A small thing changed my work in a big way.
About five years ago, someone sent me a video on a Tulsa, Oklahoma business that changed the entire way I approach sales and marketing.
The first thing that caught my attention was that Mother Teresa had publicly endorsed the business. “Wait,” I thought. “Mother Teresa endorses businesses?”
The second was that the CEO got nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
This amazingly compassionate company?
A collections agency.
Yes, you read that right.
I was shocked.
Human-centered design approach
The CEO of the company, CFS2, had decided to rethink the collections agency, business model.
Instead of browbeating debtors, they decided to offer free services to help their customers pay their bills by renegotiating their debt, finding them work, and getting them back on their feet.
It was a revolutionary and straightforward built from human-centered design.
You can’t get money from a customer who has none, so how might we help them do better financially?
Here’s the 3-minute video from CBS News:
Yes, it’s a great feel-good story.
However, what caught my attention was that after a year giving away all these free services, the CFS2 was 200% more profitable than their competitors.
Yes, they were revolutionizing collections and making double the profit.
The news anchor closed by saying CFS2’s strategy was kindness, but I thought they had it wrong.
CFS2’s strategy was customer empathy.
Here’s what I mean:
They were putting themselves in their customer shoes, and this changed their business model.
After watching the video, I knew in my gut that I wanted to try something different.
My “Jerry Maguire” Moment
I love the Jerry Maguire vision scene. This is the one that keeps him up at night… and he has the moment of clarity that sparks THE Mission Statement.
Many of us have had Jerry Maguire moments, where the difference between what we know is right and what we are actually doing becomes clear to us.
I thought if a collection agency can do this in an industry with terrible customer experience, what would happen if tried something like this in B2B?
What if we focused on helping potential customers – no strings attached?
The next day in our Monday morning I talked with our CEO and then my sales team.
We watched the video together as a sales team.
I asked, “we can better help our potential customers?”
Eventually, someone sheepishly asked, “If we do this how will we get leads and sales?”
I asked again, “how can we better help our potential customers?”
This started a bigger conversation.
Getting better at helping customers
What’s the reason people fill out a form for your content or to register to access a webinar or other resources?
It not because they wanted yet another business development rep calling them right?
People are looking for answers to questions. Do you know what they are trying to get answered?
Understanding motivation with empathy
So we focused on doing this:
To better understand what motivated people to access our content in the first place.
How could we help them and give them clarity?
Inspiration from hotel concierges
What’s a hotel concierge’s goal?
To help meet the needs of guests and make sure they have an amazing experience.
Do concierges give the same advice and input to all hotel guests?
Of course not. Concierges do things that don’t scale.
With that in mind, we started to test this strategy:
First, we needed to know our potential customer’s motivation for engaging our content (i.e. The WHY). And then help them get what they wanted with strings attached.
Next, I asked my team to throw out scripts, and our qualifying approach and we considered how we might change our approach to model hotel concierges.
To get the process going, we started asking:
- What are the most common questions they’re trying to get answered with our content?
- What frustrations could we remove for potential customers and improve their experience?
- What content and resource roadblocks could we remove?
- What wins could we help them achieve?
- How could we be a plus to their day, so they feel good about talking with us?
Why customer empathy matters
I’m fascinated by the neuroscience behind the way people think. Mainly the work of neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, who discovered how critical feelings are to our ability to make even the most straightforward decisions.
People, as Damasio says, are “feeling machines that think.” Getting to the root of what a person is feeling is key to connecting with them. So, of course, connecting with your customers is the key to marketing.
When your customers find your content, they’re looking to solve a problem.
I alway felt like the best selling feels like helping (because it is).
Instead of viewing your customers as objects to be converted –checkpoints along the funnel of your sales process –what if you focused on helping them solve a problem?
We also considered our approach by being the customer and answering:
- If I were on the receiving end, why would I want this?
- What’s in it for me? So what?
- Why is this helpful to me? Why would I want to talk to someone about this?
A new approach
My hypothesis was that we’d get sales opportunities leads simply by helping people get what they were looking for and not focusing on converting them.
But this meant the entire system for our team needed to change because everything was built around converting people to leads.
Commissions were on the line. And we made sure the reps wouldn’t make less money testing this new approach.
But first, needed to unlearn the habits of qualifying people.
It was wasn’t easy.
It required getting lots of buy-in from my team, hours of additional coaching, changing our whole approach, and restructuring commissions.
We took the pressure off of leads, opportunities, and focused on being “customer concierges” to help people have super helpful experience.
We honestly didn’t know how hard it was going to be.
But in the end, it was worth it.
After six months of focusing on helping people rather than trying to generate leads them, we got 303% percent more sales opportunities!
In sum, when we stopped trying to convert leads and focused on helping customers get what they wanted, we got triple the results.
B2B complex sales are way more emotional because the stakes are high.
That’s why the strategy of empathy especially powerful for B2B complex sales.
Trust matters a lot but to build trust you need to connect with people emotionally first.
Sales conversion is the result of building a trusted connection.
I use the analogy that when your customers are trying to make a change in their organization, it’s like a group of people trying to climb the mountain.
I’ve taken this empathy-based strategy to many more companies since that video back in 2014 and it inspired me to start markempa two years later.
Become a buyer sherpa
Stop pulling and pushing people into funnels. Change your sales analogy from the funnel to helping customers climbing a mountain. The customer is the climber and you’re the Sherpa.
Some people don’t want to climb it all.
Others might want to go to different paths or different mountains.
When they have a larger team making a decision it gets even more complicated.
The best way to help in this case is to become a buyer sherpa.
Here’s a video about becoming a buyer sherpa.
As a Sherpa, you can’t do the climbing for the customer. The climber still has to climb, but you can help carry the load, you can provide resources, you can offer guidance and share stories of how other organizations solved similar problems.
Emotions influence the buying journey.
Today, technology is making it easier than ever to connect with masses of customers in a way that feels personal.
Data can help us make empathetic decisions, and artificial intelligence and chatbots can move us toward the promise of real one-to-one marketing.
However, without empathy, all that technology ends up feeling inauthentic.
You still need to connect with the human on the other end of the database, to have honest conversations to discover their problems, and focus on how you can help.
After all, your customers are already looking for help — and they’re going to find it somewhere. Why shouldn’t it be with you?
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