In her interaction with Christy Johnson, Tiffani Bova says we can look at the present catastrophe as a global opportunity for organizations to come together and rebuild themselves.
There are two ways to look at the current crisis. It is disastrous for small business and medium business, and from a pure health perspective and loss of life, it is catastrophic on various levels. However, on the business side, there are a lot of opportunities. It is going to be our finest hour coming together and rallying as a globe, as a community, and as an industry because there is not a corner of the world that has not been touched by the situation right now, and while we are so far apart, technology keeps us close in many ways. There is going to be some compression in the market and some industries are going to be hit harder than others, but overall, there is optimism.
The cut might be deeper in advanced countries, whereas some of the developing countries will have more opportunities to leapfrog in terms of recovery through the use of new innovative solutions to make themselves relevant, which is important to businesses on a global scale. There is also opportunity in certain industries where there is more or less interest in B2B predictions of growth as well as softness in the market. Within industries, there is a ton of commerce still going on, especially in the must-have, need industry, healthcare, and even education and transportation. So, there are huge opportunities, if one can find ways to insert themselves in these industries.
A majority (85%) of businesses hit a growth stall at some point through their history. However, right now, we are in a global growth stall where almost every business is feeling a softness from a revenue perspective. In order to maintain their top-line revenue numbers, businesses are responding in different ways. Some are cutting costs and some are doubling down, taking advantage of the fact that their competitors are pulling back. Hence, even though we are in a growth stall at a global scale, there is still plenty of areas in which businesses can focus and grow.
The future trajectory of the remote work culture right now will have an impact on how businesses conduct themselves, take support calls, how they manage the sales force, and how they market. Equally important would be keeping employees engaged and feeling like they have an emotional and personal connection to the company.
The catalyst behind all of these phenomena is that we have been faced with a wrecking ball that has knocked down the status quo, the comfort, the certainty and complacency present in the legacy mental model. It has cracked open two sides. One is the lack of investment that was made from a technology and innovation standpoint, to digitally transform, and digital in the sense of giving employees the tools and enablement that help them do their job more productively, as well as serve the customers better. This moment in time shined a light on that lack of investment, but it has also highlighted the companies that were already investing in this new future of being very digital and agile, thinking about minimal viable products, being very iterative, having scrum teams, measuring and rewarding failure and thinking about not being product-led but more customer-led. They start with finding out what the customer actually wants from them, and then how they can align themselves to make sure they continue to deliver those things. This wrecking ball of the crisis was the catalyst to help move forward those businesses that may have been more risk-averse and waiting for the right time to make those investments that they may have thought was not going to pay back a good enough ROI. The time to think about the new future has come now.
If we can learn anything from the last crisis, it is that the births and deaths of business may have declined but they always bounced back. On the other side of this, there are many small businesses that come online and offline every year in the U.S. The average business is smaller than $5 million. It is a couple million, and the majority are single proprietors or two or three employees, and therefore, getting to the $5 million mark is a huge hurdle. That contraction and expansion that happens on a natural basis is being accelerated at the moment. Nevertheless, on the other end of this, there is going to be an additional business growth, which tells us that there was a revenue impact. In the last recession of the financial services market, while there were a number of businesses that were down a lot, more than 50% actually were able to maintain their revenue and/or grow slightly. So, even in times that were tough, people have found creative ways to keep themselves afloat, keep their employees working and employed as well as keeping their customers served.
With the current COVID crisis, it would be interesting to see what kind of habits of customers would stick post-COVID, because this is where plenty of opportunity lie. We are not going to pivot all the way back to pre-COVID, nor are we going to stay exactly where we are today, so the question is, what will it teach us based on where we are today? Businesses are adapting. For instance, a restaurant that only had people eat inside is now doing curbside delivery and teachers who only taught in classrooms are now teaching virtually. Today, many things are happening in a virtual way, which will change the way we think about business going forward and what that will look like.
