Winning Enterprise Sales – The Importance of Empathy with Julia Streets, Episode 011

Enterprise Sales – The Importance of Empathy with Julia Streets

In enterprise sales, empathy — understanding the mindsets of all the players involved is crucial. You’re not going to win business if the buying committee doesn’t believe your organization understands and can help with their needs. But this is not just the job of the sales team. Everyone in the organization that speaks to the market or to enterprise customers needs this understanding.

Today’s podcast is about the importance of empathy, compassion and emotional intelligence in your messaging strategy. Whether you’re talking to the press, writing copy for the website, speaking on a panel, or managing enterprise deals, you have to communicate a deep understanding of your target audience’s reality.

Empathy needs to infuse all of your messages going out to the market. It’s the only way to be truly customer-centric.

For today’s interview, I sat down with Julia of Streets Consulting. Her company helps financial services firms deliver compelling pitches. They also help develop integrated marketing and public relations plans.

We talk about crucial steps that firms need to take at each stage in their growth to drive enterprise sales.

In today’s recording, you’ll find tips to:

  • help figure out what keeps your enterprise prospects awake at night,
  • convince them that your product can help,
  • and get a enterprise deal through procurement.

So listen in or read the edited transcript below. It was a fascinating conversation.

Edited Transcript for Winning Enterprise Sales – The Importance of Empathy

Candyce Edelen: Julia, thank you for joining me, I’m so excited to have this conversation with you.

Julia Streets: Thank you so much for asking me, I’m delighted to be here.

Candyce: So you’ve been in business for 10 years, working with companies that target enterprise accounts in the financial technology space. One of the things that you and I have talked about in the past is that companies really need to think about communications more broadly than media relations. Let’s start there, and tell me more about that.

Julia: Yeah, it’s interesting, because I think in the States, a lot of people talk about PR in the sense of media relations. They’re focused on their media profile, where to get editorial, and their coverage in the online publications, as well as some of the more traditional ones.

Working with a lot of early-stage businesses (in fact doesn’t matter where you are in your corporate evolution), we find that integrated business development and marketing communications strategies deliver a higher return on investment. Essentially, it’s about aligning with growth targets and business targets: short-term, medium-term and long-term. It’s about driving campaigns that will feed into your sales pipeline all the way through.

Candyce: We focus our clients on thinking about the message from the customer’s point of view and understanding how their message is going to affect the whole buying committee. I know that your team looks at that too. Where should a business get started in thinking about an overall communications strategy?

Julia: We always start with the principals of the business, the executive team. With an early-stage company, we’ll start with the entrepreneur or sit down with the board to figure out where the business is today and where it’s trying to get to. We look at their short-term, medium-term, long-term ambitions. That could be around getting started, raising seed funding, and getting a single product to market; through to looking for further investments, regional expansion, product expansion, and corporate growth. This includes hiring strategy, as well as product development.

Then we ask, at each stage of the corporate evolution, who are all of the stakeholders, as well as the customers that you’re trying to serve? We’re thinking through buyers, decision makers, influencers, users, and also, really importantly, the road blockers. We think about the enterprise sales cycle, about who’s involved in that, and their relationship with you, whether you’re known or unknown. We discuss who they see as competitors, perceived or real. Often, there are misperceptions here.

Ultimately, we’re thinking about the challenges that keep the target enterprise audience awake at night that the vendor is solving. Everyone’s coming out with products and services that claim to be, “the leading provider of that,” or “cutting edge technology in this.” But really, it should be about the things that keep prospects awake at night, whether that’s cost, risk, or regulation.

Obviously, regulation is a really key one in financial services and capital markets. But we need to get into the detail when talking about regulation. What are the specific clauses? What elements within the regulation is the target organization and individual buyer charged with solving?

The more you can resonate with those challenges very, very precisely and very specifically, the more they will want to hear what you have to say. They’ll want to engage in what you do.

But in enterprise sales, that first person and that first step is only one piece in the journey. So, for example the enterprise buyer could be the head of trading, the influencer could be the head of compliance, or the head of legal, or the head of risk, or the head of ops. The implementer is the person who’s actually ultimately going to be putting that technology into operation. Don’t forget the CFO, who’s going to be the budget holder and signing that check.

