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 our 20 years of consulting for more than 120 companies, we’ve seen clear evidence that companies who 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 to jumpstart urgency.
Be specific and emotive about customer impact.
Sharing examples of 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 now famous 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 donation, they spent more than two times as many minutes on the phone, and brought in vastly more money, a whopping 171% increase.
Being clear about customer impact requires going beyond the general benefits. It’s more specific and emotive. For example, ask yourself:
Pull back the lens to reveal how you might be (for instance):
Customer impact stories tell your sales team: the work we do here matters.
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 inwards, every element of an organization must point your people outwards, towards 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?
Train leaders to communicate purpose and build belief.
Managers are the daily voice in the ear of your team. When front line 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 shows that when an employee’s direct manager communicates purpose, 80% 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% of employees believe their work matters.
In a time of personal and economic uncertainty, a purpose beyond money gives a team 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.