Paul shares three ideas to help you craft the perfect message in tough times.
In a crisis, words matter. Remember Tony Hayward’s comments in the 2010 BP oil spill? BP’s CEO, Tony Hayward, was apologizing for the disruption and devastation of the event and he said, “…there’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do. I’d like my life back.”
In tough times, messaging matters, not only the words but also the tone.
Empathy is your filter. Plato wrote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
Utility is what your product or service does, but impact is how it affects the buyer. During tough times utility doesn’t change, but impact does.
Consistency is critical in messaging. Everything you do and say—right or wrong—sends a message to the customer. “Your words must align with your actions.”
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How do I communicate value in tough times?
(Transcribed from podcast)
On today’s episode, we’re going to talk about customer messaging. Specifically, what are the right words that we should use during these tough, uncertain times when we’re communicating our message of value?
This is a question I commonly get in my virtual training seminars, even prior to COVID-19. Salespeople want to know what words we use. And, it’s important to note that words matter, not only in the timing of those words, but the tone of those words as well.
Before we get started, just a quick shout out to our sponsor, Andrea, over at The Creative Impostor Studios. Podcasting is such a great platform to get your message out there, to share your message with your perspective clients, your customers, whoever it might be. If you have a voice and it needs to be heard, start a podcast. Reach out to Andrea and her team. They’re going to help you. They’ll provide guidance whether it’s setting up the show, the tech that you need, whatever it is, give them a shout.
Also, fourth edition of Value Added Selling is available on Amazon. In Value Added Selling, we have a whole section on customer messaging. Make sure you pick up the latest edition, again, available at Amazon.
Let’s get into this question. You know, when I think about messaging and how we communicate during tough times, I’m always reminded of famous examples and blunders that happen in customer messaging. If we go back to April in 2010, many of you will remember the Deepwater Horizon oil spill—the BP oil spill that happened off the coast of Louisiana. That event, it was terrible. I think it was considered the worst oil spill in the history of the oil industry. It was a terrible event. You remember just millions and millions of barrels of oil spewing into the ocean. Wildlife was impacted. You’d see all the dead fish and the birds floating around in the oil. It was really terrible. And not only that, but you think about how it impacted the commercial fishing industry in that area. So many residents in that area, their livelihood was tied to the ocean and they were just completely destroyed. The socioeconomic, the environmental destruction that happened…
In the midst of all this, you have Tony Hayward. He was the CEO of BP at the time. He was trying to apologize for all the devastation and the destruction. In the midst of all that, he said something like, “No one wants this thing over more than I do. I want my life back.” Right… I want my life back. When he uttered those words, you could feel the cringe collectively from the reporters, from commentary on that afterwards. And everyone knew that that was certainly the beginning of the end for him and his stint as CEO at BP. And what happened… You know, the remarks lacked empathy. They were ill timed. It didn’t send the right message. That one slip was a PR nightmare, and it was a messaging issue.
The reason I share that story to kick things off, it’s important to remember that words do matter. Words always matter, but especially in a crisis, especially in a tough time words matter. And the tone of the message matters as well. This is not going to be an episode on here’s exactly every single word you should say and use. It would be impossible to do that because we face so many different scenarios, so many different industries. Instead, we’re going to talk about some general principles to help you build your message. We’re going to give you three tips.
The first thing you have to remember in messaging, tip number one—empathy is your filter. Plato said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” It’s great wisdom because every person we meet is facing some sort of battle. Internally, something’s going on. They’re facing a tough time. We just don’t know what they’re going through. And so we have to realize that our message should be viewed through an empathetic prism. We have to ask ourselves, “How is this person feeling that I’m going to meet with. What is it like being in their world?”
One thing I’ll do is in our training seminars, I’ll have salespeople almost enter a meditative state. We’ll pause for three to four minutes and you guys can do this as well. Just not while you’re driving your vehicle. All right? But before you go in to visit with a customer, take a few moments and just imagine what it’s like to be them. What is it that they’re going through? What are the struggles that they’re facing that day? What sort of pressure are they facing from their boss? What sort of pressure are they facing in their industry right now? It’s important to take all of this into consideration when communicating a message. It’s important to pause and reflect. By doing that, we become more empathetic. We can view the world through their eyes. By doing that, it’s going to give us a deeper understanding of how they define value. So tip number one, before you communicate your message, and that means either face to face, on a zoom call, typing an email, you have to pause and imagine what it’s like to be the other person. How are they going to receive it?
