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Fireside Chat – Building Trust in Sales with Kyle Bouchard (Ikigai)

Come back to some old school basics with building trust in sales as you listen to Joe Parlett interview Kyle Bouchard. Be inspired as they talk nuts and bolts of building rapport throughout the sales process.

Joe Parlett – Hey, everyone. I’m Joe Parlett. Thank you for joining. This Fireside Chat series that we’re doing, where we meet periodically with thought leaders in various sales and sales enablement, revenue enablement discussions. And today, we’re meeting with good friend of mine, Kyle Bouchard, who is the VP of sales at Ikigai Labs. We worked together for a number of years. I have a lot of respect for Kyle. He he was a great salesperson. He is a great sales leader, tremendous asset to the customers that he works with. Does a great job at understanding their challenges, and then matching that with his solutions, helping them to understand the value.

And today we’re gonna talk about “Building Trust in Sales.” Before we do, I’ll tell you a little bit about what I’m working on in addition to these podcasts. Co-founder of Featurewave, which is an AI driven sales co-pilot that helps out with this tough situation.

Today’s sales teams are just simply overwhelmed with too much data about their products, their customers, industries, competition, and then all these systems we’re stacking on top of them. It’s very difficult to deal with.

So we’ve come up with an AI-powered platform that cures that problem. We can talk about that another time. Today is not a commercial on Featurewave.

We’re gonna talk to Kyle about building trust in sales. Kyle, great to see you. Thank you for joining. Why don’t you tell the viewers a little bit about Ikigai Labs and your role at the company?

Kyle Bouchard – Yeah, thanks, Joe. Always a pleasure to connect with you, man. It’s been some time from throwing footballs in Cancun back in the day. So, yeah, no, super excited all we’re doing at Ikigai.

You know this, I’ve taken over a sales leadership role here recently, and we just announced our Series A yesterday. So we’re all in the scale up phase of the business. The people that have been here for, you know, 2, 3, 4 years have built basically, what we’re referring to as generative AI for tabular data.

And just to the average person, I think everyone’s heard about generative AI. 80% of enterprise data is in tabular format, Excel, databases, SAP, Salesforce, you name it.

And the challenge is getting into a common state to make AI work. And so our belief is AI has failed just because of it’s always been in model format. People don’t trust it. And so you have to trust the data, and build it in apps, not models. So, super excited. Founders are just great folks. Whole company, we’re a bunch of data scientists, and engineers, and a bunch of good humans helping some really amazing brands. So excited to see where we’re going, so.

Joe Parlett – Yeah, that sounds really exciting. I’ll be watching you guys as well. And you’re gonna go to very tall heights for sure. Real interesting company and technology. And today, we’re going to transition to our topic. Something that you’ve done tremendously in the past, and you’ll continue to do there at, at Ikigai, especially evangelizing and helping people to understand AI and what’s possible.

Why Building Trust in Sales Is So Critical

But building trust in sales, critically important to have success. And why don’t you talk to us a little bit about why trust is so important in sales. It’s important in most aspects of life, for sure, sales is another type of relationship. Why is it so important as we try and sell our products and services to companies that we’re working with?

Kyle Bouchard – Yeah, I mean, I think we all know the age old adage, is trust is the basis of all good relationships. So I don’t think there’s any rocket science in that statement, and any people take away. I think a lot of the basis of trust is, you know, I think the first thing is understanding sales is a natural reflection of a company’s brand promise.

And so, you know, the first interaction you have with a salesperson, some brands are more known than others, right?

I may have used in our world, salesforce.com or SAP before, so I know they have their challenges and warts, like any software company, but I generally love working with them, right?

And so you come in with a prebuilt trust with product, not the human. And I think most SaaS companies in 2023, under 100 million, sometimes the biggest, most influential brand touchpoint, is the first call with a salesperson. And I fundamentally believe you can earn trust and win deals on the first call. Meaning how you come off. Doesn’t mean, there’s a lot of times you recover, and we’ve all messed up, and we’re human. It’s perfectly natural.

I think the other caveat I just kind of call out is part of the way of building trust is being a really effective communicator. And I just believe, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done interviews, even if people aren’t interested in joining, right?

