Selling value is more important than ever

As we sell in these tough economic times, sales people need to think about how they position themselves with accounts. It’s too easy – and often tempting – to focus on price. Many customers will do just that, leaving sales reps to believe that winning business under these economic conditions requires offering price concessions. While price has moved to a more prominent position in all sales, it still remains central primarily in transactional sales. In major sales, while customers may be more price conscious than in the past, value remains the cornerstone to successful selling.

And, to grow the business in major accounts, sales people need to do more than sell product. They cannot create value for the customer and separate themselves from their competition by talking about features.  They must have the ability and confidence to carry out technical and business conversations with the customer about the unique benefits they can provide. After all, customers care most about solutions to problems.

In this blog post, we want to explore the notion of value itself.  The word “value” is so omnipresent in sales training today that we think sometimes the true importance is lost. So, here are three points we think are critical when talking about value.

First, a fundamental one is value migration – that is, what constitutes value often shifts over time.  Whether you analyze it from the perspective of the individual, company, or an entire industry, expectations about value tend to be dynamic.  Business history is rich with examples of companies that had very viable value propositions but failed to accurately judge the shift in the market’s value expectations, subsequently ending up with a business model that was no longer responsive to their customer base.  Implication for the sales team: be an early warning mechanism for value migration.

A second point is that value is position-specific. What value means to a COO differs by organization.  And individuals holding different positions in the same organization have differing views on what constitutes value. Of course there are some commonalities, but understanding the differences enables sales people to differentiate themselves from the competition.  Implication for the sales team: there are no generic customers – how you sell value must be customized to the individual.

Selling value

Finally, products have no inherent value.  Products possess features; they do not possess value.  Value is a relative idea that is all about fit – the fit between the customer’s needs and your solution.  If the product does not address a need, then it has no value to that customer.  This is why top performers make such a big deal about the distinction between features and benefits.  Features simply describe the characteristics of the product.  Benefits, on the hand, are about the degree to which a product meets a customer need.  Implication for the sales team: in order to create value, you must focus on selling benefits, not features.

Check out other posts on sales effectiveness at the Sales Training Connection.

©2011 Sales Horizons™, LLC

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About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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9 Responses to Selling value is more important than ever

  1. Paul Kirrage says:

    Excellent article, Janet & Richard.

    I train sales staff in Lyon, France to tell the story of their product or service in terms of the benefits afforded to individuals.

    Your article will help me encourage clients to move away from ‘describing the product’ – which has no inherent value, as you say – to telling users’ stories and having prospects imagine themselves enjoying those same benefits. It will also help them tailor their stories to different individuals within the organisation, something that all sales staff do not do spontaneously.

    Thanks again,

    Kind regards

    Paul

    • Janet says:

      Thank you for your build, Paul. We, too believe in the value of using stories to create pictures to help clients more concretely see the value a solution can bring to their organizations.

  2. Stephanie Simmons says:

    I have been telling my sales staff this for years – it’s great that you have written it in such a concise manner! Thank you!

    • Richard says:

      Stephanie, Thanks for your interest in Sales Training Connection – we always enjoy getting comments.

      From our experience you are right to emphasize the importance of selling value. Perhaps the key point from the blog was the one about value being customer specific. Helping a sales team to get a clear picture of what matters to the various call points they need to contact is well worth the time. It is hard to sell if you don’t know why people buy. All of this is particularly important if they have to call on senior level people because value at that level is entirely different than the mid manager or technical levels.

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