Sales Tools are a hot topic for B2B product and services companies.
Trainers recommend them. Sales VPs demand them. Consultants push them. Marketing teams implement them.
But do reps use them? Do they “adopt” the tools in the field?
And… which ones improve results? What metrics are used to monitor the results?
The content in most B2B toolkits starts with information about product features. A well laid out product description usually covers the basics. A product brochure often comes next along with canned PowerPoint presentations, videos about how the product works and other descriptive collateral. Feature-focused tools educate the rep and provide information for the customer. They highlight how a product is different. They reduce the risk of misinformation and customer confusion. But they rarely connect to the customer. And apart from conveying a wow factor, they almost never give the customer a reason to buy.
Tools focused on customer benefits are an improvement. They can help connect with the customer. It is great to have clear, accessible, benefit-focused content including application briefs, case studies and data on improved customer outcomes. Content focused on customer benefit is better the more specifically applicable it is. Written materials and slides are good. Video and case studies are better.
But for differentiated B2B products and solutions with sales cycles measured in “months” and not “days”, the sharpest sales tool of all is a concise Value Proposition. Value Propositions articulate the two to four things that make your product better than the competition and quantify what they’re worth. They are an effective tool to address the challenges of B2B sales early in the sales process.
An example illustrates how Value Propositions can be used effectively in sales. In this situation, typical to B2B sales, the customer- facing team includes sales reps as well as a pre-sales team with subject matter expertise, brought into the situation after the target is qualified.
Let’s look at the potential uses of a good Value Proposition through the sales process.
1. Qualifying, Finding a Sponsor, Getting the Right Meeting. A sales rep calling on a new account has a hard job. The rep needs to qualify the lead, understand decision-making at the account and determine whether to invest time and resources in moving a sales process forward. Often a rep starts with a contact who may not be a sponsor or willing to drive a buying process.
Engaging early with a customer contact is usually difficult for a complex solution sale. Getting the contact to spend time, bandwidth and internal political capital can be challenging. Extracting organizational information to streamline the sales process can be like pulling teeth.
A Value Proposition based on benchmark data and product experience with other customers is a simple way to cut through complexity and engage a contact. A Value Proposition provides a clear bottom-line reason for the contact to listen and take the risk of introducing an idea to colleagues, sponsors and decision-makers. The initial contact doesn’t have to understand how a solution works. The initial contact can look good internally when armed with a simple way to communicate why others should engage in a buying conversation.
In these early conversations, the data rarely needs to be specific. Bottom-line value based on experience with other similar anonymous customers can help to read whether the contact will or can get the attention of a sponsor who will care about improving performance with a complex solution. If value creation doesn’t spark an action by a contact, it may be a sign that this particular contact is a waste of time.
The sharp probes about where the benefits come from and whether they are relevant to that account are a reason to ask for more information, showing that the rep understands the customer’s business. Getting a few pieces of customer-specific data can help to deflect objections and to connect. More importantly, questions from an initial contact are a reason to ask for a follow up meeting that broadens the audience to include potential sponsors.
2. Call Prep. Marketing, product management and pre-sales professionals rarely understand how much sales rep time is spent in call preparation compared to in actual customer conversations. To prepare for effective calls, a good sales rep will go to the trouble of doing background work on (i) a customer’s organization, (ii) a customer’s business and (iii) the suitability of products/solutions to the customer. The second and third of these challenges are compounded when a rep has multiple complex products or solutions to offer.
A Value Proposition with or without customer-specific data can be very useful to a good sales rep in call preparation. Good Value Propositions start by simplifying and clarifying the sources of a solution’s value to a customer. A quantified value driver focuses very specifically on how a solution is better than the status quo or is differentiated from a direct competitor.
A good value message that goes with the value driver helps a rep articulate the qualitative reasons that a customer will benefit by purchasing the solution. Good value messaging cuts through the complexity of the solution itself, helping a rep to focus on the customer instead of the product.
Whether or not a rep is quantitatively inclined, seeing the key elements of how a value driver is calculated helps to reinforce the information contained in a value message and helps build rep confidence that the solution itself is suitable to and valuable for the account.
Often the first effect of deploying Value Propositions as a sales tool is to build sales rep confidence. Confidence translates into more effective calls early in the sales process. Confidence may also help reduce the turnover of quality sales reps.
3. Early Connection. All good sales reps personalize and tailor information to the customer. The Mad Men days of relying only on general, non-specific information are over. Tailored information helps turn the conversation from a discussion of the solution to a conversation about the customer.
Tailoring a Value Proposition to even a few customer specifics indicates commitment to an account and to the account’s success. A few insightful questions about the customer’s business demonstrate that the rep understands the customer and has the experience of making the solution work with other customers.
Asking a few good questions also helps to connect with the customer. An exchange of information is, by its nature, collaborative. Exchanging information builds trust, supporting a personal relationship and putting the sales rep on the same team as the customer as they start to quantify customer success together.