I’m very honest and direct at what we’re at, what we need. If I don’t think someone’s a background’s a fit, let them answer and reflect. But a lot of people don’t even just say generally thank you anymore. It’s pretty amazing.

And so I find it to be how you communicate, not because you’re polished and you come off really authentic, and you’re really smart.

It’s actually, it’s communication during pre, and before, and after calls. A lot of our work is judged by the 30 minute meeting or the hour-long demo.

Unfortunately, that’s not where trust is built. It’s everything before and after. And I think how you earn the right to communicate with somebody and how you communicate why you’re communicating with them is a really important thing.

So I think a lot of times, the basis of the human relationship is, you know, obviously building a dynamic. But ultimately, you know, from a sales and a company perspective, recognizing that the sales team is often the brand promise. And second, how well they’re communicating in general, it’s a really important topic. And it amazes me for every time you interview a salesperson, they say they’re people, I really go people. They suck at communicate.

And I’m like, that’s the basis of all good relationships. Like the way you text your friends, the way you talk to your parents, like, you know, you want it to be open and direct and honest. And a lot of people struggle that in an authentic way versus trying to find an avenue, right?

And I think communication is the way you kind of break down barriers naturally, so.

How to Earn Trust in Sales

Joe Parlett – Yep, yeah. Yeah, key is almost like there are communication and respect as well. You’ve gotta earn the respect and earn the trust.

And part of the way you do that, especially when you’re going into these early meetings, it’s the first impression. These early stage meetings and you do only get that one shot at the first impression.

But preparation, I think that’s important to build trust and get the respect of that person ’cause they’re gonna judge you right out of the gate. Can I trust this person? Do I respect their preparation? So the two go very closely, hand in hand, which leads me to my next question, which, how do you earn the trust of the customer in these companies that you’re working with?

Kyle Bouchard – Yeah, you know, first off, I think one of my favorite quotes, I took it down professionally, but I still think it’s appropriate to speak to, is it’s actually by Mike Tyson, which is a scary proposition in general, but it’s,

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

Joe Parlett – Yeah.

Kyle Bouchard – And what I love about that is I know boss kinda tell me, “You’re gonna feel like you’re gonna lose deals twice.” And if you break down a sales cycle in software, right? It’s the vendor of choice moment, which is huge. And that’s the, like, waiting for that call. You’re giddy, excited, nervous, right? It’s like getting the text back or nowadays it’s probably all through apps, and swipe right, swipe left.

But back in the day, it was like my wife called me back and wants to go on a first date. And so it’s a little different. But I think the basis of the point here is, as you go into earning the trust, it’s through micro and macro moments.

There’s no like single event, right? And Ikigai, we use a term called change point, which Covid was a change point in everyone’s data for prediction analytics. But there’s a change point in a deal, where you change someone’s mind, and it can be early, mid, or late. And it doesn’t, ’cause doesn’t always come ’cause of one single event. It could be a series of, you know, death by a thousand paper cuts, or in this case, trust earned by 1,000 little things, like this person always responded fast, this person followed up diligently with detail, this person shook and got me coffee, and just wanted to learn me and not talk about work, right?

And there’s also how you perform in those macro moments, those big meetings, those big pitches. And I also think trust is not just with the customer. I think it’s how you build trust with your colleagues, which is then I remember, you know, we had some really cool relationships. We still speak to Joe, right? Our sales engineers who I always believe are like our greatest asset.

Your value engineers, your professional services, the trust you build with your colleagues is kind of reflective in a meeting. And customers read that-

Joe Parlett – Right.

The Teaching Versus Selling Mentality in Sales

Kyle Bouchard – Whether it’s conscious or subconscious. So I think it’s kind of something that’s really important is that when you have such a good dynamic with somebody in a room, in a pitch with, and more than just the pitch.

The entire time with the customers, showing up with people that bring value, and you’re teaching ’em. Which is another really key point is, I think as you get older in life, and I’ve appreciated the learning, and I have a student of the game mentality.

But when you’re teaching people something, and they’re learning from you, and you’re bringing people that are teaching them something else, colleagues, partners, whatever, people inherently are more interested in you.

