Chasing Innovation: How Storytelling Boosted One CPG Company’s Sales Org

How Storytelling Boosted One CPG Company’s Sales Org

For one global leader in the Consumer-Packaged Goods (CPG) space, innovation is, and has been, the norm. They’re used to leading the way and evolving to support customers’ needs. But they had a problem. Their business communications weren’t up to standards company-wide, which put a strain on their organization.

“Often, presentations weren’t as effective as they needed to be because they lacked consistency, message clarity, audience focus, and visual organization.”

They needed help to ensure everyone in their organization could meet the company’s high standards.

The Business Landscape Is Changing Fast — How Can Enterprise Companies Keep Up?

The speed of business today is fast, and it’s only accelerating as the CPG industry becomes more and more crowded. With competition at an all time high, it was more important than ever for this company to improve how it communicates with its retailers and consumers (and internally!) through authentic, relevant stories that include meaningful data insights. They also realized that taking a customer-centric approach, one that accounts for multiple distinct categories within their industry, would be critical to their ongoing success.

Prior to participating in storytelling training, employees across the organization demonstrated varying levels of proficiency for using storytelling for business communications and using visuals to effectively represent data. After assessing the state of people’s ability across the company, leaders believed it was clear that many did not possess the skills to communicate in a compelling, persuasive way. They were also ill-equipped to use imagery to tell a story with data in ways that moved audiences to action.

In other words, they needed to tell stories that spoke directly to multiple audiences with diverse needs, and they knew it. But at the speed of modern enterprises, ensuring that people across the company possess these important skills is a challenge.

Getting Specific: How the Company Identified Their Specific Needs and Skills

This company realized they needed to take a category-based approach to communication. That is, each category within their industry represents a different audience, and they needed to speak to each of them in a unique way.

Identifying needs to be addressed

To master this category-based thinking, the company realized they needed to:

  • Tell stories from the perspective of retailers, focused on category growth
  • Speak the language of digitally-empowered shoppers around need satisfaction
  • Analyze an ever-rising sea of data to understand the factors driving consumer behaviors, and then communicate key insights
  • Describe how the practice aligns to overall organizational goals and strategies

To be successful, this company needed to maintain its position as a global leader — one that is innovative in the face of an ever-changing marketplace. For them, profitability and growth are dependent on being able to develop insights, understand audiences, and communicate through stories and data.

To do this, they identified four areas of their business that needed to take action around storytelling:

  1. Procurement: Communicating with data at all levels, across functions
  2. Marketing: Creating actionable insights from multiple data streams
  3. Sales: Distinguishing themselves from other manufacturers
  4. Finance: Communicating complex data more effectively

What this meant for the company was that new skills would be needed for people in several departments.

Identifying skills that needed to be developed

Having identified that different organizations within the company had different yet particular needs, leaders recognized that those needs also overlapped with the needs of the entire company. These included the need to:

  • Apply business storytelling best practices to presentations.
  • Factually and persuasively tell stories with data; connect recommendations with retailers’ needs.
  • Communicate from the audiences’ perspective by focusing on their strategies and needs. 
  • Articulate what audiences need to know or do with information being shared.
  • Drive quick, sound decisions with confident and credible communications.
  • Extract meaningful, actionable insights and recommendations from consumer data to communicate them clearly and responsively.
  • Collaborate with stakeholders to solve problems quickly.
  • Deliver consistently high-quality presentations.

After identifying these needs, each organization within the company assessed their skills and behavior gaps to determine exactly what they needed to address. They determined that building new business storytelling and data visualization skills were critical to their long-term success — but many of the people at the company, though otherwise capable, did not have these skills.

The company needed their written, verbal, and visual communications to have greater impact. And because they are such a large enterprise, they needed this kind of effective communication to be part of their everyday practice. But could they build those skills for so many people?

They began by looking at existing internal solutions. While there were existing presentation skills resources available, they weren’t set up in a way that made these new skills easy to learn and apply day-to-day.

How They Built Data Visualization and Business Storytelling Skills at Enterprise Scale

Now that needs and skills were identified, the company developed a strategy with their communications training vendor. The strategy was to invest in developing these skills quickly and holistically across the organization. To accomplish this, they worked toward designing a learning and development program to build strong business storytelling and data visualization capabilities for 750 employees across procurement, sales, marketing, and finance, representing around 2% of the company’s U.S. employee base.

