EPISODE 372: Voice of the Customer Expert Tonya Bjurstrom Explains How to Uncover Your Customer’s Key Desired Insights

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Creativity in Sales Webinar sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on May 21, 2021. It featured Voice of the Customer Expert Tonya Bjurstrom.]

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TONYA’S TIP FOR EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Get curious. Step outside of your assumptions and what you believe to be true. Ask some really great questions of your customers, of your team, of your spouse [laughs]. Just get curious and open your mind and learn what other people have to contribute, because it’s there.”


Fred Diamond: Tonya Bjurstrom, it’s great to have you here today. We’re going to be talking about finding key desired insights, KDIs, we’re going to be talking about some strategies that you’ve created. It’s actually really interesting because one of the topics, Tonya, that comes up all the time is the need to understand more about your customer.

For example, we had Alice Heiman on the webcast yesterday and I asked her, if you could just give one bit of advice, what would it be? And she said, understand the customer’s buying process completely without fail. Those are some of the things that you help your customers figure out.

It’s great to see you, people want to hear you. You’re out in Colorado, I’m in Virginia, we got people all around the world listening today so let’s get started and thanks again for being with us.

Tonya Bjurstrom: Thanks, Fred. I was on the webcast yesterday with Alice and could not agree more. Alice and I are completely in tune on that need to really, truly better understand your customers. As our market has changed over the past several years, and particularly over the last year, it’s more difficult to really connect and engage with customers.

A lot of the lessons that we as sales professionals have always learned over the years are more important now than they have ever been. That was really what inspired me to launch Dirby and to have the focus of my company be on the voice of the customer. Because what I found is that many customers, they are not taking advantage of the abundance of insight that resides within their existing customer base.

Those customers that you worked so hard to win have really valuable insight to share. How to keep your customers, how to grow your customers, how to find new customers. But to access that information, those customers need to be asked the right questions in the right way. It’s important that we all understand how to do that. That is really what inspired me to launch Dirby and have voice of the customer be the focus.

Fred Diamond: Let’s hear what you do, people are anxious.

Tonya Bjurstrom: The key part of what I do and focusing on connecting and engaging with that customer is high touch one-on-one phone interviews with customers. Now, online surveys are great. They’re a great tool, although I continue to hear from people that if they get one more online survey request… [laughs] they’ve become a bit ubiquitous.

I think that companies are using these surveys more as a default than they are being very thoughtful about what it is that they want to talk to their customers about, what insights they want. Same thing with metrics like net promoter score. It’s great, it’s a fantastic tool. But without more context around it, what do you do with that information?

With these high touch one-on-one interviews with customers, you’re able to pull the deep insight that companies need to elevate the customer experience. To make sure they’re securing their customer retention, to make sure they are growing their customers. You need deep insight from your customers to be able to access that information. That’s where it starts with what I do, those interviews.

Fred Diamond: I agree with you 100%. It’s unbelievable that we’ve been doing webinars every day now since the pandemic kicked in. Here it is, this show is recorded in the middle of May and it seems like just yesterday we started, but we’ve done over 200 webinars.

The reason I say that is every day, we’re bringing on a sales expert like you and there’ve been so many themes. We’re getting a note here from Cherise who says that preparation is definitely one of the themes that we frequently talk about. The other theme that I want to hit on which you guys provide value for is you need to provide extreme value now to your customer.

Sales has always been about value creation. The great Neil Rackham got us to understand that with SPIN selling and all the Solution Selling and everything related to it that it is about value creation. But since the pandemic kicked it, and it started before, but when the pandemic kicked in it’s about what we’re calling extreme value.

The customer’s dealing with big challenges, everybody on the planet is still dealing with getting past COVID, whatever that means, and they’re dealing with the financial repercussions of COVID. Then they’re dealing with the third thing, maybe your industry shut down or maybe your company suffered because you weren’t prepared, and who was?

The reason I say that is we’re telling people, you need to truly come to your customers with things before they ask and you need to come to them with ideas that are going to help them solve their customer’s customer’s challenges. The work that you’re doing, it seems like it’s going to give people a step up in understanding how they can do that.

