Prioritizing Customer Problems in an Unstable Environment

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Prioritizing Customer Problems in an Unstable Environment


COVID-19 has forced executives to rethink many of their assumptions about their customers, markets, and products. Some go-to-market strategies that worked well in 2019 became paths to irrelevancy once the pandemic became widespread. Resources have been scarce, travel to customers dropped to near zero and the future is unclear.

While it’s natural to want to ride out the storm and hope for better times, moments of crisis are a time for businesses to step up and get the most out of what they already have. Boston-based Digital Lumens offers a real-time example of how the business has remained relevant during the pandemic by highlighting previously undervalued features and adjusted its sales messages.


New Capabilities Drive a Shift

In 2018, Digital Lumens introduced technology to monitor and meter critical process and environmental attributes beyond lighting, including temperature, humidity, energy, gases, vibration, and carbon monoxide. This technology enables customers to collect data points on a range of attributes that are important to the operation of an industrial facility.

Digital Lumens began promoting a “value beyond lighting” message, but the sales team was comprised of experienced lighting experts. Their core expertise was communicating the unique technical features of lighting offerings, and they made their living by matching product features with customers’ technical lighting requirements.

Selling beyond the lighting message required the sales team to learn a new vocabulary and reach a higher-level decision-maker. The team needed to pivot from acting as feature experts to becoming problem finders. And the entire organization needed to understand customers’ high-priority business problems and communicate how Digital Lumens’ offerings could help.


About Digital Lumens

Digital Lumens began in 2010 as a lighting management system for large industrial customers. Its primary value proposition was energy efficiency by providing light exactly when and where you need it. For example, walking into a room and the lights turn on automatically and then turn off when you leave.

Now, scale that concept to an industrial space. There are hundreds of thousands of square feet in warehouses and factories, and there are a lot of lights, but only a few areas where employees are working at any given time. By incorporating LED lighting and networked lighting control, facilities can realize safety and operational efficiency along with tremendous energy savings.


The Dead Squirrel Value Selling Framework

Imagine that your home was overtaken by the worst possible odor caused by a dead squirrel? How urgently would you want to get rid of the smell? How much would you be willing to pay to remove the odor?

In January 2020, Digital Lumens held its annual kickoff meeting for the global sales organization. Neil Baron of Baron Strategic Partners was invited to deliver his dead squirrel workshop: a metaphor for urgent and painful customer problems for which customers are willing to pay.

Together, Neil and the Digital Lumens product management and marketing teams developed a case study that provided the sales team with a concrete example of a real sales situation. Then, they hosted a workshop dedicated to applying the dead squirrel framework to the case study—and the impact was immediate.

The dead squirrel story quickly became part of the Digital Lumens vernacular. At their regular account-review meetings, salespeople reported on the dead squirrels they had uncovered and shared best practices on dead squirrel identification techniques. And they became much more comfortable telling stories to which customers could relate.


Introducing Facility Wellness

After the success of the workshop, the product and marketing teams refined the “beyond lighting” messaging and introduced the concept of “facility wellness,” which is analogous to your own personal wellbeing.

The Digital Lumens software solution gives a large industrial facility the data it needs to pursue facility wellness and leverage the associated clarity and certainty to identify facility performance improvements. The facility is provided with data to overcome—if not avoid—obstacles as well as seize opportunities. One Digital Lumens customer noted that “every time I look at the dashboard, I find additional savings.”


Adapting to a Crisis

Any time an immense change occurs, undervalued features can become enormously powerful. With the onset of COVID-19, companies’ priorities changed. Their attention shifted to occupancy patterns that would inform cleaning activities. They wanted to know where people were congregating so they could enforce safety policies. They wanted to efficiently keep employees and products safer.

What’s more, adding the COVID-19-related asset tracking use cases for people (including contact tracking) in addition to the general industrial use cases for asset tracking (i.e., equipment, goods, and people) helped Digital Lumens justify to management further investment to accelerate its asset tracking product roadmap.

This approach required the sales team to tell new stories to existing customer contacts as well as reach out to new customer contacts, such as environmental health and safety managers.”

To support outreach to this new audience, the product management and marketing team ran weekly webinars for channel partners and the direct sales team to:

  • Remind the team about what they learned in the dead squirrel session
  • Reinforce the revised facility wellness messages
  • Introduce new use cases and concepts

This adaptability has kept Digital Lumens relevant for customers. They’re still selling what they already have, but with a new story and positioning—in addition to a new top-of-mind story for future functionality that’s in development. The number of intelligent conversations with senior-level executives increased, and salespeople have found several new dead squirrels that customers want removed.


Key Takeaways

  1. Change is hard. Not every change has to be a seismic shift that requires a major redirection of resources. Often, a major impact can happen by revisiting the value proposition for the products and services you already have.
  2. Get alignment across teams. The importance of having a common language and framework around customer value should not be understated. And it may be worthwhile to get an outside expert’s perspective.
  3. Support from senior leadership is vital. It’s also important for leadership to model the right behaviors and use the common language and frameworks that have been established.
  4. Be consistent. Digital Lumens reinforced its desired messaging and sales behaviors through regular weekly webinars. While salespeople may complain about the repetition, old habits and behaviors are hard to change. Repeat, repeat, and repeat.
  5. It’s never too late. If you didn’t have the foresight to begin this effort before the pandemic (or other crisis of the day), don’t panic. It’s never too late to begin, and the journey starts with a deep understanding of customer needs and mapping how your features can help solve your customers’ dead squirrels.
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Neil Baron

Neil Baron

Neil Baron is managing director at Baron Strategic Partners. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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