Adjusting Your Value Wheel

Each business has a value wheel – the collection of things you do that create value for your customers.

In each situation, and for each customer, you present these in a different way. One customer cares more about the speed of delivery, another about how flexible you are, a third loves that you have an office in Cairo right next to where their main supplier is.

While your value wheel has a few core elements—the handful of things (values, behaviors, promises you keep) that make you you—each customer’s next-level reasons for hiring you will differ.

Your job, when selling your wares, is to know which of these value wheel elements to present when and to whom, and to be facile enough in representing and rejiggering them to communicate just the right offering to each different (potential) customer.

If this all wasn’t easy to see a month ago, it certainly is now. A month ago, a big chunk of how we used to create value was taken off the table. Our new task is to see if the pieces we are left holding are enough that we can continue to do (a new version of) what we do, even in today’s new, unprecedented context.

For many industries and business models, the short-term answer is a simple ‘no’:

Airlines can’t be airlines if people don’t want to travel.

Most restaurants can’t be restaurants without seated customers

But there is also potential, even with a lot of change:

Schools, it turns out, could probably teach kids effectively without kids coming together (though most are failing to do this well).

Most services businesses, whose lifeblood used to involve face time (not FaceTime) with clients and going to giant conferences, are discovering that a lot of that was expected behavior that was mostly unnecessary.

For those of us lucky enough to still be holding enough pieces to stay afloat, the questions to ask are:

How do we clearly see the collection of pieces we’re left holding?

Might there be a way that THIS collection of pieces is, in fact, enough to do meaningful work?

If we imagined that this new normal were here to stay, what would we do differently? What bigger bets would we make?

(and finally)

What new things have we learned about ourselves, our capabilities and our customers that we want to preserve, even when things get back to “normal?”

To help take this forward, here’s a downloadable value wheel that you can print out and fill out with your team (virtually, of course).

Value Wheel

Feels Like the First Time

I’m in an airport terminal for an early morning flight and I spot an Au Bon Pain.

Instantly I flash to the first Au Bon Pain store in Cambridge, MA where, nearly 30 years ago, I had my first ABP raspberry croissant.

It was still warm, crispy on the outside, and the cream cheese filling was just tangy enough to balance the sweetness of the raspberry. It was heavenly.

That memory is enough to get me to walk into this small, shabby Au Bon Pain outpost in LaGuardia airport. Their raspberry croissant is good, though it is but a shadow of the original. Even so, it’s created just enough of a positive flashback that I keep on coming back.

Whether we’re selling a product or a service, whether we’re a marketer or a salesperson or a philanthropic fundraiser, we are in the business of creating feelings, emotions and memories for our customers.

The strongest, deepest memories can create customers for a lifetime.

When your clients think about you, what do they remember?

 

Looking for a U.S. sales lead for 60 Decibels

Hello blog readers, I’d like to ask for your help.

I’m looking to hire someone to work directly with me to lead up U.S. sales for 60 Decibels.

As a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that 60 Decibels is the company Tom Adams and I co-founded last year to make social impact measurement fast, nimble and useful to the people working to create social change. Our goal is to put the voice of the customer back where it belongs: at the heart of social impact measurement.

We’ve had a great first year. We are working with some of the most dynamic, forward-thinking investors, companies and nonprofits around the world. In 2019 we spoke to more than 50,000 customers in more than 30 countries, delivering more than 200 Lean Data projects. We have a 30+ person team based in four countries. We work hard and we believe in what we’re doing.

The real secret to our success is a handful of loyal customers who show up as true partners. They push us to do our best work. They have high standards and ask us to keep raising the bar. And, quietly but consistently, they support our success by spreading the word to others about the good work that we do.

The salesperson I’d like to work with understands that this is the only approach to build something that lasts: client by client, day by day, doing work worth talking about.

The person we’re looking for has personal experience with social impact measurement. She might have gained this experience working as an impact investor, a philanthropic funder, or a social entrepreneur; or maybe she’s worked to provide impact measurement solutions to those sorts of organizations. Regardless of her specific path, she has significant first-hand experience with the problem we’re trying to solve. She’ll also understand that great selling starts with passionately believing in an idea. She’ll be an effective storyteller, always be looking to learn, and demonstrates all the hustle, resilience, and sense of humor that are the hallmarks of any great professional.

As a regular reader of this blog, I’m guessing you have a sense of the kind of person I’m looking for. Above all, I hope it’s clear how personally I take my work, the values I try to bring to it every day (reflected in our 60 Decibels values), and my willingness to share when I’ve gotten things right and when I’ve fallen short.

I believe that this sort of grounded authenticity is what ultimately empowers us to enlist others in our shared mission of making the world a better place.

The full job spec is here, and people can apply directly for the job here.

