“Delivering Customer Outcomes versus Selling Products: The GE Digital Case” by Frank M. Grillo and Karl Hellman
At one time, customers educated sales people about their business needs and provided information to help them shape customized solutions. Today, the internet has transformed the way information is accessed—with one tap on a website you can easily enter your customer’s world the same way that your customers are already doing to learn about your company, and your competitor’s offerings.
As a result, customers have changed their expectations of sales people and organizations who want to be their business partners. Simply explaining the details of your product and service capabilities is no longer of value. The customers already know all of that because they accessed your web-site.
Customers, instead, expect you to develop a point of view based on your expertise and understanding of their industry, market, and specific business. And even more, they expect you to present a specific hypothesis about how your offerings can improve their business results.
All customers want to be able to quantify outcomes. Your customers most likely believe that small changes in reducing things like unplanned downtime, increasing velocity, or improving capital productivity make a big difference to their bottom line, so the notion of providing service solutions like “predictivity” and “wing-to-wing” offerings are not only making software and ecosystem plays valuable, they are truly meeting the needs and goals of your customers.
In order to be successful, you need to shift the way you engage with customers. The outcome-focused sales approach is designed to do just that.
To succeed in this new landscape, you need to look through your “customer lens” so you can think like the customer to better understand their needs (even if they might not know what those needs are themselves) and employ this mindset in the way you engage in customer conversations.
You need to shift from selling product features and functions to focusing on the business value your solution delivers to the customer. Thus, understanding your customers and their needs is far more crucial than trying to persuade them to buy another product; providing industry and market insights is more valuable than pitching product specific benefits and features; and building long-term, meaningful relationships based on delivering business value is more effective than creating a series of short-term business transactions.
Selling Outcomes versus Products
Selling and delivering outcomes is very different from selling products or traditional services in at least five ways:
- New Buyers & Influencers: Selling into the C-suite, with new influencers like the Chief Operations Officer (COO), Chief Information Officer (CIO), and the Chief Technology Officer (CTO)
- Value-Based Deal Shapes: Sharing risk with clients and potentially even getting paid on the outcomes being achieved.
- Solution Architecture: Melding together capabilities across not only your own P&L’s but integrating your partnerships to provide the right mix to achieve the customer outcome
- Co-Creation & Agile Development: Innovating shoulder to shoulder with customers with short cycle, iterative timeframes
- New Industry Ecosystems: There are changing faces and roles of partners and competitors (including competitors you may not have considered in the past like Google, Facebook, Uber, Airbnb, and other start-ups disrupting multiple industries)
None of these differences is insurmountable, but each poses a unique set of challenges to all company functions, especially to sales and commercial operations.
Adopting a customer-based mindset has massive implications for your company, and we are already beginning to see how new roles and responsibilities are emerging throughout the modern organization as we enable an outcome-based sales ecosystem. Roles such as solution architects, who help customize solutions by translating desired outcomes into customer specific roadmaps & implementation plans, as well as existing functions such as marketing and commercial operations, will start to play a bigger part in empowering your sales teams to sell outcomes to your customers. No matter the role or function, they will all need to start aligning their goals and activities to your customer’s, because if even one functional area fails to do this, your company will surely fail to deliver sustainable results.
So where do you start? The first step in this new approach is to define and identify exactly what your customer’s outcomes are.
What is an Outcome?
Let’s take a moment to define what an outcome is and why outcomes are getting so much attention. First, let’s compare outcomes vs. outputs, as there are important differences between the two.
Outputs are the stuff you produce, be it physical or virtual, for a specific type of customer—say, car seats for babies. Outcomes are the differences your stuff makes—keeping your child safe in the car. For example, a highway construction company’s outputs are a project design and the number of highway miles built and repaired. Outcomes are the difference made by the outputs: better traffic flow, shorter travel times, and fewer accidents.
Outcomes are the benefits your customers receive from using your stuff. Accurately defining your outcomes starts with truly understanding your customers’ needs—their challenges, issues, constraints, priorities—by walking in their shoes and in their neighborhoods, businesses, and cultures. See what’s inconvenient, what takes a lot of time, money, and/or effort. If you were in the food business, your main strategic challenge might be that consumers are too busy to plan, shop for, and cook healthy meals. What if you made a healthy, reasonably priced, fast-cooking meal so a family could eat better? Create a solution that your customers can sustain, and you enable life-changing outcomes, big and small.
Outputs are important products, services, profits, and revenues: The What. Outcomes create meanings, relationships, and differences; the Why. Outputs, such as revenue and profit, enable us to fund outcomes; but without outcomes, there is no need for outputs. Moreover, an outcome is a clarified goal, finely tuned that can be used to organize strategies and actions that help the customer achieve success.
Before we dive into the complexity of a business example, let’s look at a personal illustration:
Say, for instance, you are setting your New Year’s goal of losing enough weight to fit into your favorite dress or suit. You decide to visit your local gym for help shedding the weight.