A validated, customized Value Proposition is also an endpoint of the sales process that supports a decision to buy and accelerates a negotiation and closing process. Gradually tailoring a Value Proposition to customer specifics starts the process of validating the Value Proposition. Agreement on assumptions can be an early, supportive step toward closing a deal.
4. Key Meeting. Managing and controlling early meetings with multiple stakeholders is an essential sales skill. An early meeting can be a 3-ring circus. It is invariably unpredictable. Often it is unclear going into the meeting who will play what role, who cares about what, who the decision-makers are (or could be) and how much attention meeting attendees will pay to the meeting’s content. Competing with stakeholders’ mobile devices in an early meeting can be challenging.
Key attendees are often interrupted by other priorities, the question of one stakeholder turns into a murky, time-consuming tangent and casual listeners are confused by the back and forth over complex questions. Information designed to engage some stakeholders sometimes misses what others care about. Questions asked by some stakeholders sometimes bore others.
A good Value Proposition is a clear way to cut through complexity. Quantified value creation for the customer’s organization means customer financial success. Customer Value is a summary message that should resonate with serious customer stakeholders.
Discussing individual value drivers can help to communicate a solutions’ differentiation in meaningful language. Individual value drivers are also a way to draw and engage individual stakeholders with distinct interests.
Finally a Value Proposition can help to keep a meeting on point. Diligence questions from stakeholders can become a way to substantiate a claim if the rep is knowledgeable or if the right pre-sales team member is at the meeting. Alternatively, diligence questions can be deflected to a follow-up conversation about specific sources of value with a sub-team where pre-sales from the sales team can engage directly in the conversation with skeptical stakeholders.
5. Follow-up meeting(s) & customer diligence. A smaller follow up meeting or call, with evaluating stakeholders asking hard questions, can be like a trip to the dentist. With a good Value Proposition, those meetings can be a good way to connect at a deeper level. Having those diligence meetings with the support of pre-sales or SMEs is often a good way to build trust and further engage skeptical stakeholders. Having smaller meetings without a big audience can be a good way to control the conversation with evaluating stakeholders who are smart and like to make sure their colleagues know it.
A good Value Proposition makes a difference in those meetings. An ability to further tailor and modify to customer specifics helps to validate the overall Value Proposition as a reason to buy. Building credibility with data support as individual value drivers are challenged, tested and confirmed gets buy-in on the broad qualitative themes of differentiation. Seeing how robust the value is to changes in assumptions helps further validate the general Value Proposition and helps identify critical elements of a customer decision-making process.
Finally the ability to work constructively with individual stakeholders on the sources of value they care about the most is a way to build customer consensus. Pre-sales professionals and SMEs often have a chance to shine in these meetings. Addressing questions of detail is usually their strong suit. Addressing questions of timing and payback gets everyone into a conversation about implementing a complex solution while pre-sales is there to address objections and to demonstrate the solution’s track record of success with other customers.
6. Support Negotiation & Speed Closing. A strange limbo often descends at the end of a lengthy B2B sales process. The buying team, having evaluated a solution, sometimes provides feedback in a way that is not transparent to the rep or to the pre-sales team. If a Value Proposition is part of the ongoing customer conversation, it gives sales and pre-sales a means to stay involved in the customer’s evaluation process. This helps to identify objections, address concerns and to forecast outcomes and timetable.
A validated Value Proposition can play directly into internal conversations among stakeholders, crystallizing reasons to buy and building stakeholder consensus in the face of objections. A validated Value Proposition sometimes has its largest impact without anyone from the sales team present as an internal sponsor uses it to move stakeholders toward a decision to buy.
Once a decision to buy has been made, a validated Value Proposition supports the closing process in a number of ways. First by getting buy-in on value it helps to create urgency, coming from the business, to implement the solution. Urgency supports implementation timetables which drive negotiation timetables. Procurement’s most potent weapon in an initial sales process is delay. Timetables and deadlines for negotiation provide leverage for the seller.
Second, procurement is never incentivized to make concessions in a negotiation. A validated Value Proposition and the business urgency that it supports help procurement professionals deal with their own management. Customer Value becomes a reason to make concessions on this deal versus others.
Value Propositions and value conversations help close better deals faster.
Summary. Great Value Propositions are sharp sales tools. Good sales and pre-sales teams use them in a variety of ways to accelerate sales and improve profitability. Great Value Propositions help sales teams win. With a clear focus on customer success in the customer’s language, they can help transform the sales conversation into a collaborative one, highlighting differentiation clearly to support a consensus decision to buy.
Value Propositions work best if product management and marketing design them with an understanding of how they will be used in customer conversations. Essential elements of a good value proposition include ready access to collateral and the ability to support customer conversations to validate a product’s value. Value Propositions drive sales success most predictably when their adoption is strongly supported by an active plan. The best marketing, product management, pre-sales and sales teams realize this, implement a scalable approach to the adoption of value selling and deliver results effectively and collaboratively.