If you’re just going to reach out to your customers and say, hey, we’ve got a new version of our solution, it’s great, going to help you. I’m an entertainment company, I’m dealing with empty arena. How is more productivity going to help me? It’s not, but helping me figure out some other things would be.

Let’s get going. I’m really excited to hear how this works. Let’s get into it because people are anxious to find out, what’s the process? Then how to you use it to be even more successful?

Tonya Bjurstrom: You start with these one-on-one interviews, that’s the objective, that’s how you’re going to approach the customers. I have found that using a third party is the most effective way to collect the insight. Whether that’s with a company like Dirby or somebody else or if it’s an internal resource, then that internal resource needs to not have an existing relationship with the customer they’re speaking to.

That’s important, the customer needs to feel customer with a new resource, a third party, and they need to have expertise that’s required to really ask these questions and that deep listening we always hear about as salespeople. And to be able to take the responses to the questions in a direction that are going to support, as you said at the beginning, those key desired insights.

When I say a key desired insight, what is it that I’m talking about? For any program that is going to reach out and touch your customer, you need to be really intentional about it. Starting with what insight you want to uncover as part of this particular voice of the customer program is important.

Again, KDI, got to have an acronym, right? What would we be without our acronyms? It’s Key Desired Insight. Think about those things, what are your initiatives right now? What initiatives need additional support, additional insight? What challenges is your business facing that they need additional insight to support?

These are just some sample KDIs. I’d love to hear the participants here, I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas on different insights you would love to pull from your customers. Did your customers get what they expected? What are the micro-moments in the experience of customers?

This is actually one of my absolute favorite insights to pull from interviews, because it gets customers into the detail, into that specific insight that companies can act on. On those experiences that they provided their customers both negative and positive that they can either really work to correct or that they can double down on.

Fred Diamond: We have a quick comment here which comes in from Jeremy, and Jeremy was actually a guest yesterday as well. Jeremy says, “I want to know, do they bring me value?” We talked about that. Are they bringing more value?

I’ve got to tell you, I was on a sales call this morning, someone reached out to me to get some of my advice on his particular technology solution. He presented nonstop for 45 minutes, and I was doing emails, I was looking at Facebook for a little bit.

I remember thinking we’re telling people all day long that it isn’t about show up and throw up, yet here’s somebody showing up and throwing up. Jeremy, thank you for the point there. Jeremy wants to know, did they show me value? And we just talked about that in the beginning of the show today.

Tonya Bjurstrom: Yeah, and there are a lot of different ways that you can ask that question. Asking, what value do we bring to you? That is a great question. It’s very open-ended, it gives the customer lots of opportunity to answer in whatever way they think is most appropriate.

As somebody doing an interview, you need to allow that silence, even if it becomes an awkward silence, to give that customer time to process what kind of answers they want to provide. But you can get even more specific if you have some specific initiatives or some specific challenges in your business that you want to pull insight from those customers on.

If you have a new product that you’re going to be launching or a new service that you’re going to be launching, then you can ask questions around value specifically tied to those products or services.

Fred Diamond: We have a quick question here, a follow-up from Jeremy. “The survey person, do they know who the company is who’s asking these questions?” Obviously Dirby does it, but do they know that you’re doing work for IBM or whomever it might be?

Tonya Bjurstrom: Absolutely. The process that I have used with Dirby, it’s very much a collaborative effort between my client, their customers and us. Everybody knows who everybody is. My clients are the ones that are requesting the time, that’s the very first request that goes out for the one-on-one interviews. Comes from my client to their customer explaining what it is they’re doing, why it is they’re doing it and asking them for their time.

Then we schedule time, it isn’t, okay, I’m going to call the number and see if I can catch the individuals to do this interview. It’s very deliberate, we schedule 30 minutes of time with the customer to have these conversations. I’ve never had an anonymous request.

It is something that we could do, but the other intention of these programs and the other real benefit and the other value of these programs is it really helps to nurture the experience between the customer and our partner. It helps to deepen the relationship. These interviews become a part of that customer experience.

