When Sachin Rai boarded the Greyhound bus in San Francisco, he had little idea that the trip to Los Angeles would land him a multimillion-dollar sales contract. Sachin was an experienced account executive at Salesforce: He was searching for strategies to close deals faster while enjoying his job more. That’s when he joined our Somersault Innovation Sell by Design program, where we teach salespeople how to become authentically customer-centric. For Sachin, the noble and logical idea of putting the customer first paled in comparison to the pressure of meeting his numbers. Sound familiar?
When we started working with Sachin, we suggested he choose an account in which he could experience their service as a customer. He chose an account he’d been trying hard to sign: Greyhound. He packed his things, loaded up his curiosity, and set out on an eight-hour learning journey on a California freeway. He would talk to everyone, from ticket sellers to baggage handlers to bus drivers to customers. We asked him to pay attention, take notes, shoot pictures, and fully absorb the customer’s experience.
The long-term goal, of course, was to sign the bus company as a client. The short-term goal, however, was to conduct deep research so he could understand Greyhound through the eyes of a passenger. If he could teach the C-suite something they didn’t know about their customers, they might finally engage.
As he boarded the bus, the first thing he noticed was a frowning, frustrated driver filling out a lengthy report with pencil and paper. “Why did he have to waste time on that, before starting the journey?” Sachin wondered. He asked the driver, who sighed and explained the tedium that is filling out the maintenance details of the requisite service log form. The entire maintenance reporting process was woefully inefficient, and it often resulted in a suboptimal passenger experience, such as inoperable Wi-Fi.
So fascinated was he with what he discovered in his observations southbound that Sachin decided to take the Greyhound-owned BoltBus on the return trip from L.A. to San Francisco. The BoltBus offered an automated ticketing process. The “automation” was a tablet, but it was so slow the driver used a “hack” — a workaround to bypass company procedure — to speed things up. The hack? You guessed it: He used pencil and paper to record passenger boarding information. When your company’s technology is slower than a five-thousand-year-old technique used by the ancient Egyptians, that’s probably a red flag.
Sachin didn’t discover any of these revealing details about the “automation process” during his initial online research. But because he was willing to immerse himself in the customer experience, he was rewarded with these valuable insights. He then used this information to open doors with Greyhound’s lower-level executives. He emailed them and explained he’d taken a long ride in their bus and asked if he could share some feedback he had as a customer.
He received immediate responses from C-suite executives. They were astounded by what he had to say. The problems he described had been invisible to them from their vantage point. In fact, the vice president of digital strategy had never taken an eight-hour ride on her company’s bus. Greyhound’s COO brought Sachin in to discuss the problems he’d witnessed.
WHAT JUST HAPPENED?
Typically, Sachin would have walked into Greyhound’s office with a product to pitch. In fact, before riding to L.A., he had already begun designing a driver app solution he later discovered would have been totally irrelevant. He would’ve struggled to convince a junior-level gatekeeper
to send him on to a decision maker. He never would’ve been in the same elevator as the COO, much less invited into his office.
Instead, Sachin showed the COO pictures he took with Marie, his driver, and he shared her frustrations about the service log form.
The COO was awestruck that Sachin knew what the service log was and was eager to look for solutions. The two sat down to work together on a solution. Eight months later, Sachin and his team were able to build this relationship across multiple channels into a $3 million global deal. It was far beyond what Sachin had hoped for.
Salesforce had initially envisioned a marketing deal, but Sachin’s insights led to ideas that included a much larger solution with a customer community app, a bus app, and a support app. Because of his firsthand experience, Sachin was able to explain how these apps would work in concert to benefit customers and drivers, as well as Greyhound’s bottom line.
The most important element of his success, however, was something that occurred before he ever set foot in a bus depot: his mindset. Sachin succeeded because he shifted his perspective from salesperson to customer.
Rather than go into a client meeting armed with the pitch of a salesperson, Sachin literally spoke the language of the company. He understood the service log form, the inefficiencies involved with it, and how these impacted the passenger experience. He had educated himself with the knowledge of internal Greyhound operations with which other salespeople were unfamiliar.
When you begin your sales approach with the intent of understanding the client’s issues from their point of view — and their customers’ point of view — you position yourself for greater success.
“The most important element of his success, however, was something that occurred before he ever set foot in a bus depot: his mindset. ”