Why should salespeople focus on their customer's business outcomes?
In my last article, I suggested that our prospects aren’t really interested in our so-called “solutions” - what they really care about is achieving valuable business outcomes. In this article - the first in a series on the building blocks of Outcome-Centric Selling - I want to start by defining what we mean by outcomes, and why they are so important in the current business climate.
By the way, if you can’t wait, and would like a fuller appreciation of all the underlying principles and concepts, you could always download our guide to Mastering Outcome-Centric Selling or sign up to our Academy.
So - what are outcomes, and why do they matter? I think that Steve Jobs put it particularly well when he reminded us:
“Your customers don't care about you. They don't care about your product or service. They care about themselves, their dreams, their goals. They will care much more if you help them reach their goals, and to do that, you must understand their goals, as well as their needs and deepest desires.”
In any complex B2B buying scenario - particularly one that involves significant change - your prospect’s goal isn’t simply to buy the right product or service at the right price. Their ultimate goal, of course, is to successfully achieve an important business outcome by fixing, avoiding, or achieving one or a number of key business issues.
Your order isn't the end of their story
The implication should be obvious: their buying journey isn’t over when they place an order. Their buying journey is only even over when the key stakeholders behind the project agree that the business outcomes they initially sought have been seen to have been achieved.
This is of course, important even when the offering has been bought outright and paid for upfront if we are to have any hope of expanding our presence in the account. But when - as is increasingly common - our offering is being consumed as-a-service, our chances of renewal (let alone expansion) are critically dependent on the customer’s business outcomes being achieved.
Without a widely recognised positive business outcome, the customer is unlikely to renew. And if we fail to renew an as-a-service offering, we are unlikely to ever recover our initial cost-of-sale and will almost certainly end up making a loss - and that’s a bad outcome for everyone concerned.
More than one type of outcome
We can - and we must - think of customer outcomes from both organizational and personal perspectives, and the steps or intermediate outcomes (advances) that need to be taken to achieve them - let’s examine each of these in turn:
Organizational Outcomes affect the customer’s organization as a whole - or a significant department or business unit. They are typically related to key corporate priorities or initiatives and/or significant business performance metrics or indicators - and they play a vital role when organizations are formally justifying a decision to change on a logical/rational basis.
Organizational outcomes have a widespread positive impact across the organization as a whole (or a key function or business unit). Examples might include:
- The organization or business unit reaches its revenue or profit targets
- The organization achieves or exceeds a key performance indicator [KPI]
- The organization reaches a key strategic objective
- The organization eliminates a risk or constraint to its business
- The organization or business unit successfully completes a significant transition or transformation
They play a critical role in our sales process, because if we can show how we contribute to our prospective customer’s organization achieving its strategic priorities, the project - and our approach - is much more likely to be approved.
Personal Outcomes affect significant members of the stakeholder community - particularly the project sponsor and other core decision-makers. They are typically related to reputation, the scope for promotion/advancement and/or key personal performance metrics or indicators - and they play a vital role in each individual stakeholder becoming comfortable with a decision to change on an emotional basis.
Personal outcomes affect the personal circumstances of a specific individual stakeholder or group of stakeholders. Examples might include:
- A key stakeholder’s reputation is enhanced
- A key stakeholder is promoted to a more senior position
- A key stakeholder achieves their KPIs/performance targets
- A key stakeholder improves their efficiency/effectiveness
- A key stakeholder’s sense of self-worth is enhanced
- A key stakeholder achieves one of their key personal priorities
They also play a critical role in our sales process, because if we can show how we can help the key stakeholders (and in particular the project sponsor) achieve their personal goals, they will be much more likely to support both the project and our approach.
Intermediate Outcomes (Advances) are the key steps organizations and individuals take on their journey towards achieving their ultimate outcomes. The achievement of these ultimate outcomes typically requires the successful completion of a number of intermediate outcomes - and it through these advances that we and our prospective customer are able to judge our progress towards them.
An advance typically takes the form of a completed milestone that represents a significant step forward on our customer’s journey towards achieving their ultimate organizational and personal outcomes. Examples might include:
- A key stakeholder agrees to share privileged information with us
- The decision group includes us on their shortlisted options
- The negotiating teams agree mutually acceptable terms
- The decision group submits their final recommendation for approval
- The approval group agrees to issue an order
- A key implementation or adoption milestone is reached
These intermediate outcomes play a critical role in our sales process because they provide evidence that our customer’s buying decision journey (and therefore our sales campaign) is advancing towards a positive conclusion.
Don’t just discover - influence!
Our “discovery” process shouldn’t simply respond to what our customer currently believes they need to achieve - we also need to educate them on what is possible.
Obvious Outcomes are the organizational and personal goals our prospective customer already believes they need to achieve, and they typically reflect the ways in which our prospective customer believes represent the best way of achieving their currently hoped-for outcomes.
But if all we do is respond to these obvious outcomes - to our prospect’s current sense of what they need and how they need to achieve it, our ability to influence their decision is diminished.
Possible Outcomes are the even better organizational and personal outcomes our prospective customer actually has the potential to achieve, and they typically reflect the even more effective ways in which our prospective customer can achieve their best possible outcomes.
If we successfully shape our prospective customer’s awareness of the possible and how to achieve it, our ability to influence their decision is amplified. That’s why we should always seek to shape our prospective customer’s sense of what is possible.
The journey is never over until the customer’s outcome is achieved
One of the foundational principles of outcome-centric selling is that the journey isn’t over until and unless the customer acknowledges that their desired outcomes have successfully been achieved in practice.
That journey starts by helping the customer to recognise the outcomes they are capable of achieving if they make the right choices. This is why influencing their sense of their achievable outcomes from an early stage of their buying decision journey (and our sales process) is so important.
If - with our influence - the customers develop a stronger sense of the positive consequences of committing to change, then they are more likely to decide to act rather than sticking with the status quo, and to trust us as their partner to achieve their desired outcomes.
And if our customer success teams have a very clear sense of what the customer wants to achieve (above and beyond simply implementing our offering), then they will be far better equipped to ensure that the customer actually reaches their goals.
This means, of course that a key element of our customer success team’s responsibilities is to not only support the customer in the successful usage of our offerings, but also to ensure that the success is widely recognised by all the key stakeholders (and not just our key day-to-day contacts in the account).
Of course, if our customer widely recognises that their desired business outcomes have actually been achieved, then they will be far more likely to renew with us and to expand their usage of our offerings in other areas of their business.
Beyond sales, marketing, and customer success...
But, of course, the real benefits of adopting an outcome-centric approach come when the whole organisation - not just sales, marketing, and customer success - adopts an outcome-centric perspective. This means, to take just a few examples:
- Product development focusing their energies on making it easier for users to achieve their desired business outcomes
- Legal making it easier for customers to feel confident that the contract they are signing will lead to better business outcomes
- Every department having as one of their goals the objective of making it easier for customers to succeed with our offerings
Becoming outcome-centric is a journey, not a destination. There will always be ways in which we can increase the probability that every customer will recognise the value of our offerings in terms of the business outcomes we enable them to achieve. And the sooner we start the journey, the further we will progress down that path.
In the next article in this series, we’ll turn our attention to identifying the business issues we should be focusing on.