You need to brush up your sales techniques to get the right focus
Have you heard any of these from senior stakeholders in some shape or form?
“I have 25 initiatives to choose from. CX is in the mix. I don’t know which one to take.”
“Customer experience is not really demonstrating much impact and we are doing plenty already.”
“Everything we do is about the bottom line and only those initiatives that demonstrate P&L impact within a quarter or two will make the cut.”
“I know the customer agenda is important but so is every other major initiative in the company. We have to give equal consideration.”
“We will consider your customer experience ideas in due course, but we have more important battles to fight first.”
“I think there are better competitive differentiators we can use.”
Customer experience does not help us sell or keep our costs down. This has to come first.
Here are some tips that have helped me over the years.
Tip 1 – Play the long game
I have heard all these statements and plenty more. Years ago, I used to get angry. These are highly paid intelligent executives who are using their intellect to dismiss what is the most important item on the strategic agenda. Why would they miss something so compellingly obvious? Nobody ever saw my frustration: I learnt a long time ago to mix passion and assertion with patience. Unless of course a mood change was tactically required…
This was the first lesson I learnt, and it originated from a form of psychology. Behind every behaviour or belief lies a good intention (well mostly!). I might have a very well-defined and strong view of the world, but I have to respect that my view of the world – no matter how well-proven – is only my view of the world. I have no right to expect anybody to share it initially, but I do have a right to try and change it. This was an important lesson because it taught me to respect, listen and critique other viewpoints. It taught me patience because changing a fundamental point of view does not happen overnight. It meant I was able to qualify and understand the outcomes of the people I was trying to persuade. I know how to sell ideas, but it is very difficult to do that unless you are respecting the right of people to have a very different point of view to your own.
Tip 2 – Sell to the most important outcome for the stakeholder. The conceptual sell may be the hardest.
I have made CX pitches to senior stakeholders more than a thousand times. I have a pretty good idea when my points hit home and also when stakeholders are sitting there politely disconnected. Polite disconnection is common. Their words say “enjoyed the content and of course customer is of paramount importance” – the behaviour says “I have other initiatives that matter more to me”.
The easier sell is to focus on what is important to stakeholder. Well delivered CX can impact revenue, cost and service simultaneously so most key measures in the organisation can be impacted. Professional salespeople could claim that this is stating the obvious, but it is surprising how many internal initiatives are not sold with the specific stakeholders’ outcomes in mind. I have seen so many conceptual CX presentations which are delivered the same way to a CEO as to a COO. Their outcomes are aligned to some extent but different enough to warrant different approaches.
The question this raises is how can the ROI of CX be effectively measured? This will be addressed in a future article.
Tip 3 – Understand your scope of your influence and don’t be afraid to use a third party to help you
During my previous sales career I used a tactic which helped me through difficult situations many times. If I wanted to implement an approach or strategy that I felt beneficial to a major account which I knew my boss would push back against or disagree with I would give one attempt to gain agreement to my point of view. If I couldn’t gain agreement within 15 minutes I would back off without resolution and would use my major account contact to request the same strategy. This worked almost 100% of the time. I was a trusted member of the company with a good track record but that sometimes is not enough. A third party who is respected and has influence can make a world of difference.
I often suggest to Heads of CX who are looking to increase traction with stakeholders to seek third party help if they encounter resistance – which is very common. Yes, of course I propose that person to be me but I learnt a long time ago that even if you have influence, respect and authority it is not enough. Further, a third party who has made the conceptual sell many times will often be very compelling and break road blocks which are often there for the wrong reasons.
Tip 4 – Be prepared to educate stakeholders on what customer experience really means.
Customer experience is one of those subjects where everybody thinks they understand it. After all we are all customers every day. How complex can it be?
The answer is there is a lot more to customer experience than even many Heads of CX are aware.
So many companies still think about CX in the context of the sum of the overall interactions a customer has with a company. This creates a focus on understanding touch points, the emotions associated with touch points and making them better within the context of what all the voice of the customer data is telling you. This delivers some benefit, but it rarely offers the ability to create a differentiating let alone innovative position. This is simply a layering of extra insight and process on what a company traditionally does. The traditional product or service centric focus is not changed which leaves 75% of the customer opportunity still on the table.
The greatest companies in the world have customer strategies which differentiate themselves from their competition and sustain it. They think completely differently to the norm. They identify themselves and everything they stand for by outcome and experience associated with outcome. They understand that outcomes impact companies at 5 levels
- Outcome to customer
- Outcome to employee
- Outcome to stakeholder including investor
- Outcome to company (P&L)
- Outcome relating to social agenda.
Most companies only focus on their vision with one or two of these outcomes at the forefront. Identifying yourself in the context of the outcome to customer changes the whole vision and psychology of the organisation. Compare this to the traditional “some of customer interactions” described above and you will see a world of difference.
Very few stakeholders will fully understand the full extent of what customer experience really means. Until they do they cannot figure the real implications to the company. The problem is they will take a bit of persuading this is true which relates to some of the tips above.
Tip 5 – Start a movement
Companies are very well set-up to market their ideas externally. They often have the networks to allow much of the same forms of communication internally, but people often don’t use them.
If possible, use entrepreneurial marketing techniques internally in exactly the same way as you would to external customers. Not every employee will be interested, and the figures show that engagement levels are still woefully low. That said, there are plenty of employees who are keen on self-development and some of the more influential ones will be your rising stars.
I call this the “unofficial power base” – those who are not necessarily in high authority positions but listened to and consulted when decisions are made. If you can get some of those into your movement you can accelerate the change in belief/culture bottom-up and top-down. Many practitioners will only focus on top down and this is a mistake. The rise in team-based decision making and even holacratic structures means that bottom-up change will have increasing influence and can accelerate changes in belief systems that CX heads so badly need.
One of the biggest steps any customer experience head can make is creating a belief system where the customer is at the centre of everything a company does. Few companies achieve it but those who do change their reputation, market position, customer value and business impact forever.