Now, you can take advantage of that for the deal. Or you can take or actually do the right thing, which is keep feeding ’em and bringing them value in small or large ways. And that’s through various tasks. And so, I think learning is naturally humane as you get older.

And I think it’s a really important thing is how people are coming to you to learn about your product and your value.

You’re not trying to sell them, you’re trying to teach them. And having a teaching mentality is I think a really key thing I’ve learned over the years.

That you’ve got something they’re interested in and, you know, be a professor, not a salesperson.

Joe Parlett – All right, I like that. Be a professor. Jotting down some notes here. Yeah, I mean that’s a fantastic point.

Be a professor, not a salesperson. Let me see here.

Building Rapport in Sales

Rapport. Rapport kind of goes hand in hand with trust. But this is something that’s not, can’t be artificial either. I think it’s gotta feel genuine, it’s gotta be authentic.

Like, I think it’s, I believe it’s gotta come through that you do genuinely care. If not, you’re gonna have a tough time climbing that mountain with this person or the company that you’re working with. How do you build that?

Kyle Bouchard – Yeah, I think the word genuine is interesting. I think a lot of people think they’re naturally genuine ’cause I’m a seller, right? And I feel like, you know, at least for Ikigai, the skillset is different than other roles I’ve had, right? And it’s also where we’re at, maturity, do wise, all that stuff.

But regardless, you know, being genuine is not an act. It’s truly making someone feel you are, and that’s something that they consciously or subconsciously have, and it’s based on your actions. And I go back to my earlier point and how you communicate.

Now, old book, Joe, I think you read this too, but you know, “Selling to VITO” is an old school sales book that most people don’t read this day.

And I probably, before my time as well, I got turned onto it, and the idea was if you could read about it, and back then data was so much harder to get before Google, right?

Joe Parlett – Yeah.

Kyle Bouchard – And this book was written, was you should, if there’s something you can read about me, my expectations, you’ve read it. Whether they have said that or not in 2023, I mean, my gosh, with generative AI, ChatGPT, and just simply Google, right?

Joe Parlett – Sure.

Kyle Bouchard – You can learn a lot really fast about an individual you’re talking to. I remember one of my favorite calls I had was with a VP of RevOps for a company I was consulting for.

And the rep that was on the call with me, you know, read about her background at Gartner and I read about something else, and she’s like, “Wow, you guys did your homework.” And she like loved it. Like you kind of picked her up a little bit.

And then there’s the other side, which is trying to learn their company and their business, right? Like trying to truly understand, like what are their executive challenges?

Yeah, we all know 10Ks are developed with some level of, we don’t want to call the baby ugly for doing bad. We have to kind of create language to protect ourselves. But there’s so much information publicly, in the way executives speak at conferences and their earnings calls and whatever, that you can truly articulate their problem statement and kind of subconsciously or consciously build a business case, and actually bring that to the person.

Like, I have read some really cool things about X, whatever that may be. And I’d be curious your thoughts on how this applies to what we’re talking about today. So, I think the idea of rapport is, it’s not just, there’s so much that you can do just to learn about someone. And the other thing too, I think about often is building trust, whether it’s rapport, earning it, et cetera. I always think of my competition, right? It’s not the software company I against, it’s the other salesperson. And that’s a really important thing is, you know, again, it’s just like, this is like going onto a football field, right? Now I’m like getting competitive in this conversation, which is how am I gonna beat that person or this two other people, or whatever that, and regardless of them having a better product, or a worse product, or we have differentiation or not, how do I stand out and how do I do things different? I use a term often in my last sales role, I had and I’ll use it going forward is sound and be different. And if you sound just like them, they’re gonna , they wanna always relate you to something else as a software company. You look just like X.

But if you’re able to change the dialogue, not because your feature or functions better, and actually outsell the competition, which is a deeper conversation we can go into, people, you’re gonna build natural rapport there.

The Importance of Research in Selling (Do Your Homework!)

I think it’s a really important thing is how do you outsell the sales rep again? So there’s a lot of bad sellers out there. It’s not hard. But my earlier point is research, generally curious about someone, asking good questions, coming in prepared, a huge understatement.