The second tip: Remember that during tough times, the utility of your solution does not change, but the impact does. That’s an important distinction. So I’m going to repeat that again. The utility of your solution does not change, but the impact of your solution does change.
That is critical to understand. Let’s clarify what utility and impact really mean. Utility is what your product or service does. For example, let’s say you’re selling a hammer—just a basic, straightforward hammer that you can see at any sort of hardware store. A hammer drives nails. That’s what a hammer does. That’s the utility of it. But the impact could be much greater. For example, if you provide an ergonomically designed hammer that can help the installer fasten more nails than the next best hammer. You can enhance productivity. You can achieve greater profitability. That’s the impact.
So again, utility doesn’t change during tough times, but impact does. Here’s what happens with buyers. During tough times, a buyer’s mind will shift from gain to loss. They’re trying to avoid loss more so than they’re trying to experience a gain. When things are going well, the economy’s humming along and everything’s going great, people focus more on gain. What they could do to gain a competitive advantage. What they can do to gain more profit.
During a tough time, buyers are more focused on reducing loss. They’re more focused on reducing cost, you could say: labor cost, logistical cost, whatever it might be. They have a protection mindset instead of an expansion mindset. That’s probably a better way to say it. Think about it again. During tough times, buyers have a protection mindset. During good times, they have an expansion mindset. Your impact needs to be reflective of their current mindset. Think about that for a moment. Let’s stick with that hammer example. Let’s say, during good economic times you’re trying to sell your hammer. You go out to a customer and say, “Look at our ergonomically designed hammer. Here’s what it is. Here’s what it does. Mr. Customer, by using this hammer on your project, it’s going to enhance your productivity. They’re going to be able to Fasten 10% more nails per hour. And that’s going to lead to greater profit.” Notice there the impact focuses on expansion.
Well, during tough times, we might focus on protection instead. Again, we go visit with that same customer only it’s during tough times. And we say, “Mr. Customer, our ergonomically designed hammer is going to help you fasten more nails per hour. That means you can reduce your labor cost on this project.” Think about it. Reducing labor cost compared to enhancing profitability. Both of those things fundamentally could be the same, right? When you reduce labor costs, naturally, you’re going to enhance profit. The shift though happens when we focus on protection versus expansion while we’re defining the impact of our value added solution.
So during tough times, the impact of your value-added solution might shift from a growth or an expansion type of focus to more of a protection focus. That protection focus… The reason we focus on that is because that’s how they’re thinking right now; that’s how they define value. Remember, customers will define value differently in tough times. It’s up to us to understand that. If we can understand the impact and what they’re focusing on, we can offer a clearer message of value.
That’s the second tip. Again, impact is more compelling than utility. During a tough time, the utility of your solution doesn’t change, but the impact does.
The final tip we’ll talk about today… Consistency equals relevancy. Whatever you do or say, whatever you communicate to your customer, you have to demonstrate it in your action. For example, let’s say you’re meeting with a customer, or a prospect. You’re a uniform salesperson (the big uniform sales companies). Their value proposition is we help enhance your company’s image with our professional looking uniforms. Sounds pretty standard. But if that salesperson walks in there and they’ve got a wrinkled shirt that has stains all over it and they look like a slob, how professional they look is inconsistent with what they’re saying—what they’re telling their customers they do. That destroys the message. It proves that it’s not relevant. So it’s critical, during tough times and during good times, that we back up and deliver whatever we promise.
During tough times, you’re going to have to make different promises to your customers. For example, I was virtually meeting with a sales team the other day, and they were facing a challenge. They said, “Right now we are promising our customers that we are going to be flexible, that we’re going to work with them, that we’re going to help them out. But certain departments within the organization are still rigidly applying policies and procedures across the board.” They’re not demonstrating any flexibility, although they are promising flexibility. That destroys trust. So just keep that in mind that whatever message you are communicating, your actions have to align with the promises that you’re making. Again, consistency in words, consistency in action.
Those are three messaging tips today.
Again, tip number one: Empathy is your filter. Imagine what it’s like to be the person you are communicating to.
Number two: Remember that, during tough times, the utility of your solution doesn’t change, but how it impacts the buyer does change. So be aware of that. Be aware of the words you are using.
And number three: Remember that consistency equals relevance. The more consistent you are in your actions and in your words, the more relevant you are going to be to the customer.
Make it a big day!