Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Power Of Customer Stories . And The Sales Engineer

As a former IT Executive, I’ll tell you a sales secret. One of the best ways to get your message across is to tell me a customer story. Speaking about other customers, their successes and your experiences makes you appear confident, knowledgeable and authentic. Most sales organizations have official references – complete with a glossy brochure accompanied by a PowerPoint slide with logo – and all blessed by legal. And they are totally ineffective!

They are ineffective because they are sanitized. They are ineffective because they are impersonal, and they are ineffective because they are not your own words. As your customer, I want you to bring me some value, tell me something new I cannot read on your website. A corporate reference slide designed by some person in HQ does not do that. A personal customer story does.

So what about using all those unofficial customer stories? The ones that are lying around, uncollected and mostly unused, in your head and in those of your colleagues? Why not collect them and share them to boost your sales performance by removing some risk from your customer’s buying process?
How To Get Started

Ask your more experienced and tenured colleagues to share some of their customer stories with you. Don’t just limit yourself to sales and sales engineers, reach out to people in your services or installation teams and ask about their customer experiences too. These people are a walking encyclopedia of customer stories, which is undoubtedly one of the reasons they have been so successful for so long. At your next regional meeting, ask everyone to write down a story as his or her homework.

Unless you are new to your company, you probably have a few stories you can use from your own customer base as well, if only you took the time to think about them. Perhaps next time you visit a customer you can ask them to give you some quantifiable benefits or ROI they have received from your solution. If you don’t ask you don’t get.

Even as a new hire you can say “a colleague of mine told me about one of his customers who ..”. Just put it in your own words.

What Kind of Stories Do I Need?

I classify them as ‘conversational stories” in that you should be able to establish the relevant details in 45-60 seconds. That equates to a maximum of around 160 words. Go any longer and you’ll lose the flow and the customer attention. Imagine you are sharing the story with the customer over a cup of coffee. Michael Bosworth, in his New Solution Selling book lays out a framework for a customer story that may help you – adapted here for the world of the Sales Engineer.

Customers name, industry and job title
Critical issue
The pain of the person or company
The business reasons for the company’s issue biased towards your eventual solution
In the words of your customer, the capabilities he said he needed to solve the problem; “he told me he needed a way to..”
We provided
If properly described in the vision, just say “we gave him those capabilities”. NO PRODUCT NAMES!!
Some specific measurements

“The Operations Director of a large fleet rental company couldn’t accurately track the mileage and maintenance records of the cars in the fleet and provide that data to his clients as they had no central recording and maintenance system. This was causing massive maintenance costs and lost business as their competitors could supply the data and pointed out this competitive difference. He engaged with us because of a recommendation from one of his management-consulting partners. The director said he needed a way to provide online access and reports to his fleet customers. We provided him with a web-based online system which cut down his maintenance costs by $11m and allowed his sales team to retain 100% of their corporate customers.”

Every Story Has A Happy Ending

 These stories take less than a minute. They can cut days out of your sales cycle as you establish “credible” and “low-risk” as two adjectives the prospect now links to you and your company. A quick customer story can often be a great response to a “can you do..” question in a demo, especially when asked by a mid-level manager. Instead of showing the “how”, you talk about how some other customer did the “how” and speak to benefits instead of features.

Switching personas from a former IT exec to a former presales leader I can tell you this approach absolutely works. Many of my customers now have collections of these unofficial customer reference stories. It works for them too. One of my former SE’s jokingly called my collection “Tales From The Book Of John”. Imagine my surprise when three months later the CFO of our company called me to ask if he could “borrow” some of my stories. I told him yes – as long as they never ended up in a PowerPoint deck!

CALL TO ACTION: Write down your informal references, ask your colleagues to do the same – and share them for success.

“Of course it's the same old story. Truth usually is the same old story”

Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister, UK.