For our January Webinar, Stephan Liozu, PhD, Founder at Value Innoruption Advisors, shared the secrets to great value discovery sessions and deep value conversations that feed the continuous challenge of achieving great customer intimacy. After the session, he answered questions from the webinar audience. In this blog, we share his live answers.
What advice would you give to marketing and sales enablement teams that want to support better value conversations in sales?
My famous saying is that Marketing is the R&D of Sales. Marketing needs to create the value playbook. Marketing needs to equip the sales force with the discovery process and everything I mentioned earlier – how they will prepare what needs to be done, what kind of questions, what’s the hypothesis? Whether we’re asking them to find a piece of information or if they are trying to discover themselves for value selling, if there is a process it needs to be managed.
So, who defines the process? Marketing needs to help the commercial leadership prepare these templates, these training sessions, and these reports that need to be read before the conversation starts. They need to have some kind of a value model to be tested – even if it’s only one value driver, you want to discuss how Sales eases into the conversation.
All of that stuff is part of the value-based marketing work, and it needs to be formalized in a way that is usable for sales because sales teams are busy selling. They can spend time preparing their templates and preparing their document. There needs to be a playbook that they have and are trained on.
What common mistakes do you typically see sales make when attempting to start engaging in true value conversations?
I think the biggest mistake is mixing transactional discussions with value discussions. A transactional discussion is cut and dry, and then immediately, sales is going to get into a rational discussion with the account, which is going to lead to lots of short answers. Then, it’s difficult to transition from that into talking about value. Maybe that transactional discussion is a bit tense – you are increasing price or they are asking for concessions. So that’s number one.
Number two includes some of the things that I mentioned earlier – not coming prepared with what you’re looking for out of the conversation. I’m looking for something for that customer, so I want a conversation. If you are not prepared for it, it becomes a “take, take, take” conversation. If you go in unprepared and ask “maybe” questions that are not relevant, they shut down. Your customers are busy. It’s not like they have an hour to give you.
Because you are asking a favor, be professional by being prepared. And unfortunately, I was in a training session last year with about 50 salespeople, and some of them have been around forever. They tell me, “Well, I don’t need this question. I can go into the meeting because the customers know me.” I humbly interrupted them and said, “First of all, there’s always something you can learn. Second, to have value discussions, you will have to put yourself in a different mindset. You’re not there to get market share information or volume or growth. You’re there to have a really deep discussion.”
What percent of value discovery is done ahead of time (i.e. research) versus during the conversation?
If you take an average week of a salesperson or a global account manager, you have to devote half a day to research. I’ll start telling salespeople that they need to block time to do account research. The research goes into what I shared in the presentation – industry trends, good reports to share, news through Google Alerts, doing some research on ChatGPT, and so on. You’re going to spend 10% of your time researching your account, sometimes more. Maybe next week you will have multiple discussions lined up, and you’re going to have to spend two days preparing.
So, this is ongoing. You never stop. It’s preparing but also being fluent – and you need to read this stuff. You can’t just say, “Hey, here’s a report.” You need to engage and say, “I noticed on page four, look at that chart.” It’s an active dialogue. And you go in, you print a report, and say, “Let’s look at that chart. What does that mean to you? Do you agree with this?”
You’re getting personal, so if you have a two-hour value conversation lined up, I think you will have to prepare four to five hours for it. The big difference is that you read the stuff you prepare, are intimate with it, and are becoming credible. Brian said that it’s all about credibility when presenting. We want the buyer to see you as equal, as someone who is well-prepared. They will then think, “I need to be prepared as well. I want to share more about us.”
What does value selling training with you look like in terms of the types of engagements you run with customers?
First of all, training is a big part of what I do. I have also written about how to set up a unique training program with multiple touch points. You have to remember that if you put people in a room and train them for two hours, 20 minutes later, they lose 80% of what you trained them on. So, the training needs to be 30% theory, 70% practice, and the practice needs to be role-playing and one-on-one coaching. These things get very personal when you challenge them and their skills instead of presenting a ”PowerPoint shower.”
The training is a blend of six to seven touch points with salespeople on the specific topic of value selling with different modules. If you go to my website, you’ll find my value selling training online. I created a monetization academy where I have value-based selling training, where you go through the modules, but for each of them, you have exercises to do. For example, here’s a value prop. How do you use that with the customer? Here is a couple of pieces of information you need through a value conversation. How do you use questions and probes to get to that information?
If you do that in front of your peers without the leaders in the room (obviously), and you let them fail in a safe zone because the more they repeat, the more they rehearse in the safe environment, the more comfortable they are doing it. You’ll find that 10% of your salespeople will do that automatically at first, but 50% will be super uncomfortable as they begin the training.