Coming in with intention of what I wanna talk about, why I wanna talk about it, and also having some dynamicness on the call. So, but I just go back to kind of know your customer, research is easy, and know who you’re selling against.

The individual, like what’s their background? Are they junior, they senior? There’s a lot of things you can learn, so.

Joe Parlett – Yep, yep. Yeah, you opened up by talking about flattering or my observation was folks, they do like to be flattered. You can flatter them by doing the research, making some observations, complimenting them on what they’ve done.

And I think you do either need to be genuine or you better figure out how to pretend to be genuine because people do buy from people that they like and trust.

So you better care about that customer or get good at pretending you do, because otherwise it’s gonna be a tough battle.

Kyle Bouchard – Yeah. I remember we, our old CEO Joe said, and I obviously, I struggled quoting this publicly, but it was an interesting comment we used to hear, “Once you win the vendor of choice, it’s hotel services.” I’m sure you remember that quote.

Joe Parlett – I do.

Kyle Bouchard – And if you actually think about all of sales, I mean, it’s your job is to be of service to somebody in some way, shape or form, but also get something in return. We all know the game, right? And just the way you get that is, you know, I think there’s a skillset that a lot of people struggle with, which is, you can read all the books in the world and take all the sales trainings, but you have to figure out what works for you.

And finding ways, not this, you know, I want this mechanical way of building rapport. It’s actually finding ways, you know, uniquely ’cause every deal is different, every human’s different, to really figure out a person and find ways to get in front of ’em. And obviously in conflict enterprise sales, you’re talking about multiple different people, different political schemas and businesses you’re selling to, problem statements, egos, challenges with budgets, whatever that thing is.

So one person is not the issue. It’s also how do you build rapport across multiple groups of people who sometimes contradict each other, and find ways to bring ’em together at a customer site. And so, so much can be talked about there, but it’s so important to figure out, to build and figure out your knack to do it, and always be learning, so.

Joe Parlett – Yep, yep. Always be learning, and we kind of touched on this a minute ago, important to be teaching though too. Because these companies, they can do a lot of research just like we can do a lot of research on the company we’re targeting, on the individuals we’re meeting with, and we should do that research. They can also do a lot of research, and information is easy for them to get at their disposal as well.

The Role of Teaching in Building Trust in Sales

They also have Google and all these other tools to find, to do research on our company. So they will benefit greatly by working with somebody who can teach them things. So let’s talk about that. Does teaching have a role in earning trust?

What does teachings, teaching somebody, giving them guidance and information, what role does that play in earning trust?

Kyle Bouchard – I mean, in software, right? I mean it’s everything. It’s people are trying to solve a problem. You know, problem statements are always different, even for the same software.

And you’re trying to educate people on, especially with Ikigai, we’re bringing like a new concept to market of how large graphical models, right, are gonna change generative AI enterprise data.

And yeah, graphical models have been around for a while, but the way we’ve done it at compute, the way we’ve prebuilt this as an app format, like we have to break it down for people to really get it so we can build up the complexity, right? And any company has that challenge.

Your Digital Presence Matters in Sales

The other thing I think, you know, you hit on an earlier point, which, you know, teaching isn’t just the rep, it’s also the company. It shocks me for how digital we are as humans in 2023.

How some software companies have really bad digital presence, and it’s important if you’re in sales and you’re not seeing a great website, you should be shouting from the rooftops because great brands, you know, 60% of the sales cycle’s done before the customer picks up the phone.

So when they’re hitting your 20 pages of your website and there’s spelling errors or there’s logos that are no longer customers, or there’s no value cases, talking about problems they solve where people can relate to, I can’t stress enough, digital presence, its role.

And then second question when sales picks that up, is what have you learned about us? Like ask some basic questions and know where they’re at in their journey. So do I start to my earlier point at just teaching about our brand as the first major touchpoint?

Or do they wanna dive right deep into talking about, you know, some level of AI modeling? And so I think the role of teaching is so important and also understanding, a lot of people don’t know, I mean, generative AI right now, as an example, even I like, you know, it’s my job now, but I still don’t know what large language models truly mean.

