Book Club: Karen Mangia on the Power of Listening to Improve Customer Experiences

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Olivia Fuller: Hi and welcome to Book Club, a Sales Enablement PRO podcast. I’m Olivia Fuller. Sales enablement is a constantly evolving space and we’re here to help professionals stay up to date on the latest trends and best practices so they can be more effective in their jobs.

In an increasingly complex business environment, it can be difficult to know what to pay attention to, how to prioritize business initiatives, and ultimately improve performance. In this modern landscape, our guest today, Karen Mangia, explains that one voice rises above the rest and that is the voice of the customer. Karen details this idea in her book, “Listen Up: How To Tune Into Customers and Turn Down the Noise”, and I’m so excited to have Karen with us today to dive into this even further. So with that Karen, I’d love it if you could just take a second and introduce yourself to our audience and tell us a little bit more about your book.

Karen Mangia: Thanks so much for the opportunity to be here. When I think about my career, a north star for me has always been about spending time with customers, listening deeply to their stories and providing a platform to advocate for what they care about most. That’s taken a variety of forms through the years from sales and sales leadership to customer experience and voice of the customer roles, and I’m fortunate that now six years into my role here at Salesforce, I have the opportunity to not only listen to and advocate for our customers, but also share some thoughts and strategies about new ways to engage with customers. I mean, I don’t know about you, but the only thing that’s changed the last two years is everything right?

OF: Yes, absolutely. One of the things that you talked about in your book that really resonated with me was the value of approaching customer conversations with a beginner’s mind. So I’d love it if you could tell us a little bit more about how that mindset of acting as if you’re hearing a customer for the first time can really help salespeople to actively listen and ultimately how that can help them ask really great questions?

KM: A beginner’s mind is a gift. I’ll never forget the time I went out on my very first sales call. I was an accidental salesperson. I started in project management and because of some early retirements at the company, found myself with 100 customers in the star module. That sounds glamorous, doesn’t it? I mean, I want to be a star, just like your listeners do. I came to understand over time, I think star actually stood for small, troubled and risky. I mean, these were 100 of the smallest accounts and I was ecstatic that one customer agreed to see me. So walking into their office to give my very first sales pitch, I had on my best and by that, I mean, my only interview suit and I had printed out proposals for them. You remember this old-school idea with the template, right? I’d filled in the blanks, handed each person the proposal open to page one, I proceeded to read the proposal to them and I got the deal. I mean, how is that even possible?

What I came to understand is I truly had a beginner’s mind at that point. I had one customer out of 100 that was willing to see me. It was literally my first sales call, and so to prepare, I had asked great questions. I listened as if I were hearing it for the first time because I truly was and I had done my homework.

Now it took many lost deals before I understood really the gift of a beginner’s mind, and I think about that as having the discipline to forget everything we think we know and have heard so that we can hear what’s being said to us for the first time. I find when we are able to listen deeply, we get context that we might otherwise miss if instead the script playing inside our head is saying ‘oh, I’ve heard this story before. I know what they’re gong to say, I know what I’m going to say or what I can sell them or how we can solve this.’ We miss out on the opportunity to get curious and to discover and to be present right there in that moment.

OF: Absolutely. I love that story, and definitely the point around really getting curious. In the book you walk through a few different types of really meaningful questions that salespeople can use to get curious about their customers, and ultimately really dig deeper. I’d love to hear a little bit more about what some of those important questions are and really how they can help reps have more of an impact with their customers?

KM: I used to think that being a great salesperson or sales leader was all about having the right answers, and what I’ve come to discover is that great salespeople and sales leaders ask great questions. It’s about tapping into that sense of curiosity, discovery and inviting our customers to share maybe a hidden story, concern or opportunity with us. This is a starting place I find particularly effective, especially after a time of change. Now with your customer, I mean besides the pandemic, that could be a new product, a merger, an acquisition, entering into a new market. I like to start by asking the big impact question. Big impact questions help us look in the direction of how things work. The big impact question is ‘who is your customer now?’ I mean, I find that the definition of who the customer is changes on a regular basis and not everyone inside of an organization holds the same definition at the same time and as a salesperson, that means there’s probably pain and possibility.

So when you look in that direction, sometimes people are shifting from end-user customers to distributors or partners of the reverse. Maybe in bringing a new product or service to market, they’re selling to a new person or persona or buying center. Who is your customer now has a big impact question that helps you find the lead domino. Like when you would build those domino trains, right? When you’re a kid, you wanted that one lead domino that if you set it in motion, everything else fell into place. That’s what you’re looking for inside of that question.

Another one that shows up for me is what I call the genius question. The Genius Question was inspired by one of my favorite entrepreneurs, she built a $25 million dollar business, and is growing, based on the genius question and here’s why. She is a professionally trained pastry chef and so she has spent hours decorating those beautiful presentation cakes, you know, the parts of our life that we photograph ourselves like these beautiful wedding cakes and graduation cakes. One day she’s assembling what I have to believe is probably her 1000th cake. She looked at it and she asked herself, how could this be easier? Here’s what I love about that question. So many times we hear someone ask in a survey or the customer question, how could we make this easy, usually referring to a process or support or a contract negotiation. The reality is that easy might not be a realistic outcome. I mean, I happen to work in high tech. High tech is complex, it’s probably never going to be easy. What it can be is easier.

