Forget storytelling. Try storyshowing.

Photo by klimkin via Pixabay
There’s a lot of attention being paid to storytelling these days, as a way to gain customers’ attention and sell more product. That’s not what I’m going to talk about today, though. Today I want to talk about how you can use stories to build empathy and gain a greater understanding of customer problems and motivators. 

In today’s business environment, there are two things that are in short supply: money, and time. The consequence of this, is that in the rush to meet deadlines, get answers, make decisions, and ship our products and services, soft skills may go out the window. Regularly surveying customers can get us an abundance of data, and data’s what we need to get answers. To make decisions. To validate that the solution we want to give the customer is right, so we can win, or fail, fast. 

What’s wrong with this picture? Well, first of all, in the hurry to find out why customers are doing the things they do, or what their problem is, or how we can fix it, I’m seeing all too much blunt-force questioning. Clients ask me to ask their customers or prospects why they buy. Or they want to ask the customer to tell us how they can solve the problem that same customer is having. Trust me, if they knew, they’d be solving it, or at least trying. Or, clients want to ask questions like the example in this post.

Sometimes, when product or marketing teams or UX people want to get really creative, they ask the customer to tell them a story. They’ve been told not to ask why, and someone has sold them on the idea that storytelling is a great tool to capture customer experience, or the customer journey. If you want to know why asking why doesn’t work, even on ourselves, watch this great video about introspection and self-awareness from Tasha Eurich. 

So what can you do? If asking the customer to tell you a story isn’t always effective, and you can’t ask why, and you can’t ask them how you’re supposed to solve their problem, what is the solution? Look at the picture above. The one kid didn’t say to the other, “tell me a story about that”. She asked, “show me.”

Instead of seeking storytelling, try using storyshowing. Ask them to show you where they’re running into the problem. Sit with them while they demonstrate what’s going on. Share screens, or better yet, go to them one-on-one and observe. Listen carefully. Interrupt with questions that involve “what happens when that happens” or “tell me more”, but sparingly. Seek clarity, not certainty. Take good notes, make sketches, record if the situation allows. Here’s an Innovation Game© called Me and My Shadow that explains a bit about how this works.

We like to add another step. Ask if you can tell them the story of what you saw, in your words. Ask them to be your editor. When they change things, ask them to explain the reason for the change. Then, and only then, let them know that you’d like to share that with your team, so you can come back to them with some fresh ideas. Resist the urge to solve the problem today.

If all of this seems like it is fiddly, and time-consuming, it is. You’re not gathering big data; you’re gathering rich data. And in our experience, rich data will yield a richer result. 

I’m Megann Willson and I’m one of the Partners at PANOPTIKA. We work with our clients to help them see everything they need to make better decisions – including better ways to ask the questions that will gain them a richer understanding of their customers, users, and stakeholders. If you need help doing that, we do that, too. Follow us on TwitterFacebook, or LinkedInand for more news you can use to help you or your team to ask more questions in ways that will let them make better decisions, click the handy button, below.


Is Fear of the Spotlight Holding You (or Your Business) Back?

This post was refreshed in February, 2020

Excellent news! You’ve found the key to your customer’s “job to be done” with your product our service. You’ve focused on only the prospects who have proven they want to invest time, money, and effort in doing the job. So, what could possibly go wrong?

Although we’d all like to believe that our service, gizmo, or gadget is the only choice our customer will ever need or want, the truth is, there are very few cases where that’s true. More often, we have to compete with something, or someone. This is the tricky bit. When it comes to describing why that service, gizmo, or gadget is better, our mindset can be a real barrier. This goes double if wat we’re selling is our own talents and capabilities. Where is the line between confidence, and over-confidence? How do you know the difference between “my way of doing this is better”, or “my product/shop/invention is better”, and “I’m better”? Reconciling the tension between innovator and impostor is often what will make or break the sale.

How can you make sure that tension doesn’t “snap” the sale? First, write down the story you’re planning to tell (whether that’s your pitch to a new boss, or to a new client). What are the advantages you’re describing? Are they real? Are you confident you’re telling the truth? If not, where isn’t it working? Fix the facts, not the adjectives. If the facts are true, but your discomfort has to do with feeling boastful, or bragging, ask yourself whether it would sound true, if your biggest supporter was saying it. If it would, then you’ve got some work to do, because the problem is you.

