This Is How a CEO Tells a Great Story
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on Medium here.
In my strategic messaging and positioning work with CEOs and leaderships teams, my goal is to align everyone around a story that’s going to drive sales, marketing, fundraising, recruiting, product – everything.
So when I kick off an engagement, I like to show a video of what it looks like when that goal is achieved.
The other day, a client company’s CEO emailed me with a request:
My comms team is making new content for prospects, and they’re taking a real “chest beater” approach, screaming to the world how great we are. I want them to see that video you played for us, where the CEO took the storytelling approach, along with your analysis of why it’s so good. Have you written that up anywhere?
The Video – and Why It’s So Good
The video is an appearance by Tien Tzuo, the CEO of Zuora, on CNBC’s Mad Money with Jim Cramer.
I also wrote about Zuora in The Greatest Sales Deck I’ve Ever Seen, and while there are plenty of CEOs who tell the company story well, Tzuo is so consistently great at it that I continue to learn from him. (I have no relationship with, or stake in, Zuora.)
Zuora has raised over $240 million and is headed for an IPO, while many of its competitors – some of which started around the same time, sell the same thing, and lay claim to offering better technology – remain also-rans.
Why? I believe that much of the answer can be gleaned from the video, which I’ve posted at the bottom of this article. As you watch it, be on the lookout for how Tzuo accomplishes each of the following (figures in parentheses are the times each appears in the video):
1. Name a Big, Relevant Change in the World (1:20)
TZUO: Customers today, they don’t want to buy products. Why buy a DVD if you can get any movie you want from a Netflix? …Why buy a car if you can get from point A to point B with services like Uber…? …[It’s] what we call the “subscription economy.”
Tzuo doesn’t start by talking about his product, investors, his team or anything about Zuora. Instead, he describes a shift that creates opportunity and risk – what he calls the “subscription economy.” Whether you’re writing a screenplay or telling your company story, every great narrative starts with change.
2. Don’t Proceed Until Your Audience Validates the Change (2:29)
TZUO: In your own life, you’re probably buying less stuff because you’re getting everything you need from the services you can access on your phone…
CRAMER: That’s absolutely true.
This may seem like a small thing, but it’s huge. In validating the change, Kramer signals agreement with how Tzuo sees the world. Negotiation guru Chris Voss might say that if Kramer had been a sales prospect, this would have been the moment the deal became Zuora’s to lose. (Voss, a former lead FBI hostage negotiator, calls it “Getting to ‘that’s right.’”)
#3. Tease Your Promised Land Before Pitching Your Product (2:44)
TZUO: … we help turn their customers…into subscribers…
Before he delves into the details of Zuora’s product, Tzuo articulates in just a few words the happily-ever-future he’s committed to making real for his customers – what I call the Promised Land. Note that he uses exactly the same words that back then appeared at the top of Zuora’s home page:
By repeating the message, Tzuo drives home to everyone – employees, prospects, investors, press – Zuora’s mission, without the need for a separate mission statement.
#4. Name the stakes (2:51)
Having earlier name-checked the likes of Netflix, Uber, and Salesforce as subscription economy champions, Tzuo has been saying that winning and losing is at stake. Here, he drives that home:
TZUO: Most importantly, [we help companies] build a strong recurring-revenue business model, because that’s type of business model that Wall Street prefers.
#5. Position features as overcoming obstacles to the Promised Land (4:28)
For many Zuora prospects, one obstacle to Tzuo’s stated Promised Land – turning customers into subscribers – is that they suddenly have always-on relationships with large numbers of customers, and they have to start prioritizing the most valuable ones. When Tzuo finally does get to his product – roughly 3 minutes into a 3.5 minute interview! – he positions features in terms of how they overcome obstacles to the Promised Land:
TZUO: … We’re launching a product…what we’ll tell him is, if you give us all your subscriber behavior, we’ll tell you which behavior signals the higher-value customers…
CRAMER (fawning): That’s the killer app! I worked in sales at Goldman – that’s what I had been looking for.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Tzuo also offers evidence that he’s been able to deliver clients to the Promised Land, citing clients in different industries who have successfully deployed successful subscription business with Zuora’s help. By the end of the interview, Cramer is practically drooling for Zuora stock.
Watch: Zuora CEO Tien Tzuo on Mad Money with Jim Cramer (2015)
Here’s the video, teed up to start at the beginning of Tzuo’s appearance:
About Andy Raskin
I help CEOs and leadership teams align around a strategic story – to power sales, marketing, fundraising, product, and recruiting. My clients include teams backed by Andreessen Horowitz, First Round, GV, and other top venture firms. I’ve also led strategic story training at Uber, Yelp, General Assembly, VMware, and Stanford. To learn more and get in touch, visit andyraskin.com.
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