What Stories do Your Suits Tell Your Customers?
“Sometimes reality is too complex. Stories give it form.” A quote from Jean Luc Godard, an innovator, award winning film director, screen writer and critic who pioneered an approach to integration of social reality and cinematic form in the 1960’s. This series is about exploring areas of your business model as an exercise to identify opportunities for innovation, improvements, or overhaul to your strategy.
Having set the context surrounding whose perspective matters (hint: the client’s) when considering the quality of your value proposition, I am inspired by Jean Luc Godard to break down the somewhat complex concept of the essence of a successful value proposition through sharing a story of one of my personal experiences that may provide a spark of ideas on how to improve or overhaul your own company’s value proposition.
Once upon a time I was responsible for leading a team that designed, implemented and operated a global network spanning 55 countries. I was specifically hired to lead a transformation effort at the core of the company’s strategic vision. We needed to transform the network capability from one that could only be trusted for “best effort email delivery” into one that would support the future of the company. You see, we wanted to be a leader in the world of content delivery and entertainment. Removing the business constraints of the analog world for production and delivery of content and replacing it with an infrastructure which leveraged the more expansive and emerging business opportunities of the emerging digital world was our mission to support the growth of our business.
The options for the basic component of networks – routers and switches – were available from a long list of companies none of which were household names at that time and many of which no longer exists 20 years later. Because we were investing significantly, I was a relatively popular target for the sales teams of all of these companies. They would come in droves to tell me why I needed to be buying their stuff.
What most of them seemed to ignore was what I personally, my team, and my company really needed – in our own terms. This was surprisingly true even when I resorted to spelling it out for them directly. I remember one instance where I faced a room full of individuals from a particular vendor. They asked me what we were looking for? Good start, asking before you tell the customer what you are peddling. But then, when I responded, the stared at me as if I had four eyes and three heads. My response did not include certain key words that they were expecting. These key words, things like “latency requirements,” “port capacity,” “support of x, y, z protocols,” were anticipated by the team as a trigger to their pavlovian response – a response which would include bombarding me with a stack of product data sheets and facts and figures they were just salivating to share!
I answered the question about what we needed. They had in fact asked me, right? I needed a “reliable support model,” “education and risk mitigation as my team executed upon an aggressive timeline,” a “company with a shared vision and understanding of what digital content can mean to our bottom line.” Following my statements, I want you to picture a room full of suits with their hands on the precious stacks of product data sheets they were ready to shove in front of me, dumbfounded and confused. They looked down and wrote feverishly into their notebooks as I spoke – not so much listening as much as just looking busy while they tried to think about which data sheet would save them. Finally, the leader of the suits, the one with the quota who was incredibly frustrated that none of the numerous “experts” he brought along were able to provide an answer to how they would meet my needs, eventually sighed and said, “We’ll get back to you on that.”
For a later story, there was one company that actually delivered what I, my team, and my company needed. But more of that for another time! Could you picture that room? Did you feel some empathy with me because you too have faced a similar scenario? Have you thought about whether or not your teams are out doing the same with your prospects?