When you feel like an impostor or a liar when you tell your story, this feeling is transmitted to the person watching or listening, even if you don’t realize that. It’s fine to be humble. It’s not fine to be modest. New business people often confuse the two, especially if they don’t have much selling experience. Humble means unassuming – not taking too much for granted. Modest can mean that, too, but it also means shy, or uncertain. And who would be confident buying something that even the salesperson isn’t not certain of? No one.

​So, the next time you’re preparing to make a sale, give yourself time in advance to practice. Write the story so you’re sure it’s true. Check your facts. Read it in the voice of your biggest supporter. Use the adjectives they would use. Then say it out loud until you’re confident, and make sure your own fear of the spotlight isn’t standing in the way of your success.

I’m Megann Willson, and with my business partner and husband, Steve Willson, we’re PANOPTIKA. He’s my biggest supporter, and I’m his. You can find more insights from us on how to make better decisions for your business, on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. And if you’d like regular insights direct to your inbox, sign up using the button below, and we’ll see you on Friday. 

Make sure they remember more than the pancakes…

Stack of pancakes
This post was written on Shrove Tuesday, or as some like to call it, “Pancake Tuesday”. Originally, on this day, Christians made their confession in preparation for Lent, the days that lead up to Easter. They were forgiven for their sins, or “shriven” – hence, “Shrove Tuesday”. They also finished off any tempting foods – rich fats, eggs, cream, and so on – as they prepared to emulate Christ’s 40 days in the desert. Pancakes were an easy way to do that. Nowadays, all that remains for many people is the idea that today is a day for pancakes.

Why all this religious explanation in a blog where we usually talk about research, strategy, and customer understanding? Because just like Shrove Tuesday, what you tell your customer about yourself (the preparation, scorekeeping, and effort) isn’t the most important part of your story – what your customer believes about you is. That’s what they’ll communicate to others, and that’s what will impact the reputation of your company, your brand, or you. Give them your best, make sure they know your true story, and maybe they’ll remember more than the pancakes.

Businesses with Benefits

There’s something we’ve observed as we work with business owners – whether they’re startups or seasoned entrepreneurs, growing and scaling. Especially if the product is technical, or if it is solving something that hasn’t really been solved before, the story of what it is, can quickly get derailed. 

Entrepreneurship programs have done a great job of explaining and exploring the minimum viable product. But when it comes to talking about that product (or service, for that matter), there’s a real tendency to default to describing the features. It’s easier to answer “What does it do?” with “Here’s how it works”, or “Let me describe the features that are different from X”, than to talk about the benefits. 

Just yesterday we had a chance to sit in with a great startup group in K-W, called Startup Tech Unleashed.  There was a seasoned entrepreneur, talking about his business, and giving some really helpful, useful guidance to his peers. But we couldn’t help but notice that he started his story with the features. When he got to the benefits, POW! The story came alive. We could really understand why users were interested in the product, and why the founders created it.  There was another entrepreneur, who described himself as “not even a startup yet”, who described what his product would do, but went into lots of detail about the code, how it would work, essentially, “what would go on inside”. Again, benefits were missing from the story, and the story was weaker for it. 

We love to coach businesses to do a better job of understanding their customers, their products, their services, and their story. If your team is struggling with the difference between features and benefits, we can help. Get in touch, and let’s build a customized workshop that fits your question, and your budget. 

By the way, the startup that did get to the benefit story was Coosha – a cool calendar solution – why don’t you check them out and see if they can keep YOU from double buying the refrigerator staples that your partner already picked up this afternoon. (That sounds like a benefit to us!)

We’re Megann and Steve Willson, the Partners and Founders of PANOPTIKA. We work with our clients so they can see everything they need to know to find new customers, and gain a richer understanding of the ones they already have. You can find more insights from us on Twitter, on Facebook, or LinkedIn. We also send weekly news you can use to our subscribers. Join our inner circle  by clicking the button below.