What is a Story Gap?
Every buyer has a story about his or her work, what’s wrong, what’s right and why he or she does what they do. Conversely, every company has a story they tell buyers about why they should buy. Sometimes, those stories don’t match.
Here’s the thing – every buyer has a story that drives decision-making. If your story about the way the world works doesn’t fit your buyer’s view, forget getting easy traction.
And, sometimes companies have disruptive stories and that may take time to persuade your audience that newer is better. It certainly happens. When you can paint a picture of what could be, and how that can change your buyer’s world for the better, that’s where you start.
The challenge, however, is buyers typically aren’t looking to be disrupted and to have their status quo shifted unless: 1) the status quo is broken, and 2) (this is key!) they know it and feel it. Then, they are emotionally invested in fixing things. This is why understanding the story your buyer believes about the status quo is critical.
The Buyer Story: A Solution Without a Problem isn’t a Solution
Recently, I sat with a company on a few strategy discussions as the VP thought I could help identify some challenges. The company is positioning themselves as a better alternative to budgeting and forecasting with excel. What was clear to me was that while the users and buyers are steeped in excel, the buyers who are higher level finance and accounting executives are not. They are not doing the heavy excel work themselves very often. And many of the users don’t see the status quo as unsustainable: in direct language – excel “ain’t broken!” When buyers aren’t feeling a tremendous pain your company aims to “solve,” your story (and maybe your products) needs work.
I asked the company, then, how their positioning was working. Their response wasn’t surprising: not as well as it could be. Here’s the point: in the minds of many of the buyers, excel is not broken. So what problem, then, is your solution really solving for buyers? They don’t know they’re ‘supposed’ to have an excel problem! To the buyer ,your solution…well, actually isn’t one. Your story, then, is focused on the wrong challenge.
That disconnect makes a big difference.
You then have two choices: map more closely to they buyer/user story (in the short-run), or try to disrupt that story.
Story Alignment: Closing the Gap and Humanizing the Sale
So what do you do? Assuming you have a product that actually does solve a real need, you need to spend time helping your buyers understand the opportunity cost and what could be if they better understood this business “leak” in their own organization. There are a few things to consider after you better understand the story that customers tell themselves about their pain and needs:
1. Paint a picture of what could be in a nonjudgmental way. It’s challenging because it can take time; however, helping people see what could be means using patience and planting seeds, not using a hammer. What could be if they made the switch? How would life be better? It may not fit in the buyer’s current narrative; however, stories based on results (no fear, no judgment) can persuade over time. This is a great path for disruptive technologies, for example, if it can be told in a way that makes customers’ lives better. That means you need to understand where the customer pain is and it may not be what you think. And you will have to understand that real pain point in order to paint a better picture of life where that pain is alleviated.
2. Understand the potential risk and address it directly. Buyers and those who recommend services (and influence the buy) feel risk when something new is introduced. It’s human behavior. Tell the story of how you can reduce risk, specifically. Also address the buyer’s risk of continuing on the ‘status quo’ path. You can’t avoid this discussion. Go into the cave!
3. Tell the story of how you can make the buyer look good personally.Human beings make purchases, not businesses. When you can address the personal aspect of your services in addition to rational company value (and in b2b the research shows the personal value is 2X as important in the decision to buy!), you can cross the story chasm. That personal value must be in alignment with what buyers actually value personally. Ask, do your research, and listen. And make sure that story of value “fits” your buyers’ and users’ narratives. How they – not you – see the problem ultimately determines how they will solve it.
By listening and adjusting, your stories will be better for it. And so will your business.
How do you better understand your buyer’s “story?” Let me know in the comments!