Many, many times I’ve had customers that I’m interviewing thank me for my time. I’m hugely appreciative of their time, but they’re thanking me for my time because they really appreciate this kind of an open format to be able to provide their feedback. And they really appreciate the investment that their vendor/partner has made in working to improve their customer experience.

Fred Diamond: Tonya, we have another question. The question comes in here from Lou C. The question is, “Do you ever interview losses?” We always talk about win/loss analysis and everybody wants to talk to the customer who didn’t buy from you to find out what happened.

Do you also do losses as well or is it always existing customers and your client who wants to know what worked during the sales process so they can either improve, replicate or whatever it might be?

Tonya Bjurstrom: No, we absolutely do win/loss work as well. Those loss conversations are very different. The participation rates for people willing to do an interview with those loss conversations is significantly lower than what we see with the wins when somebody is a customer.

But no, we do those and we apply the exact same principles that we do to the other types of interviews. And there’s invaluable information that can be pulled from those types of discussions so yeah, we definitely do those.

When I say that we have the same process, one of the things that we are really specific about when we’re putting together the questions that are going to be asked in our interviews. After we define two to four of the key desired insights, what is it for this particular interview program that you want to pull? What kind of insight is most important? Because you can’t cover everything. You’ve got to pick two to four.

Then when we’re building our questions, we make sure that we are not asking leading questions. This is one of my absolute favorite expressions. When you believe you know the answer, you fail to ask the right question. We found this to be so true. I’ve got a couple examples that we can work through, and if other people have examples that they want to put in the chat, that’s great too.

Here’s an example. A company has a challenge that they need to reduce the amount discounted on each deal but still remain competitive. Fred, I’m sure there are a lot of listeners right now, sales professionals who can not only understand this but feel this in their bones. This is a challenge that a lot of people have.

But the assumption here from the sales leaders is that their pricing is a competitive advantage. And again, that’s a case for a lot of companies so they’re willing to discount on every deal. When putting together a customer interview, a survey or whatever it might be, how much money did you save when you selected our product? Is a question that’s pretty commonly asked.

They want to know what that margin is, how much less expensive are they than the competition? If they have that information, then they can know what price points they can use to still be competitive.

But when you believe you know the answer, you fail to ask the right question. So let’s look at this again. Same challenge, they need to reduce the amount discounted on each deal. But really, the insight that they want to pull from this is that they want to know what their primary competitive advantages are.

Is pricing one of those advantages? It might be, but they haven’t done the work, they haven’t done the interviews, they haven’t looked closely at it enough to really know if that’s the case.

So instead of directly asking a customer about the pricing and leading them into a discussion about pricing, let’s ask the customer what are the primary reasons for choosing this product over others. Let’s identify, let’s not assume that pricing is a competitive advantage. Let’s identify what the customer believes our competitive advantages are. Let’s start there and then you can ask a pricing question.

There’s a strategy in not only the way that we phrase our questions but the way that we order our questions. The ordering of the questions gets deeper into the type of insight that we need as we move through the interview. So an additional question would be, what vendors did you evaluate and how did the pricing compare?

So we’re going to be able to pull the same information in regard to how the pricing compared to other vendors and how much money they saved, but we’re pulling a lot more information about what makes us competitive by taking this approach.

Fred Diamond: It’s interesting, there’s the old expression that you shouldn’t ask a question that you don’t know the answer to, but I love the way you have it phrased here. I can see right now, obviously having the third party such as Dirby there to ask these questions, you’re thinking about your relationships with your customer. Even when they became your customer,  you’re still nervous about doing something wrong and you’re still a little bit nervous that the project may go askew or you may miss a deliverable. Being able to engage here, probe and really come back with some salient information.

I’m curious, when you present your results to your customer, what is the typical response? Is it usually like, “Okay, great, good” or is it like, “Wow, I’m shocked, we didn’t realize this”? I’m just curious, you customer, your client, typically what is the response when you present the data to them?

Tonya Bjurstrom: In every instance, there have been portions of the data that have just stopped my clients in their tracks [laughs] that they are absolutely shocked by, that they absolutely did not expect. There’s usually some assumptions that prove out to be true as well and that’s still okay, because now that gives my clients more confidence in moving forward with those decisions.

