How to Craft an Outcome

July 28, 2020 Written by Jake Sorofman

Whether or not it’s explicitly stated, customers buy because they have an outcome in mind. In almost every case, that outcome is some specific variant of one or more of the holy trinity:

1. Grow Revenue
2. Reduce Costs
3. Mitigate Risk

As a seller, if you can’t determine which of these three themes is driving the need, chances are you haven’t done enough to understand your buyer. This may put your deal at risk and sacrifice the potential contract value that’s earned when you create a clear, compelling business case.

But how do you identify and align around the target outcomes your buyer has in mind? Start by doing your homework and showing up to ask smart questions. Practicing the five whys is a great way to move beyond the superficial answers that stand in the way of true understanding. Once you’ve tapped into the real drivers behind the need, you can define compelling target outcomes.

Crafting an effective outcome is as simple as 1, 2, 3:

1. What will change? Describe the business impact you wish to achieve.
2. By how much? Defines the measurable impact you expect to see.
3. By when? Specify the timeframe within which you expect the change to occur.

How to build an outcome

How much of this you can fill in is dependent on both the quality of your questions and, frankly, how much the buyer knows or is willing to share with you. Something is always better than nothing, so work with what you’ve got. In some cases you may find that degree of change and time frame are simply a bridge too far. That’s OK. Follow this graduated approach:

Good: Orient to the right target area of impact

Simply understanding what part of the business needs improvement is a crucial step in the right direction and may be all you need to close the deal and orient your team to delivering value for the customer. Maybe the buyer feels uncomfortable sharing a specific metric and timeframe, but more likely, they simply don’t know what’s reasonable to expect. If you have a lot of experience in this target area, you may be able to help set expectations based on an understanding of their baseline performance and the degree of change you see from other companies like theirs. Or maybe you simply begin the relationship with an exploratory mindset toward the goal of setting more specific, measurable goals over time based on early observations.     

Better: Define a success metric

You can’t manage what you don’t measure is the old adage that’s still quite true today. Without a specific metric to shoot for, you can’t really say whether the degree of improvement is sufficient to justify renewal. At minimum, the degree of improvement should yield a positive ROI on the total cost of ownership–but you should, of course, aim for something well beyond breakeven. Ask questions that help you quantify the business impact of the outcome and compare that against the required investment necessary to achieve it. Finally, compare this against relevant performance benchmarks you have available to form a judgement on what constitutes a reasonable metric value to set as an expectation with the buyer.          

Best: Commit to a timeframe

Even when you show progress toward a goal, without a specific timeframe, at any point in time, you’re a bit blind to whether or not you’re on the right track. Similar to the metric value described above, refer to benchmarks if they’re available to understand a realistic horizon to set for outcome achievement.

Einstein once said that everything should be as simple as possible, but no simpler. In other words, don’t ignore complexity because it’s uncomfortable, but don’t introduce it when it’s unnecessary. Sometimes simply understanding and aligning around the right target area of impact is quite enough to get the deal done. When that’s the case, sign the contract!

But also recognize that knowledge is power. The more you’re able to learn, the richer the outcome you’re able to promise. And the richer the outcome, the greater the reward … both in the value of the initial deal and your ability to create a durable and profitable customer relationship over time.

It’s also worth noting that outcomes themselves, while the thing your customer cares about most, can sometimes feel like uncharted territory for you as a seller. Following a crawl, walk, run approach like this is the best way to make these efforts scale.

Start with what you’re able to comfortably promise (see “Good” above) and then add detail (see “Better” and “Best”) as you gain confidence in this discipline. This confidence will come from seeing these outcomes materialize for yourself.

In other words, measuring customer outcomes before you make a bunch of specific promises to other customers is what gives you the assurance that you can deliver at scale. And once you have that assurance, this discipline becomes the exact opposite of scary. It becomes your superpower.

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