Selling value: easy to say – hard to do

Selling value

If we could listen to all the internal sales conversations occurring during any 30-minute period and do a word count, “selling value” would be right at the top of the list.

The modern formulation of selling value has been around for a long time – let’s say at least 30 years.  Today almost everyone agrees that the capability to sell value is a survival skill for any sales team.  Everyone nods that it is really important – unfortunately not everyone is really good at it.

Learning how to sell value is challenging – particularly given that everyone else is trying to do it – so sales people must master the skill if they are to stand out from the crowd.

Let’s take a deeper dive.  We will examine some of ideas masquerading as “selling value” and then explore what sales people need to know and be able to do in order to sell value better than the sales person next to them.

Masquerading. Any concept that develops notoriety tends to suffer a common set of problems.  These problems are easily seen by examining concepts like “paradigm” and “strategy” which have been overused and abused.

One problem is the idea becomes fuzzy.  For example, does anybody really know exactly what a “sales strategy” looks like or the meaning of the expression “paradigm shift?”

Because over time the idea loses meaning, a second problem is the emergence of impostors.  Let’s look at some candidates for the case of selling value.

  • Doing a good job positioning your competitive advantages to the customer is an example of selling value.
  • Selling value is about being able to pitch the benefits of your products.

Now, these examples are not necessarily bad ideas – however they are not really what selling value is all about.

Mastering. Let’s first provide a narrative description of selling value and then explore what one needs to know and do to sell value effectively.

Selling value is all about helping the customer understand how you can help them make their business better.   It all starts with developing an in-depth understanding of the customer’s needs, issues, and challenges.  Given that context, you have to demonstrate how your products and services will improve productivity, contain expenses, reduce risk, and help drive revenue.  An inherent part of the concept is sales people must make the connection between their solution and customers’ desired outcomes, as opposed to, letting customers make that connection.

In major account sales, where there is always a dynamic business environment, multiple players, and a complex buying process, selling value effectively is a highly skilled task.  It is challenging even to accomplish the first step – getting a clear, in-depth picture of the needs, issues, and challenges.

So, what does the skill profile look like?  Two components stand out.

  • Second-tier product knowledge. As a baseline you have know the features and functions of your product portfolio.  However to sell value you have to know a second tier of knowledge which has to do with product application.

How do your products individually or collectively solve the various problems likely to be encountered by your customer base?  How do they impact those previously noted outcomes like: productivity, risk, expense and revenue?  Can you relate a customer story or delineate the research that demonstrates your solution does what you say it does?  And can you fine-tune these narratives based on whether you are talking with a customer engineer versus the CIO?

If you are selling simple products, then following this path is relatively straightforward.  However if you are selling complex integrated solutions then developing that second-tier of product knowledge is a more difficult journey.

  • Customer base. In major accounts to sell value better than other sales people, you cannot start from scratch in the discovery phase.  Sales people have to enter a sales call with a general understanding of the type of issues and challenges their customer is facing.  So the discovery is about helping the sales person and the customer better understand the business and economic impact of the problems versus the proverbial “discover your pain” discussion.

The foundation for selling value is not just about uncovering and developing problems; it involves helping the customer to understand their problems from a different perspective.  It also entails bring new insight as to potential alternative solutions that might not have been formulated by the customer.

The moral of the story is selling value is as important as everyone says it is.  Unfortunately it is also more difficult than a lot of people think it is. If you a senior sales leader it is probably a good idea to spend a couple of days in the field to get a personal assessment of the degree to which your sales team is selling the value of your solutions.  Our bet is you will find there is some work to be done.

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©2013 Sales Horizons, LLC

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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