Right now, the customers are thinking about how to keep their own businesses afloat. They also want to manage the new remote workforce. The future trajectory of the remote work culture right now will have an impact on how businesses conduct themselves, take support calls, how they manage the sales force, and how they market. Equally important would be keeping employees engaged and feeling like they have an emotional and personal connection to the company. More importantly, it is about revenue stability and what should be done in regards to that. This is where the tremendous opportunity lies, which can be thought about in three lanes, namely stabilize, back to work, and growth.
This is an opportunity to see what are the jobs that need to be done that are not able to be done today, how can things be done better and differently, what are the things that consumers would want who now have very different buying habits, personal habits, and business habits than they had three or four months ago.
The first lane is stabilizing the business, that is, how can we help our customers stabilize what is going on in terms of managing a remote workforce, the things they need, creating a marketing campaign that is digital, or via social platforms. Then, they have to lean into how they get back to work, whatever that may look like. This is going to be a phased approach. Ultimately, it is going to go back to growth. Businesses, industries, regions, sectors, sizes will move through these three phases at very different speeds and at very different times. In some parts of the world, the stabilize phase is 30-45 days behind them, whereas other parts of the world are right in the middle of it. It is a great way to think about how businesses are allocating people, resources, money, and time around these three tracks.
This is an opportunity to see what are the jobs that need to be done that are not able to be done today, how can things be done better and differently, what are the things that consumers would want who now have very different buying habits, personal habits, and business habits than they had three or four months ago. It is because some of our new habits will stick for a long time. Companies need to navigate those changes by focusing on finding new jobs to be done. There are new habits being formed based on where companies are in the world during different phases of getting back to work, and they are starting to focus again on growth, especially at the top-line perspective.
The type of company that you were going into COVID will have immense implications on the kind of business you are going to be coming out of it and the things that you can focus on. There are a couple of ways of doing that. The first is centered around how businesses have survived going back to that recession. It is the expansion from an M&A perspective, but more importantly, customer loyalty, strategic partnerships, and really thinking about diversification. There are a total of ten paths to growth that can be taken.
The first is customer experience. Your customers will only be as happy as your employees. If your employees are happy, they show up to work happier, and so your customers are happy. If your customers are happy, they buy more often, they buy more from you. If those two things are in place, your shareholders are happy, and it is this flywheel effect. Customer experience today is about how transparent you are, whether you are adding value when you communicate with them or not, whether you are seamless and quick in delivery, whether you are there for them if they need you or not. Today, how you respond to what your customers need and what your employees need, will stay with you for a long time on what and how your customers will view your brand. Hence, keep the customer at the center of the decisions that you make about what you want to do going forward and what kind of company you want to be.
The next is, optimize sales. Statistics show that 66% of a seller’s time is spent on non-selling activities, and 55% or so of sellers will miss their quota. the figures, in reality, must be way more than that. So, you need to think about what are the things you can take advantage of with sales enablement and sales operations today so that when we turn the dial and get back to marketing and selling in a way that feels a lot more normal, you are prepared.
The competitive landscape has forever changed and the competitors have changed, so find ways to capitalize on that opportunity.
The third is making sure you take care of the base of customers you have already acquired. It is less expensive for you to sell to your base, they are more loyal, more forgiving, and open to new products that you may launch, so that is the gold you have. You need to pay attention to what you are doing for them and not get fixated on trying to find net new customers. You can do all that enablement today. Look for those pockets of opportunity for jobs to be done that you are not doing today. It might be an opportunity for you to partner with another company, or an opportunity for you to do M&A, but the place to start is your employees and your customers. Start in the base before you ever start to go out in the new environment.
In many ways, growth is a thinking game, which is the next path. Being ahead in the market has everything to do with agility and speed and thinking in advance. You need to worry about what is going to happen through 2020 and potentially through 2021, do the first thing is to start with a beginner’s mind. It does not mean forgetting everything you know but changing the way you do things a little. You have to free up a little bit of time to look for new ideas and stimulation. It is an opportunity to think about ways to open up your mind to make small pivots over time so that you can see an improvement in the market or change over the course of 12 to 18 months. Start with your employees and cater to their needs, and empowering them to do what is best not only for their families but also for the customers. The competitive landscape has forever changed and the competitors have changed, so find ways to capitalize on that opportunity.
