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What We Do for Our Customers (A Sales Story)

This lesson is a part of an audio course 10 Stories Great Leaders Tell by Paul Andrew Smith

Have you ever been at a conference or a networking event, listening to someone explain what they do for a living, after which you didn’t have the slightest clue what they actually did? Of course, you have. It might sound something like this: We’re best in class at optimizing the distribution channels between the core manufacturing center and the desired customer experience. You know, what does that even mean?

Now, some of you might even be thinking that sometimes the person spewing out those meaningless buzzwords is you. And that’s one reason you need at least one good story to help explain in concrete terms what it is you or your company does for your customers.

All right, here’s an example. Ben Koberna is the founder and CEO of a reverse auction company. That means it finds and convinces several suppliers to participate in a competitive bidding process to supply whatever it is the client needs at the cheapest cost. And while that short description does accurately describe what his company does, it leaves all kinds of questions unanswered.

So, when he’s talking to a new prospect, he almost always tells the story about one of his very first clients. Now, it was a mid-size city government in Central Florida. And they’d been paying $250,000 a year for a contractor to haul away the sludge from their wastewater treatment plant. So, they hired his company to do a reverse auction to see if they could save some money.

He explained what they did this way. He said, we looked around and found several sludge-removal companies that were interested. Then we invited them to a pre-bid meeting, so we could explain the process. Well, the guy who had the contract at the time showed up with his lawyer, yelling and screaming, and he even kicked over a chair. I mean, he told us the whole process was illegal and said we were all going to be arrested. Well, we eventually got him settled down and started the bidding process.

So, his first bid was for $250,000, of course. But then, when more aggressive bids started coming in, he lowered his bid to 240,000, and then 200,000, and then 150,000. The next bid he put in, though, was for zero dollars. Now, obviously, that was a mistake, so we paused the auction and called him on the phone. We explained his mistake and told him we could strike that bid and reset the auction. But he told us that wouldn’t be necessary. He said, “I didn’t make a mistake. “I’ve been sellin’ that sludge to local farmers “for the last 20 years to use as fertilizer. “I’ll just come to pick it up for free.” And my client, he says, has been saving $250,000 a year ever since.

Now, notice how Ben’s story answers a lot of questions his customers ask, and even some don’t even know to ask or are afraid to ask. For example, the story answers questions like, do I have to find all the vendors to bid? Nope, that’s our job. And how do we explain to them how the process will work? You don’t, we do that for you in a pre-bid meeting. But it also answers this more uncomfortable question: Will my current supplier get mad at me for doing this? Because the truth is, in Ben’s experience, they will get mad. And most clients will worry about that because they’ve been doing business with these people for years. They know them personally. And nobody wants to upset someone you’ve known and worked with for a long time.

But as the story illustrates, it doesn’t matter if they get upset because they won’t get mad at the client, they’re going to get mad at Ben. That’s part of what the client is paying for, for his company to shoulder the brunt of the emotional reaction this kind of process creates. All the client has to do is save money.

Okay, if you have personal experience working with customers, you might be able to craft this story by yourself. If not, you’ll need the help of someone in the sales department. They probably even have stories like this they can tell you off the top of their head. Share this story with them as an example of what you’re looking for. And then do the following: First, choose a client from a typical industry you serve, preferably one with a great experience working with you. And you don’t have to use the client’s real name. Next, sketch out a brief outline of events that led up to them needing your product or service. It has to be a specific instance. Then list the main steps of what your company did for them, all right? And then last, explain the outcome in terms of how it benefited the customer. That’s it, that’s your sales story.

Okay, in the next lesson, we’ll tackle a marketing story. Not a sales story, but a marketing story.

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Written by

Paul Andrew Smith