We’re asking the wrong questions

question_markIn 2008, I founded Storyleaders to create a more relevant, more effective way to help salespeople.  Along the way, I’ve discovered some things I never would have imagined.

Yesterday, I had a sales call with a VP sales. I’d never met Adam before; he was a referral. I guess he knew a little about Storyleaders, at least that we’re about “storytelling,” because that was the first thing he brought up.

“Ben,” he said, “I get storytelling and building rapport, but how does that move the needle? What’s the ROI?” He gave a sigh. “Storytelling, emotional connection—it all seems so touchy-feely.”

I have to confess, when I first started down this path, I had the same take: This stuff is too touchy-feely. How could anyone measure its effectiveness? As a result, for the first couple of years, I spent a lot of my own selling time talking about ROI and the reasons storytelling and personal connection are so important. It was ironic: I was enlisting a left-brain argument to try to persuade people to believe in the power of their right brains.

“Adam,” I said. “Can I share a story about a time when I asked those questions?”

“Sure,” he said.

I told him about a client I’ve been working with for the past year and a half, a company that provides network services to businesses in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. As part of my work, I meet with the company’s senior team every couple of months to see where things stand.

Early this year, we had such a meeting, but this one was different: Hurricane Sandy had just devastated the region. Hurricanes are bad news for this company, because it relies on a physical network to deliver services to its customers.

I was reminded of my first workshop with the company, which I’d taught in late 2011—just a week after Hurricane Irene hit. Let’s just say it didn’t seem like the ideal time to roll out my workshops. The salespeople came in with low morale. They were stressed and totally preoccupied. As expected, the network had outages. The company was losing irate customers left and right.

Hurricane Sandy was much more destructive than Irene, so I was expecting things to be even worse this time. But I was in for a surprise. Instead of the horror stories I’d heard the year before, after Irene, I spent an entire day listening to amazing stories about people doing things that just don’t happen in big corporations: salespeople coming in after hours to man the phones; operations people bringing their families into makeshift call centers; marketing personnel turned customer service, routing the company’s inbound 800 number to employees’ homes.  At a couple of time during the day, I was actually crying, listening to these incredible stories. It was so moving.

And here’s the thing: no one was forced to come in and work extra hours. No one was forced to connect and empathize with customers affected by the hurricane. Everyone was just all in. At one point, the company actually had to send employees home because they had so many volunteers.

Now, let me go back to something that happened in between the two storms:

Their President participated in one of the early workshops. For three days, he personally experienced the way his people were able to connect with one another by sharing their personal stories and learning how to really listen.

Just after we completed the series of workshops for their sales force, the president called and asked me to do another workshop—this time, for his executive team.

I did, and after we finished training the eight executives who report directly to him, I got another surprise. The president called yet again and said he wanted more Storyleaders workshops—for all 500 of his employees.

Of course I was excited about the opportunity, but I was also shocked. I had founded Storyleaders to help salespeople. Why would he invest so much time and money on workshops for the rest of his employees?

I asked him: “Why are you going to pay me so much money to put everyone through the workshops?”

My question to him wasn’t so different from Adam’s. How was this going to move the needle? I certainly didn’t know the ROI.

Even now, more than a year later, I remember exactly what he said to me: “Ben, we’re in the connection business. This is about getting to the heart of connections. If we have connected, happy employees, we will have connected, happy customers. And the bottom line will take care of itself. Period.”

So how would you measure a company that is truly connected?  How do we measure intangibles that don’t lend themselves to easy measurement?  How would you measure happiness? What is the ROI on that?

So why are we asking ourselves the same questions we’ve been asking forever? We will never change things if we continue to ask the same questions that got us here in the first place.

I guess we see the value of these intangibles firsthand between the aftermaths of Irene and Sandy, when his company went from to a company that is loved by (and loves) its customers.

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Categories: Story

Author:Ben Zoldan

Demystifying what the most inspiring people do to influence change, Co-founder, Story Leaders and Co-author, What Great Salespeople Do: The Science of Selling Through Emotional Connection and the Power of Story

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One Comment on “We’re asking the wrong questions”

  1. March 23, 2013 at 8:27 am #

    Brilliant post, Ben. I loved this one.

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