A Valuable Lesson in Values-Driven Conversations
One the best parts of my job is discussing my clients’ goals and how we can help achieve them. Having a technical background, I find it easy to discuss the technical aspects of a solution. When talking to other technical people, alignment with their values is easy.
Generally, there is a full spectrum of stakeholders to consider. Many of these people are less interested in the technology behind your solution. They care about what it can do for them and their business. In order for your message to resonate with these stakeholders, it has to align with their values.
Define the problem
A solution without a problem is an idea. Ideas are great, but they often fail to create the impetus for action.
Here’s an example of an idea:
ME: Have you considered stocking your office kitchens with ceramic cups and mugs. Everyone says they’re better than paper cups!
CUSTOMER: Sure, I’ll think about it.
To a busy customer this might sound like a good idea, but they have more pressing matters to focus on. I know the many benefits to this course of action, and how it addresses some obvious (to me) issues. If I assume the customer already knows what I know and don’t give them this context, we’re not going to get anywhere.
Consider an alternative:
ME: I noticed you stock your office kitchens with paper cups. That must involve a significant ongoing expense. It’s also not very environmentally friendly. Have you considered the potential cost savings of reusable ceramic cups and mugs?
CUSTOMER: is slightly more interested, but hardly blown away
In this second example, I’m presenting a problem: ongoing cost to the business, then, I’m presenting a solution that will address it.
This is a good start, but the customer is unlikely to buy-in without a clear benefit. To demonstrate the benefit, we have to also articulate the specific value of the solution. That is, we have to explain how the outcome will justify and potential risks, cost and effort involved. To convey this in a way which resonates with our client, we need to ensure we are speaking their language.
Articulate the solution (and be FABulous)
So far we have framed the problem and articulated a potential solution. Next, we need to ensure the solution aligns to the client’s motivations. In the example above, I can dive into the advantages ceramic cups over paper cups:
- increased durability of ceramic cups
- superior heat retention
- low rate of manufacturing errors
This is a habit I have fallen into when discussing the merits of products and technology solutions. It’s so easy to align the solution to my own values, which are technical in nature. Meanwhile, I’ve ignored a raft of business benefits and insights which would have resonated with my customer. So, how can we avoid this trap?
What does being FABulous involve? It involves making FAB statements. FAB stands for:
Using these prompts I can consider the solution from the client’s perspective. Once I’ve considered the Features, Advantages and Benefits, I can be confident I am presenting a solution which addresses a genuine need on the part of my customer.
Let’s break down an argument for ceramic cups with a FAB statement:
- Feature: the cup has a handle
- Advantage: you don’t need to grip a paper cup full of hot tea or coffee directly
- Benefit: your employees hands are protected from burns
Once we have determined the most relevant information to present, we need to consider how the client will evaluate the solution. To understand some potential motivations, we can look at three key value drivers for purchasing decisions:
To build a compelling case for our solution, we need to define the problem in the context of one or more of these drivers. Your solution should then address the specific issues raised in those areas.
Commercial operations need to generate revenue to cover costs and provide value to their shareholders, owners or investors. Thus, maintaining or increasing revenue is a strong driver. If your proposal has the potential to increase revenue, try to quantify this for the customer.
Reducing costs can also translate to increased profits or operational capital. Often, teams or departments will have fixed revenues within their businesses. In these cases, cost is particularly important. If your solution will enable the customer’s business to “do more with less” - share these potential impacts.
Managing risk associated with doing business can be the strongest driver in decision making. Risk can take many forms, such as:
- the risk of injury to staff, customers or the public
- the risk of non-compliance in a legal or regulatory framework
- the risk of reputational damage
- the risk of losing market share
So, what does a values based conversation look like? If we bring it all together, it might look a little something like this:
ME: I noticed you’re stocking your office kitchens with paper cups. Would you like to reduce the ongoing cost associated with replacing them, and the risk of workplace injury associated with paper cups?
CUSTOMER: Workplace injuries?
ME: Yes, ceramic cups and mugs with handles mean your staff aren’t gripping a paper cup full of boiling water. This reduces the risk of burn injuries. According to Safe Work Australia, the average cost of a workplace injury to the employer is $4,350 per incident. The costs to the employee and community are even greater.
Now we have:
- defined a problem
- presented a solution
- framed the solution in terms of its value (Features, Advantages, Benefits) to the customer
- aligned the solution to value drivers of Cost and Risk
By doing all of the above, we’ve described the value of our solution in terms of the broader business outcomes it will enable.