How B2B Enterprises Drive Successful Value Selling: 5 Tips on How and Where to Start

by | Feb 16, 2017 | Empower Sales Conversations

HomeBlogEmpower Sales ConversationsHow B2B Enterprises Drive Successful Value Selling: 5 Tips on How and Where to Start

CRM data from organizations adopting value selling show that opportunities where a Value Proposition is used (1) have 5-15% higher win rates and (2) 5-25% higher price outcomes. This is reason enough to invest the time and bandwidth to provide good Value Propositions to your sales teams. Value Propositions are a tool for use by sales in call preparation, customer conversations and presentations to buyer teams. They should be designed with users in mind where increasingly customer-facing teams include both sales representatives and presales professionals.

The best B2B enterprises  use Value Propositions collaboratively to improve B2B sales team performance, addressing sales challenges throughout the B2B sales cycle. For account executives and sales reps, they are useful early in the sales cycle as Flexible Case Studies in call preparation, in building sales confidence, in qualifying opportunities and in engaging customer executives.  For technical sales and presales professionals, joining the team in the middle of the sales process, Value Propositions provide Customer Value Analyses as an important way to address presales challenges and to maximize the impact of presales.As customers decide to purchase, the Value Proposition becomes a Shared Business Case, collaboratively agreed between sales executives and customer sponsors, that can be used by buyers as their own internal financial justification to purchase.

Start Value Selling Rapidly.  For organizations that have recently rolled out a sales enablement platform or a CRM, the words “sales implementation” conjure up visions of extensive, complex project plans.  Implementing sales platforms is often a massive global deployment. Six sigma black belts and commercial excellence professionals design the process.  Application engineers and consultants design the system, necessary integrations and reporting.  Trainers design curriculum and offsite programs.  This tendency toward comprehensive project plans can work if suitably staged and prioritized, but it can also slow down results. Plans for value deployment that try to boil the ocean and introduce “change” rarely deliver outcomes that help  Sales VPs meet this year’s goal.

Examples of grand value strategy blueprints and directives include:

  • A requirement that product managers build out Value Propositions for all products before making any of them available to sales,
  • Value Proposition design that aims to get exact customer data as a required step in the sales process,
  • Launching value communication with complex Value Propositions designed to discuss all possible bundles of a business unit’s product line,
  • A requirement that all possible customer segments and all possible competitors have well-designed Value Propositions before starting to deploy any in sales,
  • Simultaneous global Value Proposition launch with organization-wide training.

Grand plans are often headed for chaos or failure, especially if their rules are rigidly enforced.  Building value selling capabilities may require a risky investment, but starting fast, where the ROI of initial investment is likely to be high, helps to reduce risk and ultimately to make broader sales implementations more effective.

Fortunately, implementing value selling doesn’t require massive data integration or global, multi-divisional rollouts.  Successful deployment of customer value in sales can start fast on a limited scale and achieve early success.  The learnings from that success can then drive effective expansion and scale-up.

Here are 5 tips on how and where to start:

  1. Pick Low Hanging Fruit: Identify the Right Products or Offerings. There are several dimensions to consider in picking good offerings and commercial situations to pilot or implement value selling:

    • Choose Differentiated Offerings. Some products are more differentiated than others.  Some offerings are better, not because the product itself is differentiated, but because the services and support that are provided to the customer are clearly differentiated.  Value Propositions support customer conversations best when there is a clear competitive benefit of your offering to the customer.  Focusing on one or a few clearly differentiated offerings helps organizations spend scarce time and bandwidth on efforts that will pay off.  A Value Proposition is not a magic bullet that is guaranteed to fix a dog of a product.

