Unless you are the low-price leader, value selling is essential to the success of your business.
It's a rather straightforward proposition to sell on price only. The real challenge is to learn how to demonstrate that the extra cost of your product or service is worth it. That takes more persuasive skills, better navigation of the prospect organization, a broader understanding of strategic objectives - and frankly a likable demeanor - to convince your target of the value you offer.
Value selling is PointClear's bread and butter. I practice it every day in my role as lead salesperson for the company. (We are not the low-price leader.) I spend a lot of time on the phone talking to prospects about the value of informed conversation; the value of an automated cadence with built-in analytics capabilities; and the value of agile lead management processes that let marketing apply learnings to do an even better job of providing the leads sales needs.
Our people do as well. They tele-prospect on behalf of our clients using a value-selling approach, applying their training and experience to advance the pipeline and deliver return that's well worth the price of our services.
The challenge is that some companies and some roles do not lend themselves to selling value. Examples are big companies that have commodity acquisition departments (or purchasing departments); or smaller entrepreneur-run companies that feel that they can do every thing better and cheaper inside. (See this blog for a build vs. buy analysis that takes that argument off the table.)
It is possible however to qualify for an inhospitable environment. You just have to ask the right questions. The challenge is that lead generators with happy ears don’t ask the questions that might effectively disqualify an account. A so-called lead with a company that will never buy is going to end up being a waste of a field sales rep’s time
I am really interested in the finer points of value selling, which is why I constantly reach out to credible sources to make sure we're on top of the industry's best thinking on the topic. There's always more insight and validation to be had. Today, in this blog, I share some recent findings:
My friend Jonathan Farrington of Top Sales World does a great job of dissecting what value selling is and provides some specific examples for how to apply it:
The Value Formula
The formula for calculating value is the benefit minus the cost of achieving or acquiring the benefit - i.e. value = benefit - cost. So, it is important that we use rigorous questioning techniques to uncover as many needs as possible for which we can offer benefit-oriented solutions. We need to be able to explain and sell benefits. The more needs we can uncover, the more benefits we can deliver, the more benefits the greater the pay back, the greater the pay back the higher the value, the higher the value, the better the chance to up sell and cross sell.
Using the right questioning techniques will uncover needs, if they are there to be uncovered. However, it is one thing to uncover the need, it is another thing to prove that there is adequate pay back and value in fulfilling the needs.
Having uncovered the needs, we must probe and find out as much as we can about those needs and the implications to the customer if they are not met or fulfilled. We do this by asking past, present and future questions - i.e. “How did you use to do this?” (Past), “How do you do this now?” (Present) and “How do you plan to do it?” (Future).
What we are trying to establish is the difference between what the customer used to do and how he does it now. If we can establish this, then the comparison between what they are presently doing and what they may be able to do, based on our solution, will be easier to grasp. This is important, because the difference between them doing something and not doing it, is the “value gap.” We need to find value gaps that we can attach a price to, so that we can justify the benefit in terms of added value.
Let’s Take an Example
Your customer used to have a manual stock and inventory system. Using your database for an automated system has enabled them to increase shipments by 20% per day. With the shipments of goods totaling $10,000 per day, the value gap - i.e. system or no system - is $2,000 per day. If the system is down, it would cost $200 to $400 in lost or delayed shipments per hour. Staying as they are, or going for a support agreement that would reduce down-time, is the value gap opportunity. That gap is worth $200 to $400 per hour.
Value Added Arguments
You should always be looking for opportunities to offer more features that will be of benefit by asking the customer to tell you areas in which they would like to see greater support or additional services. If you say, “Mr. Smith, we would like you to upgrade to our gold support agreement - you will receive earlier notification of software upgrades,” the usual response will be, “We don’t need them.” Far better, using reasoning and questions to assist the customer into a position where they ask or inquire about additional services, explain to you what the possible outcome would be if they did not have those additional services. Then, you present a value-added argument to fill the gap.