The enterprise sales cycle also needs to be considered. In some cases a sale could take years, particularly when you’re selling to large banks and financial institutions. Ultimately, your proposal will cross the desk of the procurement officer. The procurement officer is going to be looking for service, price and product. But they also need to know if your firm presents a supply risk to the organization?

When we talk about regulation, risk is a very, very key part. But supply risk is also a huge challenge, particularly for large enterprises. Are you going to be around in two or three years? So you need to send a message of confidence and of growth, that you have a clear strategy, and that you’re delivering against that strategy out to the market.

Media relations is one way to do that. But integrated strategies include which events you go to, which panels you speak on, which white papers you put out, which thought leadership articles you write, which blogs/social media/video, etc. you publish. Integrated campaigns are how you communicate those messages very, very clearly, that are resonant and relevant to the individuals and the personas in that buying cycle. Again, you’re communicating to decision makers, influencers, users and potential road blockers.

Candyce: I want to dig into one of the things that you said a little bit more. It’s really important to understand in depth the business problems that each of those different people in your buying committee are facing. They’re trying to make decisions to bring their business forward, solve a particular problem, or achieve a specific goal. Each one of them is looking at the issue differently. I find that a lot of suppliers don’t necessarily understand what the customer is dealing with from a broader perspective, particularly in the case of enterprise sales. It’s not just about the business case for your technology, it’s about how it fits into their whole ecosystem and their whole work flow.

Julia: Absolutely. This is very true. I look at that from two perspectives. One is the product — its functionality. To echo what you just said, how does that functionality align throughout the entire lifecycle of what the prospect is trying to achieve or what that process is trying to achieve?

But then there’s the psychological aspect to it as well, and a kind of behavioral aspect. I do a lot of mentoring with early-stage businesses. They imagine they could walk into a bank and impress them by saying, “We’re going to save you a million pounds.” Well, a million pounds is just a rounding error to a large, globally-significant financial institution.

You might be talking to somebody who’s spent 25 years trying to build their empire, and you tell them that you can reduce their headcount by 20 percent. But that’s an empire that’s very important to them. So some of those platitudes that we naturally want to throw out, like how we reduce costs and risk and headcount, don’t actually resonate.

This is what I tell a lot of the early-stage businesses I work with — in enterprise sales, you have to be comfortable keeping company with your most senior clients. You have to really understand what, very specifically, is it that they’re trying to do.

So for example, we’re doing a lot around a piece of regulation in Europe at the moment called MiFID II. MiFID II has many specific technical standards. So if you talk about how you’re able to help a bank address their MiFID II challenges, that message is not going to land. You have to get into detail, “We help firms address this regulatory technical standard that talks about algorithmic trading in this very specific way.” That’s when people begin to pay attention. To your point about workflow, they might say, “We’ve got everything else covered, but this specific standard is the one piece that we can’t solve internally. This is why we want to talk to you..”

That’s also the power of collaboration, the appreciation that you don’t provide solutions in isolation. So look for the ways in which you can integrate very easily. Of course, there are open APIs and lots of open-source ways of doing this. Buy you must be able to demonstrate that you can integrate and that you can fit in, very neatly, to a master plan that the head of technology has in his or her head. This will to take you much further than just saying, “This is what we do, we do it in isolation, and we’re very protectionist about our efforts.”

Candyce: You know, it strikes me as you say that, there’s an element of compassion that you need to have for your customer. It takes a level of compassion to really understand what they’re going through, including the integration issues, the regulatory issues, and the risk issues. The larger the enterprise, the more complex those challenges. You need compassion for the kind of road blocks that they’re facing internally. If you don’t have that, your business case is not going to work.

Julia: Yes, emotional intelligence is one of the least appreciated dynamics that need to come to play. More and more people are talking about this. You need to have a high emotional quotient as a leader of a business or as a senior executive in a business. But also, you need to remember it as a simple principle in Sales. I worked for a large brokerage company where we created a sales training model. The first thing we said to our sales people, whether we were training in Europe or US or even in Asia, is “People do business with people they like.” That’s where that relationship starts, with real empathy. Getting an understanding of what keeps your customer awake at night needs to be done in the most compassionate way.

