How to make your Customer (not your Company) the Hero of your Sales Story

Inside Out Story: Values (Part 2 of 4)

I had a vision. A vision that had come from years — a decade — of work. A vision of empowering people in business to feel more creative.

Creativity has always been what I value most in my job, and everyone else had to feel that, too.


“This is hard to say but… No one cares about this creativity fluff, Alli.”

I’d been fighting for this for almost two years now. I wasn’t going to cave now.

Yet, I knew he was right.

I’d been working with potential customers across business functions doing dozens, hundreds of interviews. And no one seemed to care very much about my “creative-confidence boosting tool.”

“People don’t care about creativity. They care about closing more sales so they can hit their number. People don’t care about confidence. They care about getting home an hour earlier to have dinner with their families instead of making slides. Put your product in terms they care about.”

I had to get out of my own head to see that these potential customers cared about different values than I did. If I kept telling the story my way, my vision would die.

But if I could wrap my vision in their values, then maybe it would have a fighting chance.

About the role of Values in your Sales Story

You won’t find many posts about “characters” or “values” on sales blogs. Most sales content is highly tactical and prescriptive — which I have found extremely valuable.

But the purpose of this Inside Out Story series is to take a step back and see the forest from the trees.

Here, I’ll outline three stages we take at Stick to understand our customer’s values, how we think about framing a story around them, and the mistakes made along the way. In the Inside Out story model, it all starts here.

1. Use the org chart to set your character “unit”

“Make your audience the hero” is common presentation advice.

Yet, early mistakes taught me it wasn’t always so simple. True perspective-taking is more difficult when selling B2B, because you have to deal with an individual and their organizational context (read: politics).

Therefore, knowing where your contact sits in the organization — and being able to relate the part to the whole — is an important step that should shape the language and perspective of your story’s main character:

In an early conversation with a Manager from Customer A (small startup), I harped heavily upon our product’s ability to improve the company’s brand equity. Problem was, she didn’t care too much about the power of her company’s brand. She cared about her team’s ability to make quota. I was delivering the wrong message to the right “unit.”

Had I been speaking to their CEO and Founder, however, the promise of enhancing brand equity would have struck a chord. Knowing how to flex your message across a customer “unit” — Company, Department, or Team — is critical.

2. Discover to figure out your character’s Need Stack

Once you know who/what you’re dealing with, you can use a discovery call to understand what your character values most.

To avoid interrogating your customer, and to get to the core value at stake faster, ask for stories rather than answers. Instead of taking their word for it, you’ll get to observe what is said and done, so you can infer what values are at play underneath the surface.

Your discovery call will help you focus on which ONE value matters most to your character. Through over a hundred customer interviews, I’ve remodeled Maslow’s hierarchy of needs into what I’ll call the B2B Needs Stack:

The most important thing about the Needs Stack? The lower you are on the Stack, the easier it is to sell.

As I mentioned in the opening, I struggled in the beginning to get any traction with product because I was trying to sell creativity — or “Self-actualization” — to organizations that cared about “survival” and “security.” Go as low as you can to avoid the “discretionary spend” budget.

3. Embrace nuances, but notice (and repeat) patterns

While every customer and every “character” is different, make note of the patterns you see emerging to avoid reinventing the wheel for each customer.

For our product, I found company size to be the biggest factor in determining which value my customer cared most about:

Maybe for your product it will be industry or geography, but the more patterns you can find — and repeat — the more efficient and scalable your sales operations can become.

Next up — Inside Out Story: How to Remix your Structure

Stay tuned, and please reach out with feedback, comments or thoughts — How do you identify and prioritize your customer’s values?