There is always data that we present that is really a surprise. It’s also one of the more interesting pieces of the work that I do and the delivery, is not only are they often surprised by the data that’s presented, but they’re surprised by the reactions of different customers.

There are some customers that they expect to not even participate. “They never give us time, they’re always cutting our meetings short, I really don’t think they’re going to do this interview.” It isn’t unusual for those to be the customers that are taking up that extra half-hour of time that I build into every interview in case customers have a lot to say. It’s not always a bunch of negative stuff that that grumpy customer has to say. A lot of times they have really positive feedback.

Fred Diamond: We have a question here that’s coming in from Donald, and Donald wants to know, “How quickly do your clients act on the information that you give?” How about that question? Everything is about action and execution. It’s great if you produced a report and say, we talked to five customers, here’s what they said, here’s quotes, and all these kinds of things.

How often do people say, “Great, thank you, Tonya. We’ll get back to you with the next project?” Or when you present the report and you hand them the report they’re like, “Bill, we’re making a change right now.” Do you see people act on the findings that you find right away?

Tonya Bjurstrom: Absolutely. Donald, that was a great question and Fred, that’s a great question in regard to the types of reports that should be produced from this kind of work. Yes, one of the things that I make very clear with every client that I work with out the gate, and it should be the case, regardless of what kind of voice of the customer program you’re putting into place, follow up with your customers.

I hear from customers, they’re tired of taking the time to submit feedback that goes into this big black hole of customer experience feedback that’s never addressed, never followed up on, they don’t feel it changes anything. I’m very clear that if my clients are not interested in truly following up on this feedback – they don’t have to act on all of it, but at least follow up on all of it – then let’s not do this. That’s just rule #1.

From there, the type of reports that I provide are three different levels of insights. The first is individual notes on each interview, on each conversation. Then an individual summary of each conversation. I see that for the people that have the primary relationship with these customers, they should read those notes. They should have an understanding of exactly how that customer is responding and what their insight is in regard to each of the questions that we’re asking.

Then I also provide what I call the shared report which is where, as we do these interviews – and we always do at least a minimum of five, but we can interview every single customer if my clients like. Then there’s always some shared experiences in there, some shared insight. That’s where the most powerful change from an organizational perspective comes from, is what are those shared experiences? Then also some next steps.

But the piece that requires the most action is I call them red flag notifications. Which is if we’re in a conversation doing an interview with a customer and there’s something that comes up that really requires immediate attention… I had a customer, it was a software development and they were doing some custom development for this one customer and it was just really off track.

They weren’t meeting their timelines and the customer communicated this to my client but they had not communicated how upset they were about this particular development feature being delayed. They were starting to look around, they were looking at other solutions to move forward with. That got what I call a red flag notification which is there’s an immediate call, an immediate email to my client to let them know that, hey, this is something you need to resolve.

Fred Diamond: That’s crazy because one thing that we always talk about is one of the shortcomings with sales professionals is they don’t really understand what’s going on behind the customer’s doors. They might have meetings, they may have champions. On today’s LinkedIn post from Wednesday’s webcast, our guest, Brian Krause talked about finding your angel who has the halo effect over the entire business. Not your champion per se, but the angel.

I see this so many times because I’ve sat in so many pipeline review meetings. They’re jolly, it’s like, the guy returned my phone call so it’s 50% and I know they definitely want our solution. Everybody wants everything, I want a Porsche, I’m still driving a Pontiac.

I think another valuable thing here is, I loved to hear that story where you said that your customer jumped right away because it was a red flag that was thrown which said, “We’re possibly looking for something different.” That solves a huge problem as well, because it’s one of the big problems I’ve historically seen.

We talk about this a lot too, the sales leaders are sometimes not bold enough to push back. “Are you sure that’s a 50% one, Bill?”

Tonya Bjurstrom: One thing on those leading questions. How do you make sure that you’re putting together questions that are not leading the client to address and assumed result? If you have those, people who are listening, please, feel free to send those to me. Post to my LinkedIn, send me a LinkedIn message, email me, whatever you want to do.