In a typical scenario, you’ll be greeted by a salesperson at the gym who will quickly sign you up for a club membership and will enroll you in classes and programs to start a routine that will make you more fit. You are likely sold supplements and protein shakes to grow muscle faster. And, while you’re there, the salesperson could offer great clothing to help you feel better while you’re working out. In this scenario, the gym sold you all of their stuff. When measuring outputs, this looks like a very successful transaction! But how would you, the customer, measure the experience? Did it help you achieve your goal?
Let’s look at the same scenario but with an outcome-based approach. This starts with the salesperson asking questions to learn more about you and your goals up-front. (How much weight do you want to lose? Where do you need to lose it from? What are your eating habits? How much time can you dedicate to exercise? Do you have any physical issues you need to work around?) These questions would have revealed that your diet, especially the late-night ice cream binges, are huge barriers to your goal that also need to be addressed. The salesperson at the gym knows from experience that making a few changes to your diet alone could have the biggest impact on you reaching your goal.
Defining the outcome can be easy but identifying the levers and drivers that get to the outcome is more challenging. In order to fully develop your weight loss strategy, together you and the gym salesperson can identify some levers that will help you “control the data” that contributes to your weight gain or loss. Using tools like a “Fitbit” and the “My Fitness Pal” mobile app help you realize you have to do things differently, such as becoming more aware of what you consume, maintaining a certain caloric intake, halting poor habits, and setting up a reward system to reinforce good behavior.
This outcome-based conversation turns the gym salesperson into a partner who works with you to achieve your goals using both the products/services offered (classes, exercise equipment, new shoes even) along with delivering knowledge and insights to help you make the decisions to succeed.
As a customer, who are you likely to be more loyal to?
Your company needs to be like the salesperson in the second example – a trusted partner who will tap into their deep industry experience to deliver knowledge and insights to help make your customers succeed.
Case Study: GE Healthcare
In the healthcare industry, supplying access to quality and affordable healthcare has often been challenging in rural communities given the limited funds available for hospitals to serve those populations. The sector has had to find ways to meet the needs of these communities throughout the world, in a smarter and cheaper way.
With more than 34 hospitals, performing almost 800,000 radiology exams per year, Imagerie Médicale Antilles-Guyane is a Regional Health Authority for the islands of Martinique, Guadeloupe & French Guyana. The challenge? To deliver affordable quality care to the rural and underserved communities on these islands.
GE Healthcare, like the gym salesperson in our previous example, works with Imagerie Médicale, not just to sell stuff, but to build out an integrated solution that helps solve the whole problem for the customer. GE Healthcare dissected the broader outcome, identified all of the moving parts, and zeroed in on what key levers and drivers could help enable the desired outcome. For Imagerie Médicale the desired outcome is to provide high quality care at a cost that could be funded by their health systems economics.
By not only selling more efficient hospital equipment, but leveraging the power of the industrial internet, GE has been working to help Imagerie Médicale break down what drivers and levers can help improve patient care, increase access to medical professionals, and minimize IT infrastructure costs by delivering a cloud-based radiology solution called Centricity 360 (a dashboard that can enable data and expertise sharing, as well as accelerate the deployment of new technology).
When GE Healthcare looked through their “customer lens,” they realized that selling disparate products and solutions doesn’t help Imagerie Médicale solve their overarching challenge. When GE combined equipment, software and analytics (healthcare equipment, Predix, Centricity 360), in the form of an integrated solution, the outcomes for Imagerie Médicale were:
- Improved exam turnaround time by 40%
- Avoided 17,000 patient transfers
- Improved efficiency by 60mins/week
- Reduced duplicate exams by 3%
- Saved around $14MM in costs
Outcomes versus Results
Now that we’ve explained the difference between outcomes and outputs, you may be thinking, “Aren’t outcomes the same thing as results?” Here is an example to clarify the differences.
A large insurance agency makes a decision to replace their existing experienced customer support staff with a more affordable outsourced model to reduce expenses and thereby increase shareholder value. After a difficult transition, the result of the decision was incredibly successful with a savings of $2.6 million realized within the first year, exceeding the initial estimates by over 20%!
The outcome, however, was not so good. Due to poor contact center management and process challenges, there has been a significant spike in customer service complaints causing customer retention to decline. Furthermore, the tarnished company image has resulted in new business dropping considerably. The loss of revenue as a result is $2.4 million and growing.
As you can see, outcomes are more than just “results,” they are the larger, more meaningful business impacts that drive overall success.
The GE Healthcare example shows us how shifting from selling products to delivering customer outcomes greatly increases the value created for the customer and increases sales effectiveness by making your sales force part of the customer’s solution process.
Frank Grillo is the CMO of Harte Hanks. He is a passionate advocate for bringing the human back into marketing by better understanding and facilitating customer journeys.
Dr. Karl Hellman is President of Resultrek Inc., a marketing and sales consulting firm. Karl is the author of The Customer Learning Curve (with Ardis Burst, 2004) and his clients include best-in-class companies such as JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, UPS, and Coca Cola.