Everyone is talking about outcomes, outcome selling, outcome-based selling, outcome-driven selling, outcomes in general and how to achieve them.

As you might remember, I announced in my „Thank YOU – Let’s Welcome 2013“ blog post a whole series about outcome selling.
Let’s start with part one today. Let’s focus on the term “customer outcome”, why we should care and how do we tackle it.

First, let’s differentiate between outputs and outcomes, let’s see how Oxforddictionnaries define these terms:

  • “Output is the amount of something produced by a person, machine, or industry”.
  • “Outcome is the way a thing turns out; a consequence”

So, outcomes are the results, the meaning of outputs. An election is actually one of the best examples to explain the difference:
“It is the outcome of the vote that counts”.

Let’s translate that into a selling situation:
You might sell the worlds best CRM system to your customers. What’s the output and what’s the outcome? The CRM system and all the customizing and training activities are outputs, nothing more, nothing less….
What the shiny new CRM system means for customers, that’s their desired outcome. And this outcome will be different for many customers. One customer will have an outcome called increasing sales productivity plus 10%. Another customer will define his outcome differently, maybe 15% increasing customer loyalty, and a third one might focus on how to increase revenue with new services in new markets by 20%. The outcome, the meaning, the specific value of our services – of our outputs – might be different for many customers, but you can identify some general patterns that help you to really understand the customers initial problems and their desired outcomes. And be aware – you are executing on the outcome to make your customer happy, not on the output. That makes the difference between a commodity supplier and a strategic partner.

The desired outcome is closely connected to the specific initial problems your customers might have. That’s why it’s so important to really understand these problems, the customers want to solve and how the solved problem gets measured – in the very beginning of the customer’s journey. The customer’s problem is never to buy a new CRM system. The initial problem can be for instance an effectiveness or a growth issue or a customer loyalty issue – just to name a few patterns, that help you to classify the initial business problems.
Why not discussing a few criteria that could help you to identify the desired outcome:

  • WHAT is really the problem, your customer has to fix, the challenges you identified in an account, etc. Look at it from a business perspective, not only from a technical perspective, and figure out how success will be measured.
  • WHY is that a problem right now? Try to figure out all the politics within the customer organization, also organizational changes, new business strategies, mergers & acquisitions, new stakeholders with new ideas and so forth…
  • WHO could be the executive owner of this specific problem? Which role is it, that has to fix that problem, which role is in danger to get fired (OK, that won’t happen so quickly in Germany… but imagine!). This is the role of the executive owner, you need to address with a vision. Then, identify all the impacted stakeholders, that are also relevant to fix this problem. These stakeholders might have different perspectives and probably they get measured differently.
  • HOW do they want to move forward to solve the problem? Look at all the stakeholders…maybe you can do a great job and integrating different view points and align them to a common problem solving path, to a shared vision of success.
  • WHEN does the problem need to be fixed? Pitfall, be careful! “When” doesn’t mean when your famous outputs have to be implemented, “when” means when the problem has to be fixed from a business perspective, measured by the agreed KPI’s. This could lead to a different time line.
  • WHERE are they along their customer’s journey, along their own problem solving process? Did you get access before they were aware of the entire problem and its impact, did you get access right after they got aware of that, but before they discovered possible solutions? The earlier, the better!

Last but not least, let’s be aware that – in general – we cannot create these desired outcomes alone for our customers. In an outcome selling scenario, we are often talking about value co-creation – in a collaborative way.

Next topics will be:
The special meaning of collaboration in outcome selling scenarios, the impact for sales management and sales operations and the impact for sales roles.

I hope, you enjoyed the first part of our outcome series – please share your feedback and your thoughts!

How do you define an outcome, a customer outcome?
How do you tackle outcomes?
What are your experiences with outcome selling?