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Selling Doesn't Help, But Helping Sells

Posted by Bill Cushard on Sep 18, 2015 9:00:00 AM

In the late 90s, during the dot-com boom, I worked at one of the leading online brokers. It was an exciting time to simultaneously work at a company that was disrupting an industry, while also having direct contact with customers who used the service to take control of their financial lives.

Selling Doesn't Help, But Helping Sells:
selling doesn't help, but helping sells

One thing about disruption is that people (real people) had to learn (and do) new things. Customers using online investing services had to learn all kinds of new things that their traditional broker took care of before.

Tweet: Why Selling Doesn't Help, But Helping Sells. By @billcush http://ctt.ec/p12I9+

Customers had to learn about:

  • Bid-Ask spreads
  • Priority in order books
  • The perils of buy stop orders in a fast market
  • The horror of market orders placed before the open on stocks that gapped up 50 points only to drop 50 points by the time a customer had a chance to sell
  • The unlimited risk potential of selling short
  • Long straddles in flat markets (oops) and short straddles in volatile markets (disastrous oops)
  • Misprinted prices on the tape (yes, even in the 90s they called it the tape)
  • IPO allocation rules that explain why "you" did not get IPO shares of a stock that went to 100

This is a short list. I could go on…and on…and on.

Every day, I helped customers by teaching them all of these things (and more) so they knew how to make informed decisions and be better self-directed investors. I was not selling anything. I did not earn a commission. I was just helping customers understand what they were doing. 

I just figured, the more successful customers were, the more they would trade, the more successful the company would be, and the more valuable my stock options would be.

Simple as that.

In fact, I was so convinced this customer education thing was the way to go, I wrote up a proposal to change our job titles from financial services representative (boring) to customer education specialist (exciting, new, cool, and helpful to customers). 

It went nowhere.

I did not get my title changed, but I always treated my job as an education specialist helping customers learn new skills so they could be successful. And as a training professional, I have always loved helping people learn job skills.

I remain convinced that if the online broker had taken the customer education approach, it would have transcended the race to the bottom and commoditization of the online investing business.

Oh well.

Customer Success is About Being Helpful

This story is relevant today because we are entering an era in which companies must help customers achieve outcomes. In the software-as-a-service (SaaS), cloud computing business, this movement is called Customer Success. 

The best definition of customer success comes from Lincoln Murphy: Customer success is simply ensuring that your customers achieve their desired outcome(s) through their interactions with you

In other words, customer success is not about you. It is about your customer.

Customer success is not about reducing churn or about a growth strategy focused on retaining customers. Those are your outcomes, not your customers' outcomes. Your customer does not care anything about your churn.

Customer success is about helping your customer reduce their churn, cut their costs, increase bookings, improve speed to market, increase funnel conversation rates, reduce errors and defects, improve customer satisfaction scores, and/or whatever goals your customers have.

If you focus on your customer outcomes, your own outcome will come. Naturally. 

Put another way, if you help your customers be successful, you will be successful. 

Marketing, Sales, and Service that Helps

The customer success movement is not just happening in cloud computing and anything-as-a-service. Companies that get it are marketing to help, selling to help, and servicing to help. 

Sales processes are changing from convincing prospects to buy a product to helping prospects learn something new or otherwise solve a problem. It started with solution selling and has evolved even further into a recent selling technique called the Challenger Sale. The main premise of the Challenger Sale concept is to challenge prospects with new thinking about how to run their business by educating them. The idea is that a sales call should offer enough value that the prospect would be willing to pay for the time and/or content of the meeting. 

How’s that for helping?

Even marketing is changing. Marketing use to be (ok, in large part still is) about interrupting people with (largely unwanted) messages trying to convince people to buy something. More and more, marketing, in the form of content marketing, is being used to educate, inform, and otherwise offer prospects and customers useful information that could help them solve problems. This is a long-term play that builds trust and maintains brand awareness with the hopes that a prospect will choose the vendor that has been offering so much value.

Tweet: Why Selling Doesn't Help, But Helping Sells. By @billcush http://ctt.ec/p12I9+

Jay Baer, author of the book Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help Not Hype, says it this way, the difference between helping and selling is only two letters…but if you sell something, you get a customer for a day; help someone, you get a customer for life.

Customer Education that Helps

Companies can also help both prospects and customers through education. By offering formal and informal learning opportunities. company can help people learn new skills, be better at their jobs, and improve their work lives. And who doesn’t want a better work life?

How HubSpot Helps with Education

My favorite example of a company that uses education as a means for helping without selling is HubSpot. Of course, HubSpot wants to sell you its product, but more importantly, it wants to create an industry, a movement, around inbound marketing. HubSpot wants people to believe inbound marketing is THE way to run marketing. A major part of its approach is to teach people what inbound marketing is and create an industry credential called inbound marketing certification

The inbound marketing certification is open to anyone. Individual marketers can complete this certification then boast of their credential. Over time, momentum builds and hiring managers start writing inbound marketing certification into job descriptions and the cycle continues. The more people who earn this certification and the more companies hire for this skill, the more potential customers there are for HubSpot products. And all HubSpot did was help people learn the skill of inbound marketing.

Helping sells.

Tweet: Why Selling Doesn't Help, But Helping Sells. By @billcush http://ctt.ec/p12I9+

How Cloudera Helps with Education

Another example in a completely different industry is what Cloudera is doing to educate the market in data science and big data. There are not too many skills in technology that are more in-demand than data science, analytics, business intelligence, and big data. Maybe Docker.

There is more hiring demand for the data science and analytics skill than there are candidates. As you can assume, pay rates for these jobs are high. But because there are fewer candidates than positions, more people need to learn these skills. 

Cloudera recognizes this and offers training on its website that anyone can attend. Although the courses cost money, it is likely worth the investment, even for individuals, because the skills demand such high pay. Cloudera offers a course called, Introduction to Data Science. This is not a product course. It is focused entirely on how to learn data science. Anyone aspiring to learn this skill could benefit from this class…and probably should. 

If someone takes this course and is later in a position to influence or decide on the purchase if a data analytics product, Cloudera will be on the top of the list.

Helping sells.

ServiceRocket Philosophy: Selling Doesn’t Help, But Helping Sells

Being helpful is an approach we take a ServiceRocket. 

We even created a company video to tell the world about our approach to helping customers. It is a philosophy we call, “Selling Doesn’t Help, But Helping Sells.” That philosophy is so important to our culture that we made it the first line of our video. 

I hope you will watch the the video. I know that if you do, you will be educated and entertained all at the same time.

Topics: Customer Success, Research and Trends, Tech, Ideas, Silicon Valley, company values