If you go to a client and directly ask, “What keeps you awake at night?” they will back away immediately. It’s about the finesse of the relationship. Sales people must realize that people won’t immediately open up. The key is beginning to build a relationship which encourages them to open up. In my business, in your business, we call it “the trusted advisor.” In fact, any consulting business is about becoming a trusted advisor, and that is earned. That’s earned over time. That’s how you make rock-steady relationships. Also giving clients confidence in the confidence that you keep with your clients is incredibly important.

Candyce: One of my clients is targeting marketing departments in asset management companies. The CEO told me a story about how he went to a big sales kick-off for one of their newest clients, and was in this room with marketing and about 35 or 45 sales reps. I think they were in the wholesaling business. My client was expecting to present after Marketing presented some new branding and sales decks.

The sales people went bananas over the updated branding. They were so angry at what this marketing department was changing, that they didn’t let the presenter get past slide three. So my client was sitting in the back thinking, “Oh shoot, this is going to happen to us, too.” But it gave him a whole new sense of empathy for what their customer, the Marketing Department is going through.

It’s rare that you get to be in the room when somebody’s being beaten up like that. Have you ever been in a situation like that? When you find out that your customer is facing that kind of pressure, it creates a whole new sense of empathy.

Julia: I’ve only experienced it in watching them and helping them prepare for panels at large conferences. I help them think through the best way to be a good panelist. Often, the best way to be a good panelist is to listen rather than to pound out your key messages. We’ve all watched terrible panelists. They just talk about what they want to talk about. We’re not watching them get beaten up, but we are watching how a relationship improves because of the empathy that they can build on a platform in front of an audience. That takes experience, and it also takes quite a lot of preparation and confidence. But when it works well, it’s impressive to watch.

Candyce: That’s an interesting point, because you do see a lot of people on panels that just want to pound out their message. They come away thinking that they’ve accomplished their goal, but the audience does not come away with the same impression.

Julia: Right, exactly. That’s because it’s not all about you.

Candyce: Right.

Julia: When I chair panels, I tell the panelists, “I’m not here to serve you, I’m here to serve the audience. If I feel at any point that you’re being too ‘salesy,’ then I’m going to pull you out of it, and we will move on very quickly.” Because, that’s not what audiences want. You’re building a relationship not only with co-panelists. Some of them might be your customers or potential customers. But also, a lot of your customers and potential customers are sitting in the audience. It all counts toward their impression of how you build empathy, how you build compassion. It shows you have an appreciation of the things that they are thinking about by listening and contributing in a very appropriate way.

Candyce: So one of the things that we’ve talked about in the past is thought leadership and how you don’t want to get too far ahead of your customer. Your thought leadership really needs to reflect what your customers are experiencing today, and maybe what they’re going to experience in the next six months. But you don’t want to get too far ahead of them in order to be relevant. That’s both on stage when you’re talking on a panel, and when you’re meeting with customers. Can you talk a little bit more about that, and what your experience has been around that?

Julia: Certainly. There’s an interesting line that we have to tread is. You don’t want to be too forward-looking, because one of your competitors could come in and steal your idea and your vision, and then bring out a product to respond to it.

But what is important, particularly with early-stage businesses is when you’re going through that enterprise sales process. Particularly when you get to procurement, you must demonstrate that you will be around for some time to come. You must demonstrate that in your product development pipeline, you’re thinking about not only what keeps your customers awake today, but also what they need to be thinking about tomorrow.

Therefore, you must build confidence that you will be bringing out new products, services, functionality and enhancements; that you are thinking about other collaborations; and that you’re thinking about other ways to serve your market.

When you think about the budgeting cycle for enterprise clients, before you know it we’re into September and doing budget season in October. People are always thinking one or two years ahead. They might be addressing what’s under their nose today, but heads of strategy are thinking about what comes next. So it’s important to build on your relationship today, and demonstrate that you are thinking a year or two ahead as well.

Candyce: We talked a little bit earlier about the importance of creating a sense of growth and confidence to avoid the perception of supplier risk. One of the things that I’m seeing in the financial markets is a significantly increased role for procurement in making decisions about suppliers. They’re not just deciding who the firm will establish a relationship with. They’re also looking at vendor consolidation and forcing business units to reduce the number of vendors they’re working with. So what can companies do to give procurement, who doesn’t necessarily understand the business solution, a sense of confidence?

