Major account sales occur in a dynamic business environment with multiple players, long buying processes, and complex solutions. In this market everybody gets it. You can’t win by just pitching products; you have to sell value.
Selling value is about helping the customer understand how you can help them achieve their business goals. It all starts with developing an in-depth understanding of the customer’s needs, issues, and challenges and then making the connection between your solution and customer’s desired outcomes.
This of course is a great story and one that should be told many times. Having the skill sets to sell value rather than just pitching products is clearly a cornerstone for success in today’s market. However this is one of those necessary but not sufficient situations.
We have observed many sales reps do a decent job selling value yet fail to win the business. Why? There are other pieces to the puzzle. One often underemphasized is the ability to help the customer deal with the perceived risks of moving ahead with the purchasing decision.
So, how can you reduce the risk and make it easy for a decision maker to say “yes?”
The simple starting point is don’t avoid the conversation. The perceived risks don’t disappear because salespeople pretend they don’t exists. Spend time and effort to understand the perceived risks and to help the customer “connect the dots” so they see how your solution deals with their perceived risks.
These conversations also can help salespeople understand what drives the perceived risks … and that the drivers aren’t the same at each level of decision maker. Recently we came across an excellent article in the Harvard Business Review by Paul Weinstein, a Silicon Valley consultant that addressed this idea about drivers.
Weinstein’s article addressed a general business audience so we borrowed some of the ideas and added a few of our own to translate the ideas to the world of Sales. Let’s take a look at three different levels of decision makers:
- CEO, President, COO. As Weinstein points out, “these highest order decision makers are into the big picture. They care about pleasing boards and shareholders. Public perception and legacy are what is important to them.”
- C-level. The C-level includes the members of the senior leadership team, like the CIO or CFO, that manage entire departments. They bring a strategic perspective to the party. They view the world from a long-term perspective and are concerned about new ways to frame challenges and innovative insights for solving them. These are the people who have been hired to make sure things don’t go wrong. In general, they tend to be the most conservative decision makers and are apt to say “no” to deals.
When it comes to selling, reducing risk at this level is best achieved by having the research and information that documents the strategic upsides, demonstrates how the downsides are minimized and points out the long-term consequences of inaction.
- Functional Business Managers (Marketing, Sales, Technology). These decision makers are directly involved in generating revenue and they are judged based on the numbers.
Weinstein provides an excellent description of the risk narrative for this population: “Most business managers have P&L goals that were established in the prior year — and anything that puts those projections at risk is a tough sell. If things are going well for the business manager, then they may be inclined to take a risk. Sometimes they need to do a deal in order to make their year look better, other times they are out scouting for a new venture to help them start their new fiscal year off right.”
A best practice for achieving success in today’s market is to think in terms of Economic Value. To determine the Economic Value of your solution your customer (1) assesses the degree to which your solution has a positive impact on those business outcomes that matter to the customer, (2) then “deducts” the perceived risk, and finally (3) “deducts” for the purchase price. Everyone spends a lot of time on the first and third factors but less on the second – risk. Reducing the perceived risks directly impacts the Economic Value of our solution and therefore deserves equal attention.
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