Startup Execution

How Photographic Storytelling Drives Sales

We’ve all heard the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words. Sadly, I rarely see business users take advantage of this simple truth, particularly in the sales process. The best performing sales teams excel at understanding the customer’s pain, demonstrating how their product soothes this pain, and differentiating their solution against the competition.

Customers buy when they understand how a proposed solution benefits them. Given this, a short Mean Time To Understanding (MTTU) accelerates sales. I’ve often worked photos into my sales presentation to quickly communicate key concepts and shorten the MTTU. And if there’s a way to use a funny photo, even better.

As an example, I once sold against a competitor that cobbled together their solution by acquiring multiple, disparate companies. We however, designed and built our product from scratch as a single integrated solution. Having been a VP Engineering and CTO for multiple companies, I knew the challenge of trying to connect Ford engine to a Chevy transmission and dropping it into a Toyota chassis. Here’s the photo I used to illustrate the problem:

Software Mergers Don’t Produce Seamless Products

 

In another example, I needed to communicate the benefits of modern automation in an administration console. Many engineers configured and controlled their data center equipment using a command line interface that had a huge learning curve and required significant experience to operate. Our product had a graphical user interface that was easy to learn and use. To illustrate the contrast, I used the photos below of an old Boeing 727 cockpit and a modern Boeing 777 cockpit.

Old, Complex User Interface

Flying a Boeing 727 requires three people: two pilots and one navigator.

Modern Graphical User Interface

The Boeing 777 requires just two people – the dedicated navigator is not needed. In addition, auto pilot capabilities eliminate routine work tasks, improving employee morale and enabling resources to focus on projects that create business value. Boeing actually advertised the comfort of the pilot rest area in the cockpit of the Boeing 777 using the photo below.

Auto Pilot Eliminates Routine Work Tasks

 

In another instance, I had to sell against OpenStack — an open source cloud solution typically used for Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) deployments. I have nothing against open source. In fact, I frequently use open source software when building solutions. But back in 2012, OpenStack just wasn’t ready. OpenStack was the IT craze of the year, but it lacked functionality, needed new patches every week, was a bear to install, and required an army of impossible-to-find experts to get working. The software was free, but any up-front savings were quickly lost as almost all OpenStack projects at the time consumed four times the manpower and took five times longer to execute than expected. Gartner found that early adopters of OpenStack found very poor value relative to the investment required. One of our prospective customers spent more money sending three engineers to the OpenStack Summit than they would have spent to license our product! In fact, we successfully delivered a proof of concept using our product in just one week, while the internal team that championed OpenStack still had nothing working after five months!

To help people understand the realities of an unproven, build-your-own solution, I created the messaging below:

Early-Stage, Build-Your-Own Often Means:

… Some Assembly Required

… Underpowered Solutions

… Inappropriate Shortcuts

… Patchwork, Incomplete Solutions

… and Mismatched Tools for the Job

 

Once we made clear the challenges customers regularly faced, we built significant momentum among the thought leaders and trusted advisors in the market. Shortly thereafter, we started beating the competition handily. Not long after we netted some significant wins, Cisco took notice and acquired the company. I can’t guarantee that great storytelling will lead to an acquisition, but the momentum we gained certainly made a difference.


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