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The top-of-the-funnel to bottom-of-the-funnel conversion that used to take six months has now been halved. Ask Sunder Balakrishnan, Supply Chain Analytics Leader at LatentView Analytics, and he’ll tell you how creating story arcs for case studies has made selling more efficient for his division. It used to take months to get new brands (clients) from the top of the funnel to the middle of the funnel. But now, that happens in weeks, he adds. 

Balakrishnan isn’t alone, because other leaders from LatentView have been using storytelling techniques too. Take Aaditya Raghavendran, Delivery Manager, who uses the principles of Data Storytelling everyday. For every proposal he makes, he sets up the situation, highlights valuable insights, and then makes his recommendations. 

It has been two months since Aaditya completed a Narrative Thinking programme with The Ken. And he’s used the learnings not just for his own work, but also trained over a 100 freshers (mostly graduates from engineering colleges) who joined LatentView in the principles of Data Storytelling.

“People are tech-savvy across LatentView. We do great analysis, but there is always some gap when it comes to talking to the customer, who needs a business perspective. We tend to go with a technical perspective,” he says. LatentView does put a lot of stress on learning storytelling, but there was no formal programme for emerging leaders and freshers. That changed this year, he adds.

Kaushik Boruah, Entity Lead, CPG & Hospitality has gone a step ahead. He has taken the learnings and fashioned them into a regular refresher that needs to be covered with his team of about 20 analysts and managers once every two months. Storytelling is integral to problem-solving, and executives need to constantly work on setting up the approach and communicating it back to the client, he says, which is why the principles of storytelling need to be regularly revisited.

Sunder, Aaditya, and Kaushik were part of a team of 10 from LatentView who attended The Ken’s narrative thinking programme. LatentView is a Chennai-based pure-play data analytics company which reported a net profit of Rs 130 crore and a revenue to Rs 408 crore in the year ending March 2022. And it’s a company where data-driven decision-making is seen as a core value. 

Unlike consulting firms that just sell a story, LatentView relies on data to improve their clients’ decision-making to unlock better business outcomes. However, in the real world, this solid core is often lost without a story to back it up. Because it is a story that makes complex data accessible to clients. 

What’s the point of painstakingly collecting data and applying all this expertise to arrive at insights, if the customer gets so emotional during a pitch that they just stop listening? How does one interview people across hierarchies at organisations that can be potential clients to understand their real problems? The senior LatentView executives all agreed that it was the emotional component that had a major role to play in everything that they do. 

One of them, for instance, said that they needed a framework to ask the right questions in the right order during the discovery process—like a journalist—in order to understand the customer’s challenges. If you cannot sell them the problem, you cannot sell them the solution, he said.

So over the course of the Narrative Thinking programme, we covered the lot of it—the fundamentals of storytelling and how to use them to present data, understand customers, and close sales conversations. And now, some of them are using these principles to rewrite strategy across the board and train others in the organisation. 

Data cannot drive decisions without a story

The overall challenge for business problem-solving is articulating the question in such a way that it spurs the audience to take action, Rajan Sethuraman, CEO of LatentView, told us over a zoom call in December, 2021. However, when they tried to do that in presentations, people tended to get stuck in the math, data, and technology, he added. His expectation from the programme was clear—participants needed to learn how to tell a business story, one that was convincing and led to action.

One executive put the problem this way: seven out of ten times, they said, they got it right. The rest of the time, they either did not understand the scope of the problem or focused on something they wanted to do/hear. It is easier when the customer knows the problem and wants it solved. But other times, the customer just doesn’t know, he added. 

That’s when you’re likely to find yourself halfway through a project and realise that either you hadn’t asked the right questions, or the customer had not shared the entire problem. Or didn’t know there was a problem.

The participants also already knew the value that a story brought to the table. Speaking to a potential client and telling them this is what we know, this is our experience, and this is how effective our solutions were didn’t result in too many conversions, one executive said. It always needed a story to do the magic. 

