The Keys to Customer Engagement

I recently came across an article on by Bob Apollo, founder of Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners that examines how a business’ growth strategy is often dependent on how well that business can tell its story. In the piece, Apollo suggests that the most successful marketing – or “storytelling” – strategies work on two distinct levels: the macro and the micro.

At the macro level, he says, the challenge is to know your “vision story” and consistently share it with all target audiences. At the micro level, on the other hand, you need to be able to convincingly tell your “value story” at the individual customer level.

It’s a fascinating take on the power of well planned storytelling and how it can help a business better engage with its customers.

Check it out here.

Why you need a Vision Story and a Value Story

The best sales people and the best content marketers are often great storytellers. They have the ability to craft compelling narratives that persuade their potential customers to want to buy.

But can the same story architecture work at both the macro (market-wide vision) and micro (specific customer value) level? The two story types clearly need to be related but my experience suggests that there are some important differences…

Your vision story is a consistently-communicated message that is intended to resonate with your target audience, and to articulate how your approach to solving that market’s most common challenges sets you apart from their other options. It is intended to attract suitable prospects, and to make them want to engage with you.

Your value story, on the other hand, needs to be tailored to the particular circumstances of specific prospects, and can only be effectively told after you have undertaken one or a series of discovery and validation conversations. It is intended to confirm how you intend to deliver specifically relevant value to them via your solution.

Let’s look at the structure of these two story types:

Vision story structure

Andy Raskin is widely regarded as the leading exponent of the modern vision story and has helped many rapidly growing companies to nail their distinctive and compelling message. His clients have enjoyed great success with the following structure:

1: Start by naming a big, relevant change in the world

The last thing you want to do is to start your vision presentation by talking about your product, company, office locations, clients, awards or anything about yourself. Whilst these validations will ultimately be important if and when the prospect gets around to seriously evaluating your suitability as a supplier, they are boring barriers to initial engagement.

Instead, start by homing in on and naming an undeniable shift in your prospective customer’s world that – once the implications are fully understood – will cause them to recognise that they need to take urgent action. The change you have chosen will inevitably have consequences and create both threats and opportunities.

2: Show that there will be winners and losers

These threats and opportunities will in turn create winners and losers. You need to focus your prospect’s attention on the idea that the way in which they choose to deal with the identified change will have significant implications for their current and future business success.

It’s worth starting with the threats. According to leading behavioural economist Daniel Kahneman, all potential buyers suffer from “loss aversion”. They are 2-3 times more likely to respond to the fear of a threat than they are to the hope of a future opportunity. The more contrast you can create, the more likely they are to recognise the need for action.

3: Tease the Promised Land

You need to avoid the temptation to pitch your product or service at this stage. Instead, you need to introduce a vision of the Promised Land – what the prospect can achieve by dealing with the change in an effective way. You need to lead towards, rather than with, your solution.

The Promised Land represents their Desired Future State, not your solution – but it needs to be difficult to achieve without the sort of external help, experience and expertise you can provide. Creating a strong and credible contrast between their current situation and this desired future state further reinforces the case for action.

4: Introduce key capabilities as obstacle busters

You have now established the perfect platform to introduce your product or service. You need to carefully position a few of your most powerful (and preferably unique) capabilities as ways of eliminating the obstacles that would otherwise prevent or delay your customer from reaching the promised land.

By focusing on a few key themes, rather than on a long list of product features, you can differentiate your approach from the other options your customer may be considering – and position your competition as anchors that are more likely to hold their customers back in the past than to lead them towards your prospect’s desired future state.

5: Present evidence you can make the story come true

You’ve accurately and realistically identified the path to the promised land as being strewn with obstacles, so your prospect will justifiably be sceptical about any organisation’s ability to deliver. This is where testimonials and references from your existing customers can be so powerful.

And even if – given the early stage of your market – these references are thin on the ground, demonstrating your solution as a series of “before and after” scenarios (rather than showcasing a list of unrelated features) can help to powerfully establish your credibility.

Everybody needs to sing from the same hymnbook

For this approach to be most effective, everyone in your organisation – whether communicating to the market or responding to a “what do you do?” question – needs to be able to articulate and reinforce the same common vision. Whether in the form of your website, your demand generation campaigns, your CEO’s presentation at a conference or an individual sales person’s conversation with a customer, everyone needs to be on the same page.

Let’s imagine (not too hard to do, I hope) that your consistent and compelling vision story has attracted the active interest of a prospect who is a good fit against your ideal customer profile criteria. How can you make the story specifically relevant to them?

by Bobby Matthews
Senior Vice President, Sales and Marketing
Skybridge Americas

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