Easier invites discovery, innovation, and invention, and what it says is a little bit at a time will get better together. We’ll have progress, maybe never perfection. Now in her case, Christina Tosi, the CEO of Milk unfrosted the sides of the cake. I mean she literally took something away and what I love about her story and that genius question is inside of our organizations, ours and our customers. I think about that easier question as a way to challenge nostalgia or what we would call the way we’ve always done things and what she discovered that’s often the solution for our customers as well is to take something away. We can simplify something just a little bit and still maintain the integrity of the experience. So those are a couple of my favorite questions that really open up the conversation and invite some journey of discovery. Also co-creation with your customers, which is a really powerful loyalty-building tool.

OF: Absolutely, those are fantastic questions. On that point that you just mentioned around co-creation, I’d love to dig into that a little bit because you do talk about that being a benefit of some of these great questions is really tailoring the customer experience and helping the customer define their needs on their terms. So I’d love to learn a little bit more about that. What really is that value of co-creation for a customer relationship?

KM: We all feel greater ownership of what we helped to create. I mean right now, you and I are creating a conversation together and ideally some compelling content and because we both share an ownership role in what we’re creating, we feel more invested in the outcome. What happens in making this an equal experience. The same is true of our customers, when we invite them to create a solution with us, a new process, a new feature, a new service, they inherently feel a sense of not only being heard, but a sense of ownership, like they’re participating in creating the experience they’re going to have as opposed to something happening to them. So I think about co-creation as a transcendent business skill, and it really starts by getting curious and asking great questions and then inviting customers to solve problems with us. Ultimately, when we step away as customer experience leaders and sales leaders our opportunity then is to thoughtfully consider out of that creation, what are we in a position to offer that the customer has signaled matters to them that they’re willing to accept? I find then we come together and feel a shared sense of ownership in that outcome. We’re not just interested in the experience. Now we’re invested in what we’ve created together.

OF: I love that. That’s fantastic advice. I want to also go back to something that you mentioned around kind of that genius question. You talked about those moments of genius really being created by thinking about what we could take away rather than what we could add. So I’d love to learn about that in terms of delivering just a really great customer experience. How can reps kind of take that less is more approach to their customer relationships?

KM: Well, harder is a habit and easier is a choice. I mean think about how many times we message how busy we are or the difficulty of a negotiation or a contractor making our quota. What would happen if instead of thinking and speaking and looking in the direction of harder, we looked in the direction of easier. I like to think about making changes in what I call a five-minute fix approach. I mean in the moments where we feel burnt out or overcommitted, the temptation is the grand gesture. Now I need a big vacation, a sabbatical, a job change, whatever that looks like. Maybe what you could try is five minutes at a time. Could you take five minutes back from a meeting? Could you start your day five minutes later and end your day five minutes earlier? What’s one task that’s small that you could take away and here’s what we’re looking for. Momentum.

When we try something and it only takes five minutes if it doesn’t work out, we don’t feel overinvested. If it does work, we get momentum and salespeople are notoriously great at counting, so, you know, even if you made a 1% daily improvement, you would more than have doubled your impact in 72 days. I feel like we can all do something for five minutes and in 72 days benefit from double the impact.

OF: Absolutely. On the flip side of that, enablement customers are often the sales reps or the customer-facing reps at an organization. So I’d love to think about this from that perspective as well. How can enablement also simplify the rep experience to help equip them to be able to better engage with customers in this way?

KM: Microlearning is enablements five-minute fix. When I think about what it’s possible to learn or discover in five minutes or less, doesn’t that feel good? I mean if I tell you we have a five-hour training program or a five-minute video which would you choose if you are the rep? If you’re the enablement person, what’s your uptake likely to be, five minutes at a time as opposed to five hours or five days at a time? Thinking big, acting small means we can enable you on a bigger concept in five minutes a day. Think about how simple that would be if that’s how you could start or finish your day with one little five-minute enablement video. You’re more likely to retain the information, people are more likely to be consistent, you’re more able to measure outcomes and results.

OF: Absolutely. I think that’s spot on with microlearning. That’s really a key way that enablement can get the attention and mindshare of reps these days. That’s fantastic advice, Karen, I loved learning from you in this conversation. I just have one last question for you and I know no one has a crystal ball necessarily, but I’d love to hear maybe your perspective on really as the sales landscape just continues to evolve, how do you envision the role of enablement, really shifting to help play a role in really gathering these deep customer insights?

KM: Enablement teams and leaders have the opportunity to become orchestrators of outcomes and here’s where the concepts we’ve been talking about come together. When you think about what’s possible to co-create an outcome that is shared between the customer, the seller, and the enablement team, and then you think about how to move towards that outcome five minutes at a time, what enables us to do is to win together. Now we’re invested in the outcome that we’ve selected. We talked about how important ownership is and what role co-creation plays in that, but when we agree on that outcome, the enablement team is critically important to step in and orchestrate our path to realizing that outcome together. When I think about what’s possible and how quickly information is coming from every direction, I think enablement teams are best positioned to help quiet the noise so that we can all focus on realizing those outcomes together.

OF: Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. Well, Karen, thank you again so much for sharing all of these insights with our audience. I know I learned so much from this conversation and our audience will too, so thanks again.

KM: My pleasure and I welcome connecting with your audience on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and I have a new Youtube channel, so there’s an entire show with more insights going live soon, so subscribe there.

OF: That is so exciting to hear, that’s great. To our audience, we do also recommend picking up Karen’s book, “Listen Up”, and check out her other books as well. Thanks for listening for more insights, tips, and expertise from sales enablement leaders visit salesenablement.pro and if there’s something you’d like to share or a topic that you’d like to learn more about, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you.

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