This is not the time to think of crushing your competition. You need to look at who your competition was yesterday versus who they are going to be six months from now, and then lead with values. Make sure you are doing the right thing, keeping everybody safe, and being transparent and authentic in the communication about what you’re doing well and what you are not doing well. There was a crisis of trust even before this crisis happened, so we have to make sure that we continue to work through those values and share those values with our customers.
As leaders, it is about communication, transparency, leading with values, bringing a lot more empathy in your heart to your leadership style, and getting your people rallied around, getting back to work, and helping serve your customers again.
Lastly, change starts with you. We can all make more money but we cannot make more time. So doing the right things now is a great way to make sure you are investing in yourself of tomorrow, as well as the business you are going to have tomorrow. As a leader as an individual contributor, you have a lot of influence on how you can make sure that you keep the optimism high and that people understand their role in the business, how each and every day when they show up, it makes a difference. It makes a difference to your business and it makes a difference to your customers.
Christy Johnson in Conversation with Tiffani Bova
Christy Johnson: In reality, are companies watching and thinking about customer loyalty, strategic partnerships, and diversification? In particular, are there companies that you think are doing really well?
Tiffani Bova: There are many examples of businesses stepping up from a partnership perspective to solve big problems. For example, FedEx is working with some manufacturer to bring in PPE equipment and trying to solve a supply chain that is getting taxed with all kinds of issues at the moment. It is inspiring how people are getting out of their comfort zone and getting comfortable with being really uncomfortable. They don’t know what is the right move, and the good news here is there is no one way to grow. It is a combination of multiple things but it has everything to do with loyalty. Companies’ actions today will have huge implications on their customers’ perception of them. But in the subtlety behind who is teaming together to solve healthcare, education, supply chain issues, those are really inspiring. If we move past that to things that are more business-oriented, companies need to find an area where they have wanted to just go a little bit outside their core business and find ways to introduce new products and services to their basic customers.
Christy Johnson: What do you think leaders need to unlearn in order to be successful in the next new normal?
Tiffani Bova: I hope the phrase, “That’s not how we do it here” leaves the nomenclature, first and foremost. It should not be about forgetting everything, but little 1% pivots in everyday activities. For example, if only two or three people talk at team meetings, switch it up to making mandatory for everybody in the team to present. From a leadership perspective, give yourself permission to spend time, an hour or two thinking what could you do differently, and then act on a couple of them. Some are going to fail and fail miserably and you have to give those around you the permission that it is okay to fail, and put the metrics in place for them to be able to measure the fact that even though it failed, they tried, they were really trying to solve a problem for the business. As leaders, it is about communication, transparency, leading with values, bringing a lot more empathy in your heart to your leadership style, and getting your people rallied around, getting back to work, and helping serve your customers again.
Christy Johnson: In particular, is there something that sales leaders can do knowing that their team may not meet their quota? What advice would you give to sales leaders?
Tiffani Bova: One of the biggest issues that sales leaders are facing is that they used to sell face-to-face and now they are an inside seller. There is very little selling going on in some industries, car dealerships being one of them. This is an opportunity where leaders can take their field sales force. Now that they’re inside, leaders can start to allocate current accounts so that their current customers get touched by someone during this time that they are reestablishing relationships, maybe even those people who sold in the field and sold them originally, those they don’t get a chance to talk to anymore, can actually go back out and reach.
Also, it is important to know what is not the right tone and messaging to be selling right now. Let the customers set the pace, meaning once you reach out, if they respond, don’t keep hitting them day after day. They may not want you to communicate with them, something unfortunate might have happened, you need to make sure that you let your customer set the pace.
Christy Johnson: Are there certain metrics that sales leaders should be looking at that can help people know what pace to set?