    • Choose Strategically Important Offerings. Some offerings are more important than others.  Picking strategically important products for a value strategy maximizes ROI, helps to generate organizational attention and focus resources.   Gateway products are often a good choice. New products in preparation for launch are often central to a company’s strategy for profitable growth, have significant bandwidth available and represent a good place to start in building Value Propositions.  It can be just as fruitful to focus on key existing products that have significant growth potential from targeting new market opportunities.  Sometimes key existing products can realize their growth potential with current target markets by turbocharging the product messaging with a Value Proposition. Sometimes, a more mature product facing a competitive threat and eroding margins is fertile territory for a strong Value Proposition. Often the best sales people have already built a Value Proposition for an existing product and figured out how to have value conversations. In this case, the hard work is done and the objective is to scale that work and those best practices effectively.

    • Choose High ROI Stages in the Product/Offering Life Cycle. Starting with a product in preparation for launch is often a good choice, not just because the product is strategically important, but also because there are so many places in a launch where understanding and selling customer value can have a large impact on launch success. Value Propositions support launch sales training by answering the question, “what do you do for your customers?”  A Value Proposition is a core piece of content that a rep can return to as a reminder of the two or three things that make you better than your competition.   The early learnings from customer conversations using Value Propositions can help with segmentation and can help deliver or even design multiple offerings with different price points.  As a place to start deploying customer value, product launch has the benefit that it is usually the point in a product’s life cycle that commands the most marketing resources and where the sales training opportunities are greatest.  Teams launching products are justifiably focused on consistent messaging. Value Propositions are a good way to deliver key product messages in a customer-centric way.

    Making choices that aim for a high payoff and likelihood of success is a good guiding principle.

  2. Design Value Propositions as Flexible Case Studies. In Value Selling, it always helps to keep the content and the language simple.  Too many spreadsheet authors design value calculators that only they can explain and interpret.  Case Studies are customer-centric product content that would be used more effectively by sales if they were more flexible.  Designing a Value Proposition as a Flexible Case Study is a great way to make it more useful:

    • Good Marketing Design. A case study, whether naming a specific customer or preserving a customer’s anonymity, provides concrete information about what you did for another customer and the benefits your product or solution provided to that customer.  Case studies serve as core marketing content in most organizations, which generally means that considerable attention is paid to how they are designed. The best case studies highlight how your product is better, how much better you are and what that means economically for your customer.  Extending case studies beyond static historical narratives into flexible, usable tools for conversation is not difficult.  Connecting the magnitude of case study benefits to a few key business assumptions is usually simple math.  Making key assumptions accessible for use in a Flexible Case Study is usually straightforward design.

    • An Engaging Story for Sales to Tell. If you hand sales people a value calculator, they are often uncomfortable starting a customer conversation focused on quantified, dollarized value early in the sales cycle.  In contrast, a Flexible Case Study is an easy and natural way into a value conversation.  Good case studies invite a sales rep to tell a story.  The fact that the story is customer-centric helps sales connect with and identify customer problems and challenges.  A case study can be an engaging, natural way for a sales rep to help a customer understand quickly and persuasively how your solution is better and how that benefits the customer.  Case studies also highlight customer success, emphasizing how your product or solution delivers value, not just in theory but in practice.

    • Exact Data are Unnecessary. Value calculators are frequently intimidating.  Too often they are laid out with extensive discovery requirements.  Sales teams are instructed to ask 20, 30 or 40 discovery questions before having a conversation about customer value.  This discovery can become an onerous part of sales workflow and an awkward conversation to have with customers too early in the process. The result is that value calculators tend to be used later in the sales cycle and tend to be used primarily by presales specialists.  In contrast, case studies are useful early in the sales cycle with typical (non-specific) customer data.  Making case studies flexible has the added benefit of facilitating customization of the value story to the specifics of a new customer in stages, as the conversation proceeds.  The case study conversation can start with a focus on a different representative customer and transition naturally to a Customer Value Analysis and a Shared Business Case specific to the new customer.  The drill-down and detailed discussions that often accompany customer diligence processes can come later, after the customer has decided to invest time in evaluation and at a point in the sales cycle when a presales professional or subject matter expert is involved.