Would love to talk through those because it’s a really interesting exercise to look at, because there are assumptions and biases that we bring to the table and we just don’t know it, we just can’t recognize it.

One of the things I’ll say is regardless of what those key desired insights are when you’re working to put together one of these programs, make sure that the customer experiences part of the mix. You have to ask about the customer experience. Maybe you want insight to help support marketing initiatives or you’re revamping your sales process or you need to improve your onboarding process. Great, but don’t forget to ask about the customer experience.

84% of companies that work to improve that customer experience, the increase is in revenue. They’re going to see increase in revenue in all different line items, they’re going to see it in the retention, they’re going to see it in growth in their customers, they’re going to see it in new customers. Focusing on that is important.

Going back to that retention question, I know there’s all kinds of different stats, I think saying five times is probably a little bit conservative. But it’s the number I go with because it is believable and it is big. It costs so much more to find a new customer. Once you get that customer, you’ve got to keep them. It’s not just about taking care of them, it’s about understanding what their needs are, what their experiences and where they need to go from there.

Fred Diamond: We talk about the 9 key lessons that we learned during the pandemic, and one of them was that you need to keep going back to the base, you need to keep satisfying the customer and you need to keep bringing them value. Not just to be retained as a client, but to find new opportunities because it’s challenging right now.

Again, everyone’s in front of their Zoom and their camera, and one of our good friends, Julie Hansen, helps people get better at that. Something that’s really amazing, Tonya, a year and a couple months into the pandemic, you would have thought by now that every company would have trained their people to look at the dot, be comfortable in front of the screen.

We had a conversation on the podcast last week where one of the experts we talked to said that the biggest problem that he sees right now is that it takes people 8 minutes to start a meeting. Because there’s that, “You’re on mute” or, “Bill, what’s that in the background?” The cat was cute, the three-year-old was cute a year ago. Now it might be cute, but get that taken care of.

I’ve got to do a study on this about how long it takes for a meeting to start. But the point being is that it’s going to be so hard, it really is hard to get in touch with your customer. The main reason is your customer’s home too for the most part. Your customer is still dealing with COVID and the financial side.

Tonya, you’ve given us so much great information. We’re coming down to the end here, I want to ask you for your final action step. First off, I want to acknowledge you. This service that you offer is so valuable, knowing what really is going on and as I’m thinking about this, we’ve had some conversations before.

Your customer wants to be nice to you, your customer doesn’t necessarily want to tell you bad things because they want to treat you nicely, they want to be kind, they want to understand. But like you just say here on the slide, your customers does have a vested interest in your success.

That’s one of the other key lessons that we’ve learned this past year, is that if someone’s going to buy something from you, they want to participate in what you’re offering. It’s not like the old days where you sold them things they don’t know, people aren’t buying things that they don’t care about anymore. They’re only buying things that they need and they’re only buying them from trusted vendors.

I want to acknowledge you for the great work that Dirby does, I want to applaud you for this incredible service, I want to thank you for being on today’s Sales Game Changers podcast. I also want to acknowledge our good friends at Cox Media, today’s sponsor.

Tonya, give us one final action step, something people must do right now to take their sales career to the next level.

Tonya Bjurstrom: That would be get curious. Step outside of your assumptions and what you believe to be true. Ask some really great questions of your customers, of your team, of your spouse [laughs]. Just get curious and open your mind and learn what other people have to contribute, because it’s there.

Fred Diamond: It’s got to be fun doing what you do, hearing customers, because we always want to know what’s the voice, what’s going on in their mind. It’s so hard in sales because you work so diligently and so carefully to execute the sale, but you don’t always know. And yet, I’ve seen it so many times where you just want to get to the sale and then you think that you’re done.

We all know that that’s the beginning, that’s not the ending. There’s so much work happening now, that’s why revenue enablement is becoming so big, because people are looking at ways to continue to grow their customer once “the sale” happens. For your job, to be talking to people and then hearing insights from them that you can then share with your customer is so critical.

Once again, Tonya Bjurstrom, thank you so much for what you do. Everybody who’s watched today or listening to the Sales Game Changers podcast, and Cox Media, thank you all so much as well.

Tonya Bjurstrom: Thanks, bye.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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