Paul Kenny @ Business of Software. Selling sales to Techies.

Engaging Dialogue

In this session Paul will explore how best to get the customer really talking about their needs their concerns and their aspirations. We will explore how best to use our questioning and listening skills to engage the customer in a meaningful dialogue, which will help not only to identify an appropriate solution, but also to enhance the customer experience.

Bio – Paul Kenny is one of the UK’s top sales trainers, consultants and speakers. He has worked with many customers in three continents, including IBM, Perot Systems, The Guardian Newspaper and tens of others. Paul has developed a portfolio of nearly 100 sales, management and personal development courses. He won a national training award for his work with The Guardian.

Paul Kenny is frank about Frank

Paul Kenny is frank about Frank

Every conference seems to evolve a theme organically. BOS2010 seems to be developing a theme around customer experiences. The stuff you do as a startup becomes part of the cultural DNA of a business. Founders have a unique opportunity to hardwire either: brilliant standards for sales or; programmers contempt for sales. Dharmesh’s talk about Molly the Bear was a critical reminder of how important the customer was and Jason’s roasting of sales in general and Frank in particular, was a real wake up call.

Most founders and technical people hate sales and cannot embrace him. By doing so, you as a founder are totally at the mercy of the Franks of the world. Franks come from the world of Enterprise Sales where sales cycles are long and it takes at least 3 years to be found out. Franks often have have impressive resumes that talk about massive sales achievements but you need to realise that most of the work is done by the brand – Microsoft, Oracle etc. There is a role for Frank but he NEEDS a big, powerful, brand with big expenses and big cars in order to do their job. Eventually, the Franks of the world run out of luck and places to go and then try to move to the world of startups where they think they can cut themselves a nice deal as the founders DON’T HAVE THE BACKBONE TO DO THE SELLING.

Although it is a bit uncomfortable for founders to talk to people, it is just another thing that a founder has to do. It is a lot easier than firing people.

This is Paul’s third BOS conference. Here is what he covered in the previous two:

Paul Kenny 2008 2009 Precis

Paul Kenny 2008 2009 Precis

Biggest question from last year was, “How do you know which stories to share with your customers?”

This is critical and the subject of today’s talk.

Paul’s son Tom wants to hear stories that involve all the things that Tom loves – Horrid Henry, Spongebob, Aliens, Zombies, Fernando Torres and a climactic sporting challenge in which Tom steps in to save the day. Only Paul and Tom’s Mum really know how to tell a story to Tom that works for Tom. They know what he wants, likes and responds to.

Bed time stories for Tom

Bed time stories for Tom

Same principle applies to customer dialogue.

  • Quality of Dialogue is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to Quality of Customer Acquisition.

When there is little perceived difference between two products, you are likely to buy from the person that you like the most. the most interesting people you will ever meet will be the people who are most interested in YOU. People like to be sold to in their language, not yours. “Great sales people ask great questions, tell great stories and put together great deals.”

“The customer’s faith in your product as a solution to their  problem is directly proportional to how well they believe you understand their problem.”

This is the key reason that you NEED TO TALK TO CUSTOMERS. The dialogue depends on where you think you are in the market.

Two by two story matrix

Two by two story matrix

  • High Burn/High Risk – You need to know what will drive a decision.
  • Differentiation – You need to be able to show how you are different
  • Evangelists – Sell the dream
  • Dream segment – You need to talk about the future

The average amount of time that sales people take from moving from small talk to talking about their product is 47 seconds. You probably don’t get to know too much about customers and what they want in 47 seconds. You only need to do a little more than the average to make a huge difference to your customer engagement.

what do you need to know about customers?

Hard data Soft data

Hard data Soft data

Most people know some of the hard data about their customers, but you need to know the softer, DNA based stuff – Drivers, Needs, Aspirations.

DRIVERS – never (or rarely) explicit. This is stuff you can only get from talkingto a person.

  • Ego – how does this make me look good
  • Security – No one got fired for buying IBM
  • Ease
  • Belonging
  • Gain

NEEDS – the functions that are important to them. This saves doing a lot of long boring demos.

  • Function – what do they need something to do?
  • Timescale – a quick, immediate & inferior solution is often better than a perfect one that takes a year
  • Scalability
  • Integration
  • Affordability
  • Result – is often non-obvious (Paul has a Kindle to buy him space. If he has any more books, he will need to buy a bigger house – more expensive than a Kindle).


  • Project
  • Team
  • Personal

Guidelines for creating a better dialogue with customers


Talking to customers trumps having Molly the Marketing Bear to represent the customer. (See notes on Dharmesh). You run the risk of making assumptions without real dialogue.


This is very different to asking questions to find the customer’s hot button. If you ask selfish guiding questions, customers will think you are a dick, or even worse, Frank. Appreciative curiosity.


Dr Evil's Questioning Strategy

Dr Evil's Questioning Strategy

Start with the easier stuff and move onto other stuff.



If you only target sales people on revenue, they will only produce revenue. You can also target them on:

  • Feedback
  • Growth
  • Loyalty and CHI (Customer Happiness Index)


  • Hire the sales people who ask the most interesting questions, not the one that delivers the best pitch.
  • Avoid Frank.
  • You have the Founder’s Advantage.  No one can match your experiences.
  • There is something cool about talking to Founders.

Paul has made his slides available at Slideshare: