal stimuli, people are of course:
- Busier than ever before
- Shifting priorities constantly
- Answering too many messages
- Bombarded with content
But if you do not realize this, your message or attempt to get through to a customer will undoubtedly fall flat. The most important mission of sales people and sales methods & techniques is to break through the static. Many current sales methodologies are stuck in the past, not reflecting the new behaviors of Buyer 2.0
Lack of understanding and not connecting personally with customers is a trait that unsuccessful sales people possess in abundance. They hog the conversation with chatter, solutions, features and functions instead of listening. They do not listen to or understand the customer. Humans crave emotional connections and a conversation that uncovers insights. According to this article on Openview, the top sales performers listen 54% of the time and talk 46% of the time. It’s not just that a conversation (not an interrogation) is happening, but the interesting topics that weave in and out of the conversation. What kind of sales conversations are you having? Is it just product, solutions, features and functions? Are you having trouble understanding and making a connection with your harried customers? Are you listening with empathy?
We believe that the world of work is changing dramatically and if you do not update your communication skills to have more insightful business conversations, you will struggle mightily.
Evaluate critically your business conversations to determine what needs to change and invest now to innovate and grow.
Online news publication VISTA Today sees the impact of their company story
So what do we do? VISTA Today is an online news publication founded by Ken Knickerbocker that celebrates Chester County, Pennsylvania’s quality of place and economic health. They publish positive, concise summaries of the county’s assets: its commerce, cultural, and community news and events. VISTA Today covers events shaping the county, driving economic development, and redefining what it means to live and work in Chester County.
Allison Snavely, VP of Sales, began her conversations with that informative, yet garden-variety spiel when meeting with local companies about being affiliate partners with the publication. She says, “I realized I had gotten stuck in the rut of “who we are and what we do”. It felt inauthentic. It felt like selling.” But that’s how most sales conversations go. We’re all familiar with the “what we do and why you should buy us” format. We’ve grown accustomed to this method of selling the product or service and gaining buy in.
Ken Knickerbocker knew there had to be a different, more compelling way to help people understand who VISTA Today is and what they can do for their affiliate partners. He engaged CI Squared’s story team and through the targeted story gathering and building process, the story of why-not just how-VISTA Today was created, was mapped for the staff to use as a tool to market, sell, and communicate the vision.
Allison changed the conversation by integrating the replicable story into her sales meetings. “I changed my approach. I began each conversation with VISTA Today’s company story: “Ken Knickerbocker fell in love with the news when at the age of 10 he started delivering, collecting and selling newspapers at the dump to earn some pocket money…etc” and saw the difference in my interactions and connections immediately. People connected to the “why” on a deeper level. This story and unique format for telling was the missing piece.”
By utilizing their story over the past year, VISTA Today has seen tremendous growth in their number of subscribers, affiliate partners and relationships. Not only did the amount Allison was able to ask for in each partnership double, but the number of new and renewing affiliate partnerships grew by a similar amount, effectively tripling sales over the same eight month period the previous year.
But differentiating VISTA Today with this story is not magic. Allison realized, “It takes practice. There’s an art to effective storytelling and the information you have to give. I modify what I emphasize in the story depending on who I talk to, making sure to engage them and form the right connection.” While everyone tells a story in a different way, an official company story aligns each teller with the correct information in a structured format that they can modify depending on the situation.
Allison even recalls a few meetings where potential partners connected to specific themes or parts of the story and talked about their own stories and why they do what they do. “They sit up in their seat and tell me about their first job delivering newspapers and how it established an entrepreneurial spirit in them too, just like Ken. There, an authentic connection is made, a value is shared and they’re more likely to partner with us.”
The building and utilization of a company’s story is an invaluable tool that establishes authentic relationships, controls and emphasizes your brand and differentiates your company in a compelling and memorable way.
VISTA Today’s company story connects the seller and the prospect and sets the stage for a foundational relationship, authentic trust and potential partnership that benefits both VISTA Today and the affiliate partner. Allison muses, “We’re all too close to our own story to tell it effectively. Everyone needs help telling it, even storytellers. What better way to talk about VISTA Today, a positive storytelling platform, than through story?”
How can you ignite passion?
According to a Gallup research poll, only 30% of the U.S. workforce is engaged in its work. Shockingly, the vast majority of U.S. workers (70%) are not reaching their full potential. Analyzing how and why your employees are motivated is worth investing in to ensure success and productivity for your business.
While many exist depending on the company, there are 2 main reasons why your team is not committed:
- Employees focus on WHAT they are doing, not connecting with WHY or their passion.
- Leaders don’t have a compelling vision
In our fast paced world today, everyone is moving at light speed and leaders don’t take the time to inspire. Leaders finds themselves lost on what inspiration to tap into because they have not taken the time to ask employees about their passions. So how can we understand peoples’ passion and motivation to help inspire them to bigger dreams and successes? We try to do it with simple words or phrases, but do these attempts truly harness the passions and desires of the team? Does it help them see how they make a difference and ignite their potential for action?