    • A Bridge to Good Qualifying Questions. A case study, as a concrete example of how your product or solution worked for someone else, provides a natural transition to asking good qualifying questions. “Is this a problem for your sales operation?” “Have you considered ways to address this problem in your facility?”  “Would reducing procedure time by 25% move the needle for your hospital?” “How do you manage this process in your organization?” Answers to these questions help a rep move the ball down the field.  They help a rep identify the right people to get involved on the customer side.  They help a rep qualify an account and spend time on the right opportunities.
  3. Start Value Selling with Capable, Motivated Sales Teams. Not all sales team members are created equal.  To pilot and test value selling, look for sales teams with the right aptitude and motivation.

    • Aptitude. Presales professionals, including customer-facing product managers, solution consultants, subject matter experts, application specialists, sales engineers and other technical sales, are usually better equipped with the knowledge and analytical capacity to get into product details and the specifics supporting value quantification.  They are good at supporting conversations when the buyer is ready to evaluate.  Frequently, however, presales’ listening skills, their experience in asking questions, their instinct to keep things simple, their knack for engaging customers and their street smarts in getting customers to talk are not as well developed as comparable skills of the best reps.  Some generalist sales people and some key account managers, have the experience and skill set to use value very productively early in the customer conversation. Having understood their customers’ business all along, it is natural for them to supplement their customer discussions with new approaches to highlight value in clear and uncomplicated ways.  They already sell differentiation; Flexible Case Studies and Value Propositions that invite customer collaboration in a dialog are an impactful extension of what they do.

    • Motivation. Presales professionals are often motivated, as part of their job description, to be prepared for a value discussion with a customer.  If their job is to come in for those critical conversations where your product needs proof points, then value is the most direct way to get to a conversation about the business results you provide.  If their job is to customize a solution, a value analysis is a natural way to identify and focus presentations on the best solution.  Good B2B sales reps recognize the importance of giving a customer sponsor business reasons to engage.  A Value Proposition focuses directly on why buy, why buy now and why buy your solution.  Good B2B account managers understand the role of different customer stakeholders in complex buying decisions. Customer value becomes a way to have the right customer-focused conversation with a specific stakeholder.  Sales professionals understand the importance of qualifying questions and can turn Flexible Case Studies to their advantage in conversations.  Incentivized teams are likely to be motivated.  Higher closing rates and higher prices translate specifically into higher sales commissions and generally into higher presales bonuses.  But promoting victory laps and spreading the organizational news about success can be just as energizing as financial incentives.

    • Team. B2B sales has become a team sport.  Value selling should be a team sport as well.  Value is a good framework for team call prep.  Handing off a value proposition to presales is a good way to maintain consistency and continuity in customer conversations as new team members get involved.  Tracking customer responses to a Value Proposition can be a good way to identify challenges, opportunities and action steps for a specific customer.  A Global Executive Buyer Insight survey found that 74% of buyers are most likely to work with the first vendor to communicate a clear path to value.  Teams are more effective if they have a common way to create and maintain a vision of how your product creates customer value.
  4. Be Agile: Test & Refine. The adoption of value selling in sales is never a big bang event.  Even if Value Propositions are well designed.  Even if sales training on content and tools is executed with military precision.  Value Propositions should be tested prior to use in the field.  But even so, the best Value Propositions are living, growing power tools where sales experience should be a driver of continuous improvement.  Adoption of value selling is an evolving process that gathers momentum, generates learnings and changes in character over time.

    Successful organizations deploy value using an “agile” method.  Agile involves: (1) designing to limited objectives, (2) developing an initial version in sprints, (3) testing v1 quickly and (4) iterating rapidly to improved versions.  Agile deployment of Flexible Case Studies as Value Propositions can obtain early success by targeting low-hanging fruit and focusing resources and training on the best opportunities.  An agile approach has the benefit that successful tactics and positive results are contagious.  A few war stories of good product launch decisions or of successful deal negotiations, properly broadcast, can build momentum and help make the language of value go viral.

