Innovation Games as Story Listening

I recently completed an unusually fun project: Paul Mantey from NetApp invited me, and my colleague and Certified Collaboration Architect John Heintz from Gist Labs, to make a series of short, educational films for the NetApp sales team. John covered Agile and DevOps, Paul presented NetApp’s completely unique value proposition for Agile DevOps, and Paul and I discussed how NetApp’s Impact Discovery Workshops, which are powered by Innovation Games®, radically change the sales process. It was a lot of fun hanging out in the NetApp film studios–Green screens! Super cool video gear! “On Air” signs!

NetApp’s Cathie Staley moderated and helped produce our sessions. In one session, Cathie interviewed Paul and myself on the art of story telling in sales. Our focus was on helping strategic account managers use stories to connect NetApp value propositions and market differentiating features to customer needs. And I loved this session because it allowed Paul and myself to make a full-circle link between the storytelling that shares value propositions in a compelling way and the story listening that is the foundation of Innovation Games®.

Beware PowerPoint Paula and the What and Why? Guy

Two of my favorite negative salesperson stereotypes are PowerPoint Paula and the What and Why? Guy. PowerPoint Paula blows into your office, demands an overhead projector, and then proceeds to bore you to tears with her carefully rehearsed slide deck. Her carefully rehearsed stories (cue customer story 3 on slide 7) is what I call a “show up and throw up”. Paula shows up, throws up slides — and you simply want to vomit.

The What and Why? Guy is at the other end of the spectrum. He comes into the office with a notebook, a pen and a set of questions that always seem to end in Why: “What do you need? Why?” or “What are your strategic priorities? Why?” or “What can we improve? Why?” At best, the What and Why Guy is sincere (albeit creepily sincere). At worst, the What and Why Guy is merely interrogating you in an effort to close a deal.

In stark contrast to this, are the approaches that Paul Mantey is pioneering at NetApp and Kevin Parker is taking at Serena.

Changing Complex Sales Through Story Listening

A NetApp Impact Discovery Workshop is a structured workshop in which NetApp customers play tailored Innovation Games® to identify high impact business opportunities. In the process, the NetApp account team and NetApp partner sales and service teams gain a deep and thorough knowledge of customer needs.

The key is that these workshops are designed to allow customers to tell their stories. And when customers are telling stories, NetApp is learning what is really needed to serve them.

For example, in one workshop NetApp customers played Speed Boat to identify the anchors that would prevent them for rapidly deploying a new production system. By asking customers to draw their own boat, describe their destination, and then identify the anchors that might prevent them from moving quickly, NetApp was able to create an environment that allowed customers to tap into their true goals. By simply asking customers to share stories about their anchors, NetApp was able to identify a significant number of opportunities.

Creating Alignment on Priorities Through Knowsy®

Every salesperson involved in a complex sale will tell you that to close a complex sale you must do at least two things: You must determine the priorities of the each person, and you must create alignment on a shared set of priorities that will drive the sale. While most successful salespeople go about this process a bit more effectively than the “What and Why? Guy”, the reality is that determining decison-maker priorities in a complex sale is not all that much fun. Until now.

The Social IT Game is Serena’s game to identify IT buyer priorities in a complex sale. Powered by the Knowsy® platform, The Social IT Game turns the act of identifying and understanding the degree of alignment that exists within a team a super fun game. And once a salesperson has a group of decision makers talking with each other about their shared priorities, they know that a deal is in the making. Check out Kevin Parker’s video explaining this game.

Becoming a Better Story Listener

Everyone who has taken a Certified Collaboration Architect course featuring Innovation Games® from one of our qualified instructors learns that one of the most important aspects of an Innovation Game® is the way that a game induces the participants to tell stories while playing the game. More precisely, we strive to teach Facilitators how to induce stories during games, we discuss how Observers should be listening to stories, and we even lightly explore what kinds of stories each game is likely to produce.

And while there are a lot of articles and books about becoming a better story teller, to build truly innovative products and services, you need to become a better story listener. Here are some suggestions on how to improve your story listening skills.

  • Match the game you’re playing to the stories you want to hear. If you want stories that explain relationships, consider Spider Web. If you want stories of an uninhibited future, or stories that capture the passions of your customers, consider Product Box. Stories of how adversity was overcome can be motivated by Remember the Future.
  • Listen for stereotypic story structures. Here are some common structures: I need (feature or capability) {so that, in order to, because} I want to accomplish (goal). My friends in the Agile community will recognize this as the User Story format, which is a great way to capture and communicate requirements. The key difference, however, is that in this post a Product Owner isn’t just sitting down and generating a lot of user stories. Instead, the user stories are generated directly by your customers through game play.
  • Let the rules of the game you’re playing help you draw out stories from your players. Consider a common scenario: Branden, a Product Manager for a car company, is playing several online Buy a Feature games with customers to help them prioritize their product backlog. During one game, Branden notices that Susanne has made a significant bid on a new feature which allows the car to be configured so that it can automatically send signals to devices like garage doors to open them when the car is within a preconfigured distance of a specified location. This bid positions Brendan to learn more about the reasons this feature is so important and the conditions or requirements of acceptance by using the structure of the game to drive get the stories that drive requirements.

