Shannon Tong, who leads sales of procurement solution Ariba at SAP Hong Kong, likes to tell stories but not any kind of story. She places listeners as protagonists in her narratives and take them on a journey illustrating how technologies can make their procurement operations run better. With almost two decades of experience in the technology field, Shannon has developed a few insights to share with us.
Tell a good story
I think in stories. I start developing my narratives right from the very first discovery meetings with customers to truly understand their concerns. I put myself in their shoes and connect the dots to gauge how technologies can ease their pain points in procurement, how our technologies fit into their overall strategy for better business growth. It takes active listening to tune into customers’ challenges, concerns and future plans, but it is equally important to match the right solutions to support them. Solutions, rather than just technological tools, can achieve so much more, and it is our role to advise customers.
For me, it appears that females in the technology field find it rather easy to talk to customers and to listen to their stories. Females are more likely to think in narratives too, while our male colleagues may tend to focus more on software features and functionalities. It takes time and research to develop a persona-centric approach, especially toward key decision-makers like CIOs, but I believe that it brings more value to customers. They appreciate it if we thoroughly think through how our solutions can help their operations tackle daily work challenges.
Learn from backstories
I saw how beautifully narratives and empathy can work when I first started out in IT marketing communications. When we engineered a campaign for a product launch or a marketing event, we had to think through a marketing lens, rather than a technical perspective. It instilled in me a business-centered approach to pitching. After I switched to solution sales, I found it natural to translate technical parlance into easily understandable language so that I could extend my touchpoints to solution users as well as IT managers.
When you see things from your customers’ perspective of, you understand also how crucial it is to have accountability and ownership across the entire sales lifecycle. We have to orchestrate the entire case, involve colleagues, make sure detailed requirements are given and received, and even getting involved in cases where implementations encounter technical difficulties.
Tough cliff hangers
Good narratives take time to develop, just as it does to achieve business success or to earn a customer’s trust. Afterall, they have to trust that the technical solution you advocate will deliver business value when implemented and integrated into their operations. So, we have to be resilient and patient, and not give up too easily. No matter what company you work for or what technologies you are selling, you need time to assimilate into the culture and environment, and to grasp what works best in that particular milieu.
To motivate my team when they’re discouraged for whatever reason, I get them to think about what went wrong and identify ways to fix it, and of course to learn from mistakes in order to avoid repeating them. Having thought through the situation, I then ask them to stop dwelling on it. It is important to understand that sometimes, even though you’ve done all you could, there are things that simply out of our control.
I also remind them to do well on the basics, such as paying attention to details, active listening, building working relationships with their peers as well as customers, and to make sure that they see how important resilience is in our line of work.
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