But which story would have which effect was never known. 

Two other senior executives explained how there was a catch-22 here. You could approach a particular client and start off with descriptive analytics, then figure out the problem, the root cause, and finally lay out the solution. Or, you could drop a bombshell right off the bat, then show the solution and how it’s worked for others. 

The problem with the first approach is that it tends to fall on deaf ears and the client does not feel any sense of urgency. With the latter, clients sometimes were so shocked and agitated that they stopped listening to the solutions.

What the participants were looking for was a way to put the customer at the centre, understand their problems (large and small), and then make their presentation in a way that brought what the client needed and what LatentView had to offer into one coherent story. 

Connecting the person, the problem, and the product

A bigger problem, an executive told us, was when the abundance of data made things complicated. LatentView reviews clients’ business practices, does lunch and learn sessions, preliminary analyses, etc., but in the end, this sometimes becomes so complex that it’s hard to explain the overall picture to the client. 

This problem would be solved, this executive said, if they could always remember that they were talking to a person, and not just balancing an equation. These executive don’t just learn about businesses, but also personas. What makes these people tick? How do you change the story based on who you’re talking to?  There was no one template or best practice for this conversation, they told us.

They wanted to learn how to use empathy-building, a skill that journalists often deploy during interviews; probing to understand behavioural, psychographic, or other socio-cultural aspects, another skill often employed by journalists in their everyday thinking; and how to use all this information to create a simple story that can be pitched to the client.

Finally, LatentView also needed tactical tips and tricks to make the presentations convincing. Which story format works for cold starts? Which one should you use for the third/fourth meeting, which is when they present their proposed solution? How to start and conclude stories for maximum impact?

Over zoom meetings and surveys, they outlined all their expectations. One participant summarised these asks in three points: 

  1. How do we create a powerful story backed by insights derived from data? Is there a framework/structure that we can follow?
  2. How do we tell the same story effectively for different audiences under different circumstances? (CxOs vs Directors vs Internal audience or Sales pitch vs Business Review vs regular business update)
  3. How do we identify whether the story will work or not?

A learning programme inspired by the principles of journalism 

Well, The Ken conducted a full programme for LatentView that included one workshop that detailed the concepts, mental models and examples, followed by three masterclasses. All of which were customized for this group.

Here are three messages from the participants explaining how they planned to use these learnings: 

  • I will go back rewrite the story for the leadership program and its impact for the organisation and entity leads
  • I have an upcoming demo of a supply chain solution and I can see that a lot of the elements we focused on today will directly apply to how I tell the story
  • I will use the format in an upcoming business review with one of the clients where we wanted to present a new idea derived from the pain point observed from data.

And these are the results of a single idea that Venkat Viswanathan, Chairperson of LatentView had in October last year, when The Ken first announced Narrative Thinking workshops. 

Venkat had always promoted training programmes in storytelling internally, but this time he asked himself why they shouldn’t learn it from people who write stories for a living. Or journalists?

The problem for LatentView was always simple. They crunch a lot of data, but they felt that they were falling short when explaining it to their clients. We struggled to visualise the promised land, said one of the participants. We wanted to be able to show that this is how success can play out with proof, she added. 

How could they convince people who weren’t from a technology background that python code or SQL code would help them, and that data does drive better business decisions? This was the first major storytelling programme we’d ever conducted and it’s taught us how to communicate the story, LatentView’s L&D head told us after the programme. 

With that, we want to announce that we are opening up slots for the last quarter of this year. And because we are focused on quality, not quantity, and focused on outcomes, not just ticking boxes, we are taking bookings only for the next six companies. Sign up here.

P.S: The Ken’s Learning team is not involved in editorial decisions and operates independently of its Editorial team

AUTHOR

Ruhi Kandhari

Ruhi writes on the impact of healthcare policies, trends in the healthcare sector and developments on the implementation of Electronic Health Records in India. She has an M. Sc. in Development Studies from the London School of Economics.

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