Applications close on February 15th, but I’ll start reviewing applications immediately, so don’t delay.

Bruce is Back

Not long ago, Bruce, the shark from the movie Jaws, was fully rebuilt: new jaw, new teeth, new paint, the works. He had lived at the Universal Studios lot from 1975 to 1990, and then ended up at a junkyard, where he survived for nearly 30 years, propped up on two big poles. Now, thanks to the work of Greg Nicotero from “The Walking Dead,’ Bruce is back to his former glory.

Bruce the “Jaws” Shark, before being refurbished. Photo: Michael Palma/Courtesy of AMPAS

After all this refurbishment, we could ask whether Bruce is really Bruce anymore. Most of the original Bruce is gone, replaced by new wood, new plaster and new paint.

But of course, he is Bruce. What makes him Bruce is that we see him and think “that’s the shark from Jaws!” The thread over the last 50 years is the idea of Bruce, and not a physical collection of wood and paint.

When we create new things, especially new products, we can lose sight of this essential fact. It’s easy to wait for some threshold of “realness” before we allow an idea to cross the threshold from concept to product.

For example, years ago, I was working with a team that needed to come up with a better fundraising pitch than, “we do great work, please support our organization.” We wanted to offer a product: a specific initiative, backed by a defined amount of capital, that would make a specific set of things happen. It would have a closed group of funders who would be an integral part of what we were trying to do.

I remember how I felt after we’d written all these ideas down and I went to a first meeting with a potential funder: like a total fraud.

This thing, I felt, wasn’t real yet. It was nothing more than a bunch of ideas on a piece of paper.  Until it wasn’t.

In that meeting, it came to life: through the shared agreement, between two people, that we were going to do this thing, and the commitment that implied on both sides.

That coming together transformed a collection of pieces—for us, not wood and paint in the shape of a shark, but a set of ideas on paper in the shape of an initiative—into something real. Through the act of developing and sharing this idea, we created what became a very true story and a very real, very successful, multi-million-dollar initiative.

This is the truth that any impresario knows: that her job is to create the central story that others can be part of; and then to take the steps that make this story true through enrollment of the right people.

The story isn’t the afterthought. Just like it’s the idea of Bruce that makes Bruce real, your new idea, product, promise, it’s also real. It doesn’t need any sort of blessing or formal baptism: take it into the world, and decide, together with others, to make it happen.

Through that decision, you bring it to life.

HT: @NPRCoreyTurner

You could get it for less

If you’re pricing right for your outstanding work, it will sound expensive to others.

After all, they’re not used to buying outstanding work.

This means that the moment you tell them the price, it will probably feel uncomfortable, both to you and to them.

It helps to remember that yes, it’s true, they could find another way to do this.

Maybe they could get some graduate students to do it for free.

Or find someone who’s just starting who is desperate for the work.

Someone on a website, somewhere, who does piece work at a seemingly-cheap hourly rate.

Or someone who can do just enough to make the problem go away, but who won’t fundamentally move things forward.

All those options are possible.

But for this work, at this standard, delivered in this way, it will cost this.

And it will be a bargain.

It’s alive

For your next sales-and-storytelling practice session, try this.

Think of your favorite popular song, one that everybody knows. Then tap out the tune on the table with your hand, and have the rest of your team go around in a circle and guess what the song is. Try it a few times and see how many times the song gets guessed.

How’d it go?

The answer is: terribly.

You can’t guess a song by just hearing the rhythm. But even so, when you’re the person tapping that “tune,” you can’t help but hear the song in your head. Nor can you help wondering (just a little bit) “why don’t they hear it too?”

This is your storytelling problem in a nutshell: you can see something that your audience can’t.

This something has a color and a smell and a texture, it is just about to burst with feeling and emotion and meaning.

Picture it.

Your stories need to help us see what you see. As your audience, we are begging you to paint this living, vibrant thing for us, to help us see what you see so we can feel what you feel. Let us, first, experience its texture and shape and possibility.

That’s your one and only job at the outset.

Once that’s complete we have a real, shared conversation about whether and how to make that picture come to life.

What’s it worth

At some point in every negotiation, the conversation turns to price.

Sometimes this is straightforward. It’s been discussed all along and you are formalizing what everyone expects.

And sometimes, a new prospect will come at you with some version of, “We really want to do this, we just can’t make it happen at this price. Could you do it for less?”

Can you?

Well yes, you always can do it for less.

But should you?

There might be good reasons to do it for less. The work is interesting and important and will allow you to grow. It will open new doors for you and your firm. You have available resources (time, people) that otherwise would lay dormant.

But if the price you’ve offered is one you’ve been paid before, and if clients keep coming back for more and referring new people to you, this means that, at the price you initially offered, the one you’ve been asked to lower, your work is a bargain: you’ve been delivering a lot more value than the price you’re charging.