I’ve seen it work. I get it, it’s cool. And there’s a really cool product we’re looking at, called Rule 5, which is actually taking a lot of this research and stuff. It teaches me about companies really fast. But I just think when you’re teaching someone something, whether it’s, I always think it’s a subconscious earned right in their brain, now you got a little real estate, they kind of are interested in you.

And I remember losing a deal years ago where this woman called me up, she’s like, “I just wanna say like, and it was such a humbling but also crappy call.” She goes, “You outsold the competition. We loved everything you brought. People you brought in, the way you ran the cycle, but just like their product just felt more of a fit for us.” Which made me, which for me was like, “Well, I missed something.”

I definitely missed something, right? What that was, I don’t know. Boy, I saw that woman years later at a Bruins game and she reiterated, and I was just like, “All right, like kind of humbling.”

Like I brought something, and I just go back to this word teaching, which is, you know, she learns something from me. And people, when you learn something from someone, you take that for rest of your life.

The Risks of Pushing Too Hard in Sales

Joe Parlett – Yep, yeah, it’s so important. Let me see here. Last question. Oh, yeah, wanted to move on to this one.

The pushing too hard and what the impact of that. Does it violate trust? Pushing too hard, you know, as salespeople, typically we’re measured by our monthly, or our company’s measured by a monthly, or quarterly, or annual performance.

We’ve got numbers to hit. But it can also be detrimental if we’re pushing that agenda on the customer and trying to force them to make a decision before they’re naturally ready or they have the information they need, pushing too hard can take a number of shapes. But does that violate trust? And how do we avoid that? And pushing our agenda and having our agenda be upsetting to their process?

Kyle Bouchard – Like it’s know the person, you know, it’s an earned thing to have a difficult conversation, generally speaking. And that’s in life, right? With your friend, like there’s certain topics you probably shouldn’t have with your family at times, and there’s a time to do it and time not to do it. So knowing when, and then the second piece is how.

And I think this is something unfortunately is not taught, I think you can learn it over time, but I feel like people have to know how they create a capability of their own skill here to have a difficult conversation.

So I use a phrase which you know, may, might be not that original, but just works for me in the way my style is, which is, you know, “Hey Joe, I wanna have a difficult conversation with you, but just to be clear, my problems aren’t your problems.” I’ve always used that. It’s to say, “Hey listen,” you know, when you’re asking for something or you want an honest answer, just, you want to kind of find a way to break someone down, in a way that you know it’s gonna be an adult conversation. And I think a lot of people fear adult conversations, naturally in personal and professional relationships. ‘Cause people are afraid of the truth. And you know, the running joke is, you know, “Hey, I don’t like to way your hair looks today.” “What you want me to do about it?” “Go put some hair gel. Just take a shower,” right? And I think people don’t want that feedback, and I think, but in sales you need that feedback. And so sometimes finding a way that is your particular style, ’cause everyone has a different skill set and strength in sales. So it works for me, may not work for my number one seller or my worst seller, or my wholesale team. And so, I think people have to find something that works for them. And then obviously, it absolutely, it’s all about timing. Like the deal’s six months away from closing, it’s your fiscal year close, and you want to just go push a deal to close because it’s your time, which doesn’t matter to them, right? Your timeline, your fiscal, year close, that special deal you gave, you can ruin deals.

And I think a lot of people have to know their customer and you get the pressure from the company, I get that. We need to hit the number, we need this deal. But if it’s just not ready, you know, the alternative is zero. Six months from now, for pushing too hard and too early. So it’s how you do it, it’s building your knack for it, and absolutely it’s just about, you know, you can have difficult conversations but know when to have it, and how to do it, is the key factor, so.

Kyle Bouchard – Yeah. It definitely takes some finesse for sure. And frankly, it is sort of unavoidable, usually, where we’ve got to sort of push our, what may feel like pushing our agenda, our timeline, trying to move their project into the needs of our timeline. So it does require some finesse and you’re gonna have a lot better chance if you do all these things that you talked about leading up to that moment, or you have to ask them to accelerate things as a favor to you. If you’ve earned the trust, you’ve been a good teacher, you’ve done your research, you’ve built rapport, you’ve shown a genuine interest in their success and what’s important to them, then maybe sharing your agenda on the timeline, how it helps you and your company because you’re measured, you know, in this period of time, you know, quarterly or annually, and it’s the end of the year, “Hey, if we can get this done and it works for you,” I think at that point you’ve earned the right to ask for that favor, if you’ve built up to that point over time. So, but if done right, done wrong, yeah, it can be a violation of trust and really upset some folks you’re working with.