    Product management and marketing teams make a fundamental mistake when they view publication of a Value Proposition as a one-off completed task.  The audible sighs of relief that sometimes come from marketing at publication are often associated with an almost-parent-like bias that this Value Proposition is a beautiful child or an enduring work of art.  Marketing forgets about sales, takes a victory lap and adopts the attitude that it is now sales’ problem to make the Value Proposition effective.

    This is a MadMen vintage marketing process, not marketing for the digital age.  It happens all the time when collateral and custom web tools are designed by an agency. The format, content and design of the Value Proposition become frozen at approval.  A gated process like this misses the opportunity to adapt to learnings from the field, to improve the tools and approach based on feedback and experience.

    Agile methods recognize a continuing priority to improve content, improve tools and embed the learnings of successful approaches.  An agile process aligns sales and marketing to evaluate experience and to keep improving the game plan to win the next game.  The best football coaches are agile.  They make adjustments during the process.  The best sales and marketing teams are agile as well.

  5. Identify and Empower Mobilizers. Agile Value Propositions are refined and adopted most rapidly and successfully if there is someone in the customer-facing team who: (1) is active in using the Value Proposition, (2) understands its content, (3) is energized to refine and improve the Value Proposition, and (4) is motivated to drive its adoption in the sales team.  Mobilizers come with a variety of titles, responsibilities and backgrounds.  They include sales managers and presales managers who are active with their teams as player/coaches.  They include customer-facing product managers or other experienced members of the presales team.  They also include confident, younger members of the team with presales aptitude or a presales role who are energized team players.

    Mobilizers are most successful when they have the following three characteristics:

    • They are confident in their understanding of your product or solution and in their understanding of your customers’ business.
    • They already have, or are able to build rapidly, credibility with the sales and/or presales teams they are working with.
    • They have a cultural objective focused on the broader team: to build a sense of best practices, to get broader team leverage based on best content and approaches that work and to drive successful adoption.

    Being a mobilizer is, and usually should be, a part-time job to start.  The best mobilizers work alongside other team members in making initial Value Proposition presentations and in having customer conversations.  The best mobilizers are willing to ask questions and to tune in to customer reactions.  They are willing to innovate, to refine, to try new approaches, recognize what works and what doesn’t and to keep improving their own game plan.   The best mobilizers are not looking to carve out a specialized value-oriented sales role for themselves, but rather to work as team members, sometimes as coaches and sometimes providing real-time examples of how value conversations can be effective.

    Effective mobilizers often test Value Propositions for the first few times in front of customers, generating the early feedback that helps refine and improve the content and usability of the Value Proposition.  Effective mobilizers often are the first to participate in successful value conversations.  Those success stories are an important factor that motivates the broader team and helps the use of Value Propositions to go viral.   Mobilizers that make this happen should be identified, encouraged, coached and rewarded.

It is not hard to start value selling.  Some common sense and a few simple principles go a long way.  Good Value Propositions have the flexibility to transition gradually and continuously through the sales cycle.  Starting as a Flexible Case Study, a Value Proposition is a tool that can be used with typical customer data in early sales conversations. Gradually customer specifics are revealed and unfold through customer interaction and become embedded in the Value Proposition as it provides a basis for Customer Value Analysis and presales customization as customers evaluate your solution.  As the conversation progresses, the Value Proposition becomes a Shared Business Case, collaboratively agreed between sales and the customer, that supports a faster process through negotiation and closing.  Value Propositions are about more than getting the math right.  They provide central content that helps sales teams communicate what your solution does for your customers. Value Propositions are a shared basis for sales team collaboration that help sales teams win.

For more information on sales use of Value Propositions see Using Propositions as an Effective Sales Tool


For more information on designing Value Propositions see Designing Value Propositions for Sales Conversations

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