What’s challenging is how uncomfortable  the “can you do it for less” moment is. The tension in the silence that follows this question makes you want to make the discomfort go away, which you can do by negotiating against yourself.

“Maybe,” you think, “this time I’m wrong.”  “Maybe, this time, my work isn’t worth it.”  “Maybe this client will get away and……..”

And what, exactly?

And there will be another client tomorrow. This client will see what you’re worth, be willing to pay that amount and, in doing so, will get be getting a bargain relative to what you’ll deliver.

Don’t uncut yourself, and certainly don’t apologizing for asking for what you deserve.

Instead, you might offer: “I’m confident that at the price we’re discussing, you will get more than you’re paying for.”

Then, when she ultimately say yes, it’s up to you to do something magical, which is exactly where you want to be.

Fundraising Parable

A fundraiser asks for advice about how to get more access to the institutions who give money to her sector.

The conversation that ensues is about seeing this work not as a series of transactions, but about building real relationships, about making connection, about building a network that you value and feed, that you give to first rather than ask for things.

This conversation runs long. The fundraiser takes copious notes, nods a lot, seems excited.

And then you never hear from her again.

Not Sales mode, Amazing Interesting Allies Mode

The biggest challenge we all face in terms of nonprofit sales isn’t how to win people over, it isn’t how to pitch, and it’s not how to close.

The biggest problem is access.

We are not selling a product with a defined market price, which is why it can take the same (or more!) time, effort, passion, and skill to raise a $1,000 donation as it does a $100,000 donation. What matters is how big that donation is for each person.

So the question arises: how do we get access?

The only real answer—which on some days feels energizing and on others relentless—is to generously, consciously, and actively be in always-on sales mode.

“Generously” because the only way to make real connections is to actively, deeply, and truly care about creating value for the people you’re connecting with, with no expectation of return.

“Actively and consciously” because this requires clear and deliberate prioritization in the midst of an already too-full agenda. That can be hard if the yield isn’t immediate: this next person simply is not going to write you a check for $100,000, so, do you meet her anyway?

It helps to remind ourselves that our most valuable connections are “weak ties”—the ones at the edges of our social network. This means that what we’re really doing in this next hour is taking another step in our multi-year project of creating a strong, connected, personal web of shared values, purpose, and mutual support. The web we are weaving creates real and lasting value for all of its members, including, hopefully and eventually, for us.

Tangibly, this means things like:

Always, every time taking the extra conversation that might lead to something that might lead to something.

Keeping your antennae up for people with the same type of passion that you have.

Remembering that your job is not to get the next lead, your job is to collect allies and advocates, the kinds of people who make things happen with verve and joy and passion, because that’s the virtual army that your life’s work deserves.

Because, when you boil it all down, people who do amazing interesting and important things know other people who do amazing interesting and important things.

And, if you find and add value to enough people doing amazing interesting important things, and if at least some of them become wildly passionate about YOUR amazing interesting important thing, eventually they will roll up their sleeves for you, eventually they will lend their best thoughts to you, eventually they will become part of your journey.

Bit by bit, over time, those relationships will lead to more relationships that will eventually get you in the room with a person who can write a 10x or 100x bigger check and who is positively disposed to the conversation they’re about to have with you, because they’ve heard about you from one or three or five other amazing interesting people doing important things. Then you need to close that sale.

It’s a long road from here to there, but you distinguish yourself on Day 1 by committing to walk this path.

And, if you’re just beginning on this journey, and especially if you think of yourself as “results oriented,” I’d encourage you to be a little less discerning, a little less linear, and a lot more energetic and generous, and see where that path leads.

Four Steps in Selling

  1. Great to meet you
  2. Asking questions
  3. Making the pitch
  4. Closing

It’s amazing how often, as salespeople or fundraisers, in our breathless urgency to make our pitch, we skip to step 3.

Ultimately there’s a wrapper around this entire conversation, and that wrapper is our true intention.

Every moment we spend demonstrating genuine curiosity, we make clear that we care most about meeting their needs, and will pursue a sale only in service of that end.

Yes, our future customer wants to know that we are smart, capable, and that we have a great solution for the price, but the first thing she wants to know is: what’s this guy’s true intention? If we don’t pass that test, we never get out of the gate.

The truth is, today everyone has a nearly infinite choice about who they are going to work with, or what organization they are going to support. The deeper truth is that no product, service, intervention, or charity is so much better than everything else out there that it wins solely on the merits.

This is why we begin with courtesy and basic good manners.

We follow that with genuine curiosity around the problem someone else is trying to solve, and, from that deep interest, we explore if, how, and in what ways the thing we have on offer today might solve that problem.

These aren’t boxes to check so we can get on with our sale, these are the first steps towards building a partnership on a foundation of respect and service.

No skipping steps.