Terry Cunningham knows that you need to have a compelling story for potential customers if you want their business. So when he joined EVault, A Seagate Co., around three years ago, his first objective was finding out how well the company’s story resonated with its customers and its 400 employees.
“We spent of time looking in the mirror and saying, ‘Well, would you buy it, and if not, why not?” says Cunningham, the president and general manager of EVault. “What’s not true about it? What is it that the customer would say, ‘I don’t really buy that story and here’s why’?”
Often, the problem isn’t that you don’t have a compelling story, but that you’re not communicating it correctly. Cunningham realized this was the case at EVault, which provides online backup and disaster recovery using cloud-based systems.
“So they had the right idea — the previous generation of the company,” he says. “It just wasn’t told in a way that had a broader market appeal.”
At the time, the company was serving only a small niche of industries that were legally required to backup their data anyway. But Cunningham knew that there was an opportunity to communicate to more consumers and markets that the cloud was a better way to handle their data protection and disaster recovery.
So how do you go about broadening the appeal of your story? Cunningham says the first step is floating the idea with people who may not think that they need your product.
“You begin with getting to the prospect that isn’t compelled buyers or compelled markets,” he says. “Go beyond the regulated industries that are required to do it and get to somebody that doesn’t care.”
Even if they seem unenthused at first, if you can open up a dialogue you will probably be able to identify some pain points.
“So now we get to the prospect or customer that at first doesn’t care that much because he thinks everything is OK, but then in the conversation, you discover that there are some challenges that they’re facing,” Cunningham says. “So OK, what’s the first problem you’re trying to solve, … what’s the second problem you have to solve … and so on.”
As you find these pain points, you can walk the customer through what a new solution might looks like and how a new story could meet them.
“Then it’s the usual sort of discovery process,” Cunningham says. “Let’s say we did have all of this. How much would you pay for it? When would you do it? What are all the other issues?”
Using this feedback, the company has been able to retool its story with pricing, packaging and other specifications that reach a broader spectrum of consumers. Now, Cunningham says the key to growth is being able to tell that story in a way that is simple and memorable.
“The early stage of that is to get out and tell the story and tune that story in the simplest possible way so that people can retell it,” he says. “If I give you the pitch, can you turn around and give it to somebody else easily?”
To help employees communicate it effectively to others, Cunningham regularly travels around to the company’s different offices to talk about the new story and why it is significant.
“The ultimate goal here is to communicate a story that gets told and retold by others, and we don’t have to keep doing all the heavy lifting,” he says. “If this is a better way, then eventually the world adopts it as proof that is really is a better way. You need everyone in your company to be able to communicate the story passionately and with the same enthusiasm.”
How to reach: EVault, A Seagate Co., www.evault.com or (877) 382-8581
The next best thing
When Terry Cunningham goes out to dinner, he loves to eat at restaurants that have paper on the table. That’s because when the whiteboard is out of reach, he has a spot to sketch out the next great idea for his technology business.
“They used to deliver crayons for the kids, now they deliver crayons for people like me to draw pictures while we’re talking about something,” he says.
As you continuously recast the story of what your business means to customers, you always want to be asking yourself, “What’s the next step?” even if it means sketching out the plan in Midnight Blue.
“[It’s] what’s changing from our customer’s perspective and how does it affect us to make sure that we’re not becoming irrelevant without even knowing it,” Cunningham says.
“There isn’t a technology company on the planet that isn’t sort of assessing where they’re at because the world is changing very quickly. So they’ve got to sort of reassess and figure out what the customer, target or prospect is looking for today.”
The key to long-term growth is to consider what the customer or the market is saying today, but never stop looking forward and innovating.
“I see a lot of companies and people I’ve worked with just chase the current model or market and they basically end up saying ‘me too,’” Cunningham says.