Branden: Susanne, you’ve made a substantial bid on the automatic arrival feature .What can you say to the other player’s to convince to join you?
Susanne: C’mon everyone — get the automatic arrival. It’s cool.
Ming: Susanne, don’t put your money there — buy the MPG monitor instead. We all need to save gas.
Satish: I agree — gas savings are really important.
(Brendan, whispering to Susanne): It looks like the other players are interested in saving gas. You’re going to have to work a bit harder to convince them.
Susanne: I agree that saving gas is important.
Susanne: But I live a kinda bad neighborhood so I installed an alarm system. Sometimes I forget to turn it off properly when I get home, so we get false alarms. If my car could somehow tell my home when I’ve arrived, I’d feel safer.

The important point is that it was the rules of the game that motivated Susanne to tell a mini story on why a feature was important to her. This information can be used in a number of ways: determining the requirements of home alarm system interactions, improving marketing messages, developing more compelling personas, building patent fences around novel technologies, and so forth.

Making Your Move

While the popular press is motivating you to tell better stories, we think you might find that listening creates even better results. What’s your take? Let us know at info@innovationgames.com


Success Stories: Quova: Innovation Games for Sales Training

Tami Carter, VP of Marketing, interviews Steven Dodds, Quova’s VP of Global Sales and Services about Innovation Games’ use for Sales Training.

Steven Dodds, VP of Global Sales and Services at Quova, recently shared how Quova incorporated Innovation Games into sales training to encourage the sharing of best practices. Click on the image above or this link to hear how Quova used Spider Web and Remember the Future to explore relationships between and inside account and improve sales performance.


LAURA RICHARDSON JOINS THE INNOVATION GAMES® COMPANY AS VICE PRESIDENT OF SALES

LAURA RICHARDSON JOINS THE INNOVATION GAMES® COMPANY AS VICE PRESIDENT OF SALES

Veteran industry executive joins TIGC to drive adaption of the company’s industry-leading online game platform for market research.

Mountain View, CA – June 15, 2011. The Innovation Games® Company, the only producer of online and in-person serious games for market research, is pleased to announce that Laura Richardson, a veteran industry executive with 20 years of sales and management experience has joined the company as Vice President of Sales. Working out of the company’s Mountain View, CA, headquarters, Richardson will focus on developing new business opportunities and driving adaption of TIGC’s revolutionary online game platform, Innovation Games® Online.

“Laura is an invaluable addition to The Innovation Games® Company,” said CEO and founder Luke Hohmann. “Her deep experience in the software, IT and e-commerce, along with her commitment to customer-understanding, will be essential assets as we continue to drive adoption of Innovation Games worldwide.”

Laura Richardson, VP of Sales

Laura’s two decades of experience includes seven years at Uptime Resources, where she ran the IT professional services division. Laura’s team managed all aspects of technology for small and mid-sized businesses in the San Francisco Bay Area. Prior to Uptime resources, Laura was the business development director at E-Color, where sheand her team launched an image and color optimization engine to improve the reliability of online images used by large e-commerce sites from companies like Bloomingdales and J Crew. The seeds for her love of technology were planted during the four years she spent with ObjectSpace. As Sales Director for both the East and then the West coast, she helped large Fortune accounts successfully adopt object-oriented technology and iterative development practices.

“I’m pleased to join The Innovation Games® Company,” said Laura. “My passion is helping customers find powerful solutions to their pressing problems, and TIGC’s unique solution of serious games and technology fosters customer understanding and market insight that would be unattainable through other methods.”

A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Laura holds a BA in political science and has worked on MA in psychology. She lives in the East Bay with her husband and two children and challenges herself a few times a year by participating in ToughMudder Adventure Races.

About The Innovation Games® Company
The Innovation Games® Company is the only producer of serious games—online and in-person—for market research. TIGC helps organizations large and small get actionable insights into customer needs and preferences to improve performance, through collaborative play, having worked with such companies as Cisco, Reed Elsevier, Yahoo!, Qualcomm, SAP, Emerson Climate Technologies and more. To learn more about Innovation Games® Online, our online game platform for real-time, distributed collaboration and Knowsy, our brand engagement platform, visit http://innovationgames.com.

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