Joe Parlett – Yeah, I think too many salespeople believe, ’cause they’re in sales, they ask the difficult question.

Kyle Bouchard – Yeah, a lot of ’em don’t. And I think it’s the right question, the right time, and knowing how to do it. I’ve seen, you know, no one’s perfect and I am far from that, but I think it’s about, you know, if you do push too hard, you gotta learn from it. But what I’ve done different, you know, it’s a really important thing is don’t lose being a student of the game ’cause time’s change. Like I made a “Tommy Boy” reference to my team the other day, which is a movie from our time, and they’re like, what’s “Tommy boy?” I was like, “Oh my god, I gotta like get my quotes up to date for my sales team.”

Joe Parlett – Yeah.

Kyle Bouchard – That was something. But I think it just, you know, get with the times, different ways of doing it, but for sure.

Joe Parlett – Yep, yep. Yeah, definitely gotta earn that trust. Well, hey, this has been super insightful. Appreciate your time. I do have one more question for you, and that is along the lines of organizations that you like to support, we wanna make as a appreciation for your time, we do wanna make a donation on your behalf to an organization that you’re fond of. Does one come to mind in particular at this moment?

Kyle Bouchard – Yeah, I mean I lost my mother a few years ago to Alzheimer’s, early onset in her early 60s. So Alzheimer’s association, and particular Hilarity For Charity. And what’s interesting about them is they’re about teaching youth, you know, 18, you know, kids in college about Alzheimer’s.

‘Cause at that point, you don’t realize it, but your parents might be degrading and you don’t think of it ’cause you’re in this glory days of your life. And so, Alzheimer’s, just the association, all the money for them goes to the Alzheimer’s Association. So it’s kind of a good win. But overall, like my bigger thing is, I recently ran the Boston Marathon for it, so, which was cool, but my new, I learned in this process, that you’ve put your mind to something you can do it truly, which sounds very generic, but as part of my continuous raising Alzheimer’s awareness,

I’m gonna be making next two years a climb up Mount Denali. So which is, it’s all gonna be under the guise of raising, you know, funds and awareness for Alzheimer’s. And so, I’m sure I’ll fly an Ikigai flag up there, and my company banner. But you know, it’s a month long trek, obviously people have died, which is freaking out my wife with two kids, and, but it’s a lot safer. But it’s 30 days of commitment and it’s about a year and a half of training, that I’ll be going through. So trying to determine the start date. But the goal is 2025, probably springtime will be submitting Denali as the target, so.

Joe Parlett – Wow. Well make sure you update that life insurance policy before you go.

Kyle Bouchard – Yeah. All done.

Joe Parlett – All right, great cause though, yeah, Azeheimer’s such a tough disease. Really hard, as you know, firsthand. Tough to see people go through that.

Kyle Bouchard – Yeah.

Joe Parlett – So great cause, thank you. I’m gonna have to get that one in writing from you though, because I don’t wanna, I don’t know if I got the right one. So I’ll shoot you an e-mail, make sure we support the right organization. Great call.

Kyle Bouchard – Yeah.

Wrapping It All Up

Joe Parlett – So Kyle, thank you again, man. So hey, I did take some notes.

  • Summarize,
  • Do your research,
  • Be prepared,
  • Be genuine.
  • Trust is so important.
  • Be a teacher, not a seller.

All these things are so critically important as you build trust with your customer, and you’re gonna need that trust if you’re gonna get these deals done. So be genuine or figure out how to fake it, or figure out how to be it ’cause it’s so important.

Always great to see you, buddy. Appreciate your time.

Kyle Bouchard – All right, thanks, Joe.

Joe Parlett – See you soon.

Kyle Bouchard – Appreciate it.

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