As the economy starts to reopen, companies face a delicate question: How can they sell – which is essential to their survival – but do it in a way that isn’t perceived as desperate or off-putting?
One chief revenue officer summarized the challenge: “I want to tell my team sell, sell, sell. But I don’t want to come across as opportunistic. I want our people to be seen as helpful, not scavengers.”
We’re at an inflection point in business. We stand in a moment where every sale counts and organizational reputations are won or lost based on perceived intent.
Every company needs to close business now, but the impulse to lean on employees to simply “hit the number” is misplaced. In 20 years of consulting for more than 120 companies, I have seen clear evidence that companies that help their teams develop a sense of noble purpose around serving customers are the ones that fare best.
Here are three things leaders can do right now:
1. Be specific and emotive about customer impact.
Sharing examples about how your organization makes a difference to customers shifts the narrative from an inward focus to an outward focus on the people who drive revenue – your customers.
As Adam Grant’s call center study proved, even a short story about emotional impact improves sales performance. When call center employees (whose job was to solicit donations) had a five-minute interaction with scholarship students to see the impact of donations, they spent more than two times as many minutes on the phone and brought in vastly more money, a whopping 171 percent increase.
Being clear about customer impact requires going beyond the general benefits. It’s more specific and emotive.
For example, ask yourself:
How does our solution impact a client’s job and life for the better?
When we do our job well, how does that help them in other areas?
What’s the ripple effect on their families and their organizations?
Pull back the lens to reveal how you might be saving customers time so they can focus on their families; helping customers better leverage data, enabling them to make more informed strategic decisions to drive their business goals; or increasing customers’ profitability, enabling them to keep their business running.
Customer impact stories tell your sales team that the work we do here matters.
2. Align the ecosystem around your purpose.
The systems, processes and messages surrounding your team shape their beliefs and their behaviors. In transactional organizations, the ecosystem points inward: When will the deal close? How much is it going to be? On the other hand, an ecosystem animated by purpose is organized to answer: How will the customer be different as a result of doing business with us?
In a time of uncertainty, with the temptation to obsessively look inward, every element of an organization must point your people outward and toward customers.
Look at your own ecosystem: What your customer relationship management system tracks, what you reward, how meetings are run, the type of customer intelligence you capture. Is your ecosystem focused on customer impact, or internal metrics?
3. Train leaders to communicate purpose and build belief.
Managers are the daily voice in the ear of your team. When frontline managers make a point to build belief in your larger purpose and emphasize the impact you have on customers, they transform the organization individually and collectively.
Research from KPMG showed that when an employee’s direct manager communicates purpose, 80 percent of employees report feeling their work makes an impact, and is not “just a job.” When the direct manager does not communicate purpose, only 39 percent of employees believe their work matters.
In a time of personal and economic uncertainty, a purpose beyond money gives team members something tangible they can tether themselves to. This moment affords us the opportunity to move beyond tagline-style “purpose washing,” which many firms stand accused of.
During economic volatility, there’s a clear choice to make: Organizations can choose a transactional, singular focus on revenue or cultivate a long-term view about bettering the customer’s condition.