Julia: I think there are a number of things. One of them is about sponsorship internally. When they’re going through the enterprise sales cycle, sales people should ask the buyer/decision maker/influencer/user, whoever that is, at what point procurement gets involved. They should ask how they can help their client explain the value, given the backdrop that you just described, which is, probably, over-supplied relationships.

Then also, it’s important to think about distribution networks. We’re finding quite frequently that large financial institutions are saying, “We know we need to innovate. There’s a constant conundrum between whether we do it ourselves or bring in external parties? If we bring in external parties, they’re probably large enterprise-driven or enterprise-focused organizations, but are they necessarily the most innovative?”

So, if you can be aligning yourself with some of those distributing firms that are looking at enterprise-wide challenges for the large institutions, then you’ve got a greater chance of getting through, because you’re essentially kind of part of their ecosystem.

If you want to go out alone, it’s important to think about demonstrating how easily you can align, through APIs, open source and platform integration. Show how you’re readily integrated into other people’s platforms, so you can clearly define where you fit into that mix.

Candyce: And I think this all goes back to needing to build a culture of receptiveness in the organization. Maybe talk a little bit about that.

Julia: Yes, so I think as an organization, we’re plowing a path, successfully I’m very happy to say, for the past 10 years. What we do, we do very well. But the thing that keeps me awake is wondering if we’re being receptive to what our clients are asking us to do? Do we pick up every buying signal that a client sends to us? Do we notice that they’ve got a challenge that we could probably help with? Are we thinking about what they’re doing today, and are we thinking about what they ought to be doing tomorrow in order to be successful themselves?

That’s all about a leadership mindset of being open to, and really thinking about, what you’re hearing. Also, it’s about keeping track of what’s going on in the industry, to be able to offer suggestions to our clients. We need to be able to attest to them that this is the right way to go in terms of their product development or service development.

It’s no different whether you’re a product supplier or a consultancy. The concept is exactly the same. You’ve got to keep your antenna on high alert all the time. But you must also be very critical about asking whether this new idea could take you in a direction where you move away from your core competency?

You should also be looking for where your customers really rely upon you, because they know you can do things better than anyone else. Perhaps it’s because of experience, expertise, case studies that back you up, products that are tried and tested and easy to integrate. Or maybe it’s because clients are well serviced both pre-sale and post-sale. Don’t get away from your core competency in the appetite of running off in different directions. Ask yourself if it’s a fit within your natural sphere of service?

Candyce: Yeah, and I think it’s important to understand what your customers perceive your core competency to be. I don’t find that always aligned between the company’s internal sense and the customer’s sense of what they’re really good at as an organization.

Julia: That’s true. In fact, it’s something we’re thinking about, as we hit our 10th anniversary. I spend a lot of time with our customers. I’m asking whether they see us the way we do? Quite often I’m surprised. I think I know what we’re very good at. But when you really talk about it, we realize that we’re very good at other things as well. It’s very important. This is not an internal process. You have to test it externally and ask your customers what they think.

Candyce: So I think that’s a perfect place to close. Thank you so much Julia, this has been a great conversation.

Julia: Pleasure as always. I’m always happy chatting this stuff through with you.

For more information on how to do buyer personas, here’s a list of helpful articles.

Takeaways from this Episode on Enterprise Sales

That was such an interesting conversation! Thanks to Julia for sharing!

My biggest takeaway is how important compassion is in the marketing and enterprise sales process. You can’t have compassion without understanding. And you can’t have understanding without establishing relationships with the buying committee and finding out what’s important to them.

This all-important need for empathy also ties into the research for developing buyer personas. I see so many firms trying to shortchange this process. But only by really talking with customers can you figure out what’s important to them. And only when you know their hot buttons, can you create an effective messaging strategy.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode. Let me know if you found it helpful, and also if you have suggestions for future guests.

For more information about Julia and her firm, Streets Consulting, visit the links below:

Streets Consulting Website
LinkedIn Profile
Twitter Profile

For additional help with targeting enterprise accounts, check out this related content:

Account-Based Marketing for Investment Management Marketers

Scaling Up Sales Growth Using Account-Based Marketing with Jon Miller – Episode 010

Marketing Needs to Be Compulsively Customer-Centric

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