For our April Webinar, Bob Apollo, Chief Outcomes Officer at Inflexion-Point, shared the key components of a winning message that incorporates outcomes delivered into a compelling narrative that convinces the buying audience to change. After the session, he answered questions from the webinar audience. In this blog, we share part one of his live answers.
Are there any behaviors that salespeople consider outcome-centric that are actually activity-centric?
It’s a transition. I think what happens early in this transition is that salespeople think about their own personal outcomes in advancing their sales cycle and sometimes think of those as outcomes. Without being over-semantic about it, I think the most powerful way of thinking about outcomes is always to think of them in terms of the customer and the stakeholder and the advances that they’re making in their buying decision journey with you. So yes, sometimes you get a bit of confusion early on, with sales thinking that, “I’ve got an outcome here.” It really is the fact that the salesperson’s moved forward, but the customer maybe hasn’t yet. That’s the discipline I’d recommend that people adopt.
An oral story is different than a written story. Where do you believe most case studies fall short in the framework you presented?
I think oral stories and written stories have complimentary roles. So typically, a published case study would be formerly written. I think any of us who have tried to get those published know how challenging it can be to get customer approval for them. And sometimes the act of getting approval and getting sign off from their PR dilutes the story a bit. When speaking orally, I would always seek to maintain the structure I’d laid out if we were writing the story – that there is an evolution or a journey. But one of the great advantages of anecdotes is we can tell them in a way that is more animated than a written story.
I’d always recommend combining the two. Maybe if I was using a formalized written case study, I’d want to compliment it with some anecdotes. If we are selling into big organizations, I think one of the challenges is we might want to equip our champion within that organization to also be capable of not just presenting our solution in terms of the facts, but also in terms of appropriate anecdotes that other members of the decision-making group or the approval group can relate to.
When using words, it might allow you to be a little more generic in your storytelling, reflecting the collective experience of a group of different customers. You’re still conveying shared experiences, but some of the most powerful stories can be the collective feedback that we get. “Customers told us this, they shared their struggles with that” and so on.
Finally, sometimes our customers will not want their brand to be banded about, whether in a printed case study or in an anecdote. But we can anonymize the story a little bit when communicating, and very often the customer, the recipient, the listener is capable of coming to their own conclusions as to what we might be talking about, so it’s another element in the toolbox.
Where in the story-telling cycle is it best to convey positive impacts? What about negative impacts?
It requires a certain skill, right? There isn’t a fixed formula on this, but most of the work that’s been done recently suggests that at the start and towards the middle of a buying cycle, customers are looking for reasons to change, and sometimes those are the stories about how there are the positive benefits of your solution. Sometimes those are stories about “if you don’t do this, bad things could happen,” or there’s some sort of risk.
But that as the buying journey evolves, the decision makers – individually and collectively – become more concerned about avoiding making bad decisions. So again, I think you would want to choose some different stories. Maybe you would choose a story about an organization that also had reservations, or had trepidation about moving forward, but as a result of the collaboration you had with them, and their trust in your ability to make sure that you hold their hand through the process, that you can eliminate some of that fear of messing up.
I don’t think it’s as simple as positive stories that start, and negative stories at the end or vice versa. It’s simply choosing an appropriate vehicle for making the point and communicating both logic and emotion to our customer.