The best product, at the best price, does not always win the order. We have all been outsold by a competitive salesperson probably offering less of a solution and sometimes even at a higher price. By selling benefits, and proving value and not talking about features, the prospect will understand the payoff that your solution will deliver. Do not leave them to work it out for themselves, they might not bother!
Another industry friend, Dave Kurlan, offers a great video: “A New Guide for Selling Value” (the interview was conducted by Selling Power’s Gerhard Gschwandtner). Dave says selling value is not about cost justification or giving something extra. It is about asking good, tough, challenging questions and pushing back a little bit when necessary. Buyers want a sales rep who gets it, sees things differently, listens and cares – plus the buyer must like the seller.
In another video, Mike Weinberg stresses the necessity for sales to be a value creator and consultant, not just another supplier/vendor.
Brian Tracy has trained more than 2 million salespeople in 75 countries and he teaches them all the same thing: Sell the value and the benefit of your product or service to your customer. Focus on explaining and expressing how it works for the customer. If you focus on the value, the price becomes less and less important. If you don’t focus on value, the only thing you can talk about is price.
Sales Performance International
This blog from Sales Performance International answers the question: “is relationship selling a bad thing? No, not at all! People buy from people whom they like and trust. But what companies need to start doing is developing value-based relationships.”
To build value-based relationships, you primarily do two things:
- Understand the account and the relationships you need to have. Understand the entire account, not just the local plant. Build an account plan that identifies the company’s strategic objectives and the key executives responsible for executing that strategy. These are the people that you need to build relationships with.
- Quantify the value that your organization’s products, services, and solutions have already brought to the customer. It’s proven – sellers who quantify the value of their solutions have greater success with gaining access to those executive-level contacts.
Tom Hopkins, in this blog, provides a helpful dialog that demonstrates the difference between price and value selling:
The buyer says, “Your bid is at $4,100 and your competitor’s bid is at $3,600. Match the competitor’s price or I will buy from them.”
You respond with, “I’ll be glad to see what we can do for you about lowering your investment. However, to ensure getting you the highest-quality product, I may not be able to match the competitor’s bid.”
Many buyers are so conditioned to deal in price, they are caught off guard. “Well, uh…why not?” your buyer asks.
That is your opportunity to affirm the value of your products. “Because there are too many ways to cut corners when the money is tight. We don’t believe in cutting corners. We charge enough to do the job right the first time.”
You’ve just planted a seed of insecurity in the buyer’s mind. She starts to wonder what she’ll lose in quality by playing the price game. You just reset the focus of the conversation from price back to value. If she is still in the conversation, she will probably say, “How low can you go?”
“I’ll check on it and get back to you as quickly as possible.” What you’ve just done here is to stall her from purchasing from the competition. If she’s really interested in how low you can go, she will wait for your answer before making any decisions.
We Have all Caved in on Price
However, why sell into situations where you are going to have to compromise to justify purchasing’s job (unless that is just the kind of business you are in). In 2017 I was introduced to an SVP of Sales who was pointed toward us by one of our long-time clients. He said: “You have the business, I just want you to work through my sales operations guy to finalize the deal.” That was when the deal was derailed. The sales operations guy found a firm that would do the work for half the fee for our services. I looked up the company we were competing against and found out that they paid 1099 home-based agents between $10 and $11 per hour.
Yet, I took the high road. I simply asked what cost they had taken out the business and what the impact of that change might have on results. His answer was that they were so much less expensive they just had to try the other company. Result: A total failure – but then they decided to take it inside. Both decisions cost them almost all of 2017 in opportunity cost not to mention the wasted investment in a low-quality vendor that didn’t perform.
In this LinkedIn article, “Selling in 2018: The Survival of the Fittest,” Jonathan Farrington wrote the following: “It is the ability to earn trust and connect on the basis of transparency, vulnerability and genuine concern in working with customers to bring value that will help them grow their business."
This reach-out-and-refresh exercise confirms the value of value selling to me, as a salesperson selling PointClear’s lead generation, lead qualification and lead nurturing services to B2B companies, and as a firm serving other companies with high-value value propositions. Continual learning at its best!
I would appreciate your feedback on this blog – especially if have other examples of value-based selling.