It all comes back to the fundamental basics of understanding people. For true understanding and empathy, you must take the time to listen. Use this information to shift your conversation or Story to one of inspiration.
- Gather the stories of your people and understand how to inspire them into action. How can their individual “WHY Story” be tied into the purpose of the company and real business outcomes?
- Lead. Your team is looking to you for inspiration – be a beacon of hope and dreams. Make your employees passion the key to your company culture and you will tap into unprecedented excellence in all aspects of your business. Tell and celebrate internal Hero Stories of employees who overachieve and delight your customers.
- Communicate your vision/strategy and their role in achieving this success. Explaining the “why” and the “what” to your employees makes empowering them to execute with their own “how” that ignites their 100% commitment, leading to innovation and success.
Have you asked your team “Is this really what you want to be doing with your life?” If you think, NO, then instead of fearing, be open to ask why, gather the challenges and redefine. You may not have all the answers, but be open to asking, telling and sharing. If it is “YES I am,” then find ways to harness this passion on your key activities and projects allowing you to execute with passion. Your colleagues and leaders will take notice.
A passionate workforce is a productive workforce. Everyone benefits from listening and gathering to understand. When the struggles get tough and performance/ productivity starts to lag, you will be able to re-inspire your team if you tap into their WHY and passions. We all fundamentally want to win and succeed.
As quoted in The Art of the Nudge: “Unfortunately empathetic listening and playing back emotions is a rare skill…When you truly believe that someone really knows how you feel, you identify, you feel safe, and you let your guard down. This intent focus by someone else can make you feel like you can be more than you think you can, and accomplish almost anything.” Pg 98 and 99
Nudge: Go deeper than just small talk with your employees. Start a conversation about passion, commitment and purpose.
Other points of view:
“It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game,” according to the losers and their parents
You win deals, you lose deals, and some deals are left hanging. You can’t win every one right? Or can you? You can get closer. First, get to know the standard at which to gauge your win rates. In our 3 years of significant research we found the 40/30/30 model, a metric used at end of sales pipelines which represents the average win rate for high performing companies. Most companies who claim to have higher win rates do not measure every deal a real sales person touches. If you have 10 deals in the pipeline you’ll win 40% of them, lose 30% and 30% will be left with no decision. Look at your company’s own win rates then analyze:
1. What’s happening in the good deals? What’s happening in the bad deals?
2. Why do you lose?
3. How much time did sales reps spend on lost deals?
4. Did you understand the customer?
Conducting a lost sale analysis was just the tip of the iceberg for one of our customers realizing why and how they lost a significant deal. This customer, a large software company, brought in their sales team to sell to a customer, yet they did not understand what the customer wanted and when they wanted it. Consequently, their boss had 12 members of the team charge ahead for 12 months on a product for future integration only to bring it back to their customer and have it solidly rejected. The timeline for this product was way too long and the CFO, justifiably, chose a company who could provide correct software quicker. Our customer realized lack of understanding was the crux of the problem. They were proposing a perceived solution that they thought would fill their customer’s needs when in reality, for the customer the benefits were too far out on the timeline compared to the competition.
Time wasted. People wasted. Customer good will squandered. How much do you really lose by competing for a piece of business for this long with no apparent customer solution? They didn’t “lose fast” and move on. They didn’t know to walk away because they did not gather the customer’s story well, understanding them and their struggles. The best of the best know where to focus their time, energy and resources to increase probabilities of winning deals. Lose fast and convert the no decisions.
Helping your customer uncover their real struggles is key. Then analyze the implications of those struggles to their business. Who’s affected and why? Is this tipping point enough for them to take action? What needs to shift? Can your company play a key role in solving their problem?
Communication and gathering the whole story and struggles are at the heart of a successful interaction whether you win, lose or somewhere in between. Understanding the customer and their struggles leads to you knowing exactly what they want and what you can offer to solve it. You’ll now know where you can’t win and gain courage to lose fast. Value your time and move on to win the next deal. What would happen to your performance in you changed 40/30/30 into 50/25/ 25?
Nudge: Be curious – Ask open ended questions and LISTEN to gain better insight of your customer’s real struggles. Want to become a better listener and get the whole story? Contact CI Squared to learn more email@example.com.
The topic of alignment, like many things in life, is both simple and complex. It is simple because you can define alignment with a couple of words, “Gaining Buy-in.” It is complex because you must determine what level of buy-in you need…how do you know who you need buy-in from? And how can you tell whether they are bought in enough to accomplish the joint task? In some instances, figuring this out is easy. Take the sport baseball, for example, and the interaction between the shortstop and second baseman on a double play. Two outs, both members are in alignment. One or no outs, someone missed the toss, missed the bag, was slow getting it to first, bobbled the ball: No alignment. Unfortunately, it is much harder to see this kind of scenario in the fast-paced world of business. Often people are overly busy with full plates, leading to increased stress and shifting priorities, leaving little time to slow down and communicate appropriately. Miscommunication and lack of communication makes it increasingly difficult for leaders to understand what’s happening until they see the bad affects in missed results, poor performances, and workplace conflict. Is there another way?