Success stories are only effective as proof late in the sales cycle once a customer has decided to change. Early stage customers, on the other hand, aren’t interested in stories about how you helped another customer reduce the time to create a report from one week to one day. At this stage, they don’t think they have a problem worth solving, so they aren’t looking for proof. That’s why you can’t close a sale with a success story unless you first open it with a “change story.” Without a compelling reason to change, customers will stick with the status quo and “no decision” will continue to be your biggest competitor.
SUCCESS STORIES FAIL AT SELLING CHANGE
Success stories fail at selling change because customers will have forgotten why they decided to change by the time marketing interviews them. By the time they’re produced, they’re stale, because it can take three years from the date of purchase to the creation of the success story: One year to implement, one year to generate success, and one year to find/create. But even if the customer can remember why they changed, the competitive landscape may have changed so much in the past three years that the reasons they did so are no longer relevant. Once sales have convinced customers that they’re drowning with change stories, sales can then use success stories as proof to convince the customer that their product will rescue them.
CHANGE STORIES SUCCEED AT SELLING CHANGE
Salespeople need change stories that shine the light of insight on customer problems and the costs of the status quo. Once customers realize that the risk of the status quo is greater than the risk of change, they’ll be motivated to change. So, if you want to reduce the number of deals lost to no decision, you’ll need to supply your sales team with compelling change stories (80% problem: 20% solution). Once the customer is convinced on change, sales can use success stories (20% problem: 80% solution) as a leave behind for proof.
CHANGE STORIES MADE BY SALES, FOR SALES
You can’t rely on the marketing team to produce change stories, because new customers won’t engage with marketing until they achieve results. Salespeople, on the other hand, already know why customers bought, because they won their business in the first place. Customers are also more likely to share the reasons they changed privately with salespeople because they will have already established a trusting relationship.
Even if marketing could produce the change stories, there are two reasons they’d be unlikely to receive buy-in from sales. First, 90% of sales enablement content produced by marketing is never used by sales (source: American Marketing Association). Second, salespeople usually feel the messaging they receive from marketing is too product-centric, and doesn’t sufficiently sell the problem. On the other hand, salespeople do like to hear from each other why customers decided to change, because this information is based on what got results in the field.
Sales can create change stories by having each salesperson record his or her key customer wins, and they can share them with the group every quarter. This is a useful exercise because salespeople use the same skillset to uncover the reasons a past customer bought as they do to determine why a future customer will buy. Not only will peer feedback improve each individual story, the group will also gain from their pooled knowledge. The result is that sales will be able to share compelling stories that resonate with customers, clarify business value, and create a sense of urgency.
ELEARNING: SNACKABLE & ACTIONABLE CONTENT THAT SELLS
Sales can then select the best change stories each quarter, convert them into two-minute videos (example), and share them through micro eLearning. This way, sales will be able to home in on the deepest concerns of their prospective buyers in the field. Each video could be accompanied by an equally short, two-minute video from one of your company’s Subject Matter Experts (example). In this video, the SMEs would explain how your company’s product, cloud strategy, or competitive differentiation contributed to a specific customer’s decision to buy. This approach is in stark contrast to how product training is normally delivered to sales. Traditionally, sales are flooded with product information in a two-hour webinar. Then, somehow, they are expected to miraculously figure out how to apply it to a specific customer scenario. With this new approach, SMEs will provide actionable content because it applies to a recent customer win.
STORYTELLING: THE ESSENCE OF THE DEAL
This can’t happen unless salespeople learn to improve their storytelling skills. They must learn to share only the essence of why a customer changed or bought. If they include everything that happened in the deal, they’ll drown the message in too much information. They must also learn not to tell war stories about how they won the deal and, more importantly, they must not make themselves the hero of the story. Just like marketing stories that feature their company as the hero, these stories repel potential customers, because customers don’t want to see themselves as the loser in your story. Sales will also need to know how to convert their stories into discovery questions so that salespeople can alternate between sharing stories and asking questions during a call, just like in a natural conversation.
Imagine if the sales team at your biggest competitor applied this approach. Sloppy selling would not be tolerated, because salespeople would no longer be anonymous in the field. Once they’re in the spotlight, telling peers why their key customers bought, they’ll raise their standard to match the top performers. And, as SMEs work back from sales, they’ll create content that matters. Against these fierce competitors, do you think your salespeople will be able to clearly articulate the business challenges that would motivate a prospective client to invest in your solution? Or, would they be eviscerated by the competition? Now, imagine what would happen if you deployed this approach today, and your competitor didn’t.
Faced with these two choices, what will you choose?