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    Selling Value During the Sales Cycle

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    According to a Forrester study, only 15% of sales people are capable of articulating their offering in terms of solving a business problem. It is clear that the skill to understand and communicate value is in need of huge improvement.

    In today’s hyper-competitive world, where buyers have access to more information than ever, we all agree that it’s not enough to just “show up and throw up”. Gone are the days when selling was just a numbers game. In order to stand out in today’s selling environment, your sales people need to be able to communicate value in every interaction with prospects and customers.

    So, what does “communicating value” mean?

    Let’s look at two definitions of the word value:

    • “The regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something”
    • “A fair return or equivalent in goods, services, or money for something exchanged”.

    It’s obvious that value is a subjective perception. One man’s trash is another man’s gold; what has high value for one person can be useless for another. It can also be different for the same person, depending on time, location and context. Just ask wealthy people stranded in the desert how much they would pay for a bottle of water…

    How do you communicate value?

    Don’t base value on price and features alone

    A common mistake when discussing value is to only look at price and functionality: value = features / price. This means that the offering with the most features (hours/units/etc.) is the most valuable.

    However, if your product has the same features with higher quality, or features that can solve more important problems, it has a higher value, even with fewer features. The value is in the eye of the beholder and it's the job of the selling team to understand and position its offering to the highest perceived value and help the buyer to achieve this.

    Build rapport and trust first

    In order to have an open dialogue and get your clients to share information that will allow you to help them, you need to establish rapport. If the customer does not believe that you are there to help them, there will be no trust, communication will be limited and it will be an up-hill battle. Always start with rapport.

    Also, your communication needs to be tailored to the seniority and personality type of the person you’re talking to. As a generalization, the further up the hierarchy, the more you need to zoom out and provide the big picture, while being able to drill down into specifics when speaking with mid-level managers and their subordinates. With increased skills in personality traits and motivational language patterns, you will be able to speed up the time it takes to get into rapport and build trust.

    Align with the buying process or level up the dialogue?

    How does your potential client see your solution? Is your solution the missing puzzle piece for them to reach a strategic target impacting shareholder value? Or is it a simple purchase to resolve a minor pain point for a single department? If you’re discussing the investment as a strategic initiative and your customer sees it as a small tactical, purchase, you’ll become frustrated and disappointed when it all comes down to price.

    Either you elevate the discussion to a more strategic level, or you match your initial offering with their mindset. Your strategy can then be to up-sell the more strategic initiatives you can help them achieve. A simple question to ask the right stakeholder early in the sales process could be “is this a quick tactical fix or a long-term strategic initiative?”.

    Don’t assume the same value for all customers

    In order to be able to communicate value, we must first understand each customer’s situation and priorities. While it’s tempting to generalize and believe that the same value is applicable to all of your prospects and customers, it is very unlikely to be true. You need to understand the trends, problems and goals that are taking up your client’s mindshare.

    The same message does not always work

    Don’t trust your ambassador to sell value internally

    Back in the days of “linear TV” (not that long ago, I agree :), did it ever happen that you planned to see a movie, but forgot to switch channels in time, hence missing the first 5-10 minutes? You missed the whole set-up, everything that you needed to know to really understand the rest of the movie! Very annoying, wasn’t it?

    This is what happens when sales people initiate a dialogue with one stakeholder and other stakeholders enter the discussions at a later time. The stage is not set for the new people, and without their consensus, there will be no deal. This is why it’s so essential to get access to all key stakeholders as early as possible and board them onto the same flight, to the same destination. Trusting an ambassador to do value selling for you can sometimes work (if you coach them very well), however, usually it ends badly. Understand, streamline and customize the value discussion.

    Don’t shy away from risks

    The customer’s rational decision will balance the level of risk compared to the benefits they would get from a change. Don’t be afraid to bring up the risks, and be sure to constantly highlight the most valued benefits in their specific situation. Remember that emotion and ego play a bigger role than people would care to admit. Understand what motivates people and communicate accordingly.

    Continually ask for commitments

    Value is a subjective perception; what has high value for one person can be useless for another. It can also be different for the same person, depending on time, location and context.

    Sales people should not mindlessly perform non-value activities throughout the sales process (example: “Hi, just calling to touch base…”), and should also be mindful not to build value without asking for commitments - that’s called free consulting.

    Commitments can be getting the honest replies to questions like: "what type of initiative is this?", "are we getting access to the right stakeholders involved?",  "do they have the resources to invest in your suggested solution?", "what are their decision criteria?", "are they sharing their time schedule?". Also ask yourself if they are devoting enough time during the buying cycle. If not, it can be a warning sign.

    Follow a sales process and have clear milestones

    Make sure to have buyer-aligned milestones throughout your sales process and don’t rush pass them in your eager to sell. Always take the time to understand the “why” and not just what and when.

    Taking shortcuts will end up in losing a deal to competition or no decision.

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    George Brontén
    Published February 11, 2015
    By George Brontén

    George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills, and processes. George is also the author of the book Stop Killing Deals.

    Find out more about George Brontén on LinkedIn