Before committing the practice to the entire organization, however, the company validated the approach with pilots and other sessions that tested the solution’s design.

The purpose of this evaluation step was to assess learning effectiveness, build participant confidence, encourage participant’s involvement in their learning, confirm learning and business needs are being met, and adjust the design or instruction when needed.

  • Prior to the program launch: The training partner conducted stakeholder interviews, presentation reviews, and content quality assurance checks to verify the curriculum’s effectiveness and establish general learner baselines.
  • Prior to each workshop: Participant surveys evaluated individual learners’ existing knowledge, skills, and behaviors related to the learning needs.
  • Throughout every workshop: Facilitators checked in with participants frequently to assess learning progress and make adjustments as needed, using discussions, activities, assignments, peer coaching sessions, and pace-polling.
  • Immediately after each workshop: Surveys captured participant reactions to the learning, facilitator success, performance support relevance, and leading indicators of on-the-job application including confidence and commitment.
  • Three- to six-months post-training: Managers conducted 1:1 coaching for as long as needed, gathering insights as they coach. Organizational leaders and HR business partners observe participant presentations to validate behavior change.
  • At any point after the workshop: Participants were invited to share business stories and presentations with the facilitator team for feedback.
  • Ongoing: Enrollment and attendance rates were continuously monitored as indicators of continued engagement and value of the program. Informal check-ins with stakeholders verified that the practice continued to provide value and was achieving business goals.

This refinement process allowed them to confirm the design would close the gaps as intended. The company rolled out the practice to different organizations over time, allowing them to assess success and make changes, further validating the appropriateness of the solution.

Seeing the Results of Storytelling Training

As a result of learning how to use storytelling and data visualization skills, the company is now better equipped to support retailers’ needs and priorities by framing stories from their category-based perspectives.

In brief, the company evolved their communications capabilities to adapt to changing retailer and consumer demands. They drive better and faster decisions by clearly communicating recommendations with data and insights. They demonstrate consistent presentation capability and proficiency across functions.

How the company saw results in their business storytelling

Participants demonstrated that they achieved the learning objectives. They can now:

  • apply storytelling best practices to communications
  • communicate from the audience’s perspective
  • articulate what audiences need to know and do with information being shared
  • deliver consistently high-quality presentations across organizations

In the short term, participants demonstrated rapid improvement in storytelling capabilities and audience-centric communication, as well as improved presentation quality.
In the long term (as measured by manager coaching and observations), proficiency and confidence have notably improved, meetings became more collaborative and efficient, communications became clearer and more audience focused.

Additionally, post-workshop story submissions demonstrated that participants have retained knowledge and skills learned and continue to build proficiency over time.

How the company saw results in data visualization

Participants also demonstrated that they achieved the learning objectives set forth in the data visualization training. They can now:

  • factually and persuasively tell stories with data, connecting recommendations with retailers’ needs
  • drive fast, sound decisions with confident and credible communications
  • extract meaningful, actionable insights and recommendations from consumer data to communicate and respond to them clearly
  • solve problems quickly with stakeholders by providing clear, actionable recommendations
  • connect and collaborate with stakeholders to move quickly and solve problems

In the short term, participants demonstrated the ability to create visuals that highlight important points and keep the audience focused on their recommendations. They communicate data through stories to help audiences understand what actions are needed. This is observed during workshop activities and presentation labs.

In the long term (as measured by manager coaching and observations), participants’ ability to influence stakeholders and solve problems has improved and reported increased confidence when presenting recommendations.

In post-surveys, participants also said that their training had:

  • on the job application: 99%
  • positive impact to organization: 98%
  • confidence: 93%
  • commitment: 97%
  • usefulness of performance support materials: 98%

Use Storytelling to Improve the Way Your Teams Communicate

Business storytelling and data visualization training measurably improved the way employees at one world-leading enterprise communicate their ideas, data, and information. Participants from across the company increased their confidence and credibility, accelerated collaboration and decision making, and refocused discussions on the audience and their needs.

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