Tiffani Bova: Yes. The metrics do need to shift. Instead of purely looking at it from a revenue pipeline and looking at things like how many deals have moved to the next stage, how many calls you made, how many emails you sent, how many meetings you set, and other traditional metrics, you need to have more of the soft metrics like Net Promoter Score, customer satisfaction, and how many customers did you reach out to. And from a pure quota attainment standpoint, if you haven’t shifted the quota for your salespeople, that is not the right message to send.
Christy Johnson: Given that brand loyalty may be diminishing, is there a link to or a different way to think customer loyalty?
Tiffani Bova: If you look at some of the strongest brands before this crisis, there are a couple of things that are aligned. For instance, if a company is featured on the list of best places to work as well as the list of most innovative companies, it is no coincidence that they would also be featured in the list of the fastest-growing companies. So, thinking about loyalty from a very holistic standpoint, every employee impacts customer experience and customer experience impacts loyalty. A first purchase tells that customer is willing to give you some money and try your product. The second purchase is the validation that they value what you are doing, and there is a level of loyalty. The third time they buy from you, there is a higher sense of loyalty. If they start then having a very strong relationship with you, they start advocating on your behalf. Your customers advocating on your behalf are in fact, the greatest sales organization.
Therefore, the flywheel of customers telling your story is why loyalty and making sure that your employees have what they need to enable them to serve customers better is crucial. But loyalty is if you do things like customer satisfaction scores, sometimes a lagging indicator. Net Promoter Score is giving you a real snapshot in time of what you could then adjust from there. But if you don’t have your sales optimized, and you don’t have metrics in place to be more customer-oriented, people will default back to the behavior of whatever their metric actually is. So, whatever you measure them on, however you manage them, is where they will spend their time. If you don’t make adjustments to those metrics, they are not going to do what you are asking them to do. If you are going to manage it, you are going to measure it, you have to give them the ability to do the things that really matter in the eyes of the customer.
Christy Johnson: How do you convince leaders in the new future that pacing, speed, deeper listening, customer experiences, central to this new change? Do you have any examples of who is doing it particularly well?
Tiffani Bova: I’m a firm believer in not trying to force my thinking on executives about the fact that customer experience and employee engagement is really critical to growth. The best thing you can do is actually have your customers tell your leaders that story. The voice of the customer is really critical, so go and survey your customers right now, call them or have customer advisory boards where you put teams of people together in certain industries or sizes, do a Zoom call to ask them a series of questions, and let the executives listen. That is the fastest and easiest way to convince them. They might not even take experts’ advice, thinking it is an agenda, but they will surely listen to the customer. Having a clear line of sight to customers, the voice of that customer, advisory boards, listening tours, and anything like that is extremely critical.
Salesforce is an example, where the voice of the customer team is only 11 people. Their job is to put the structure in place. They are the ones who decide how to capture, what to capture, what to do with that information, how to share it internally, how the executives see it, how to do follow-ups, and how to create those kinds of engagements. You have to have somebody that is the voice of that customer from external to internal to bring back that voice so that your executives know why it is important to focus on those things that you just asked.
Christy Johnson: What are some of the strategies behind having an 11-person customer experience team? What takeaway do you think other organizations could have?
TIFFANI BOVA: It is the voice of the customer team because we have a whole customer success organization that consists of thousands of people who make sure that the customers are successful in using the technology. But only a dozen or so are the pure voice of the customer. It was a way of being able to have a structured approach to getting that voice back into the organization. A voice of the customer team is all about outside-in and ensuring you do that in a way that isn’t noisy, but structured, and it has actionable kinds of takeaways. It is really critical for us.
One of our core values, besides trust and equality, is customer success. It is about making sure our customers are successful, and the only way to do that is to know what they want. Listening to customers guides us on product roadmaps, messaging, how and where we launch, what we do, and what we are focused on. Also, equally important are the employees. It bubbles from the bottom up as well, in having a very true feedback loop between the employees, executive leadership team, and customers. Putting those three together is very powerful.