Let’s face it, we all love a good story. Our brains are hard-wired to latch-on to an engaging narrative. Whether you’re presenting to a crowd or engaging a virtual audience, there’s hardly a better way to captivate the masses than to weave an engaging narrative. Our natural affinity towards compelling stories makes them a powerful marketing tool. Show me a strong brand and I will show you a good story teller.
The power stories have to sway us also make them dangerous.
This may sound odd coming from an admitted storyteller (and fan of good writing) like myself, so let me illustrate. ACME Industries, a service provider’s loyal customer for over a decade is leaving due to a botched outage repair. It took four hours to respond and three days to restore. In the post-mortem it came-out that a network optimization exercise had changed a configuration parameter which rendered the service unusable. Sound familiar? It should. Outages happen. You’d be hard pressed to find a communications service provider who doesn’t have a horror story. What should you do about it? Well, it depends. You should definitely try to understand what went wrong with ACME. You should also be forthright with the customer and try to make it right by them. That said, one datapoint does not a trend make. How many other customers experienced similar issues? Was ACME’s experience an outlier? Is this likely to happen again? One story, no matter how horrific, does not give us the full picture.
When making business decisions, it’s tempting to take an anecdote and run with it.
However, when pondering large investments, it’s important to put it into context. That story could be shining a light on a deep-rooted problem (or, conversely, a pattern of excellence). It could also be an outlier. An anomaly. You can’t tell until you dig into the data. Exceptional experiences (good and bad) have a way of calling attention to themselves. The thing is, quality service providers should be all about consistent, repeatable, positive experiences for customers. Managers in all areas of the business need to create relevant dashboards that measure a representative sample of the customer experience. Anecdotes can inform where to search, but knee-jerk reactions can be counter-productive. What if I told you ACME was the company’s last customer on a legacy product and had repeatedly been warned of the risk of an outage if they didn’t migrate. Their lack of responsiveness and an end-of-life switch were a ticking time bomb waiting to go off. That’s one thing. But what if, instead, this outage affected all customers west of the Mississippi and was due to poorly documented methods and procedures? That’s an altogether different proposition. The point is, anecdotes tell you where to look. They don’t tell you what to do.
Regardless of what part of the business you’re managing, you get what you measure.
Picking the right metrics, and managing by the numbers ultimately drives results. These metrics may vary, depending on functional group and objectives. World class sales organizations know full well that you get what you measure and pay for. Successful demand generation requires measuring prospect engagement at different stages in the buyer journey and tracking sales attribution to their efforts. Content and messaging effectiveness must be tested and measured. Sales operations needs to measure lead response times and close rates. Service activation must measure standard service delivery intervals within variance thresholds. Care organizations must manage mean time to repair for high bars. Root cause analysis in these operations teams should prioritize “high bar” problems.
So, are stories bad? Certainly not. Stories help us relate, and all the functional teams I’ve described can benefit from telling stories. However, these stories should be fact-based and representative of an underlying trend (not an anomaly). You should tell your employees success stories to motivate them and cautionary tales to focus their attention on the right business problems. You should tell your executives stories to illustrate issues that need attention. You should tell stories for your prospects and customers to paint a picture of how they might benefit from your services. Of course, a good story is no substitute for good old-fashioned evidence-based management. Whether you’re looking to systematize your marketing, hold sales accountable or understand your customer experience, Ronin Technology Advisors can help you dig into the data so you can effectively invest in those activities that will yield the highest growth for your business. Let’s talk!
JP González, VP of Strategic Marketing