Value-based selling helps sales fill the pipeline, close more deals and realize better prices. The benefits are clear.
So why aren’t companies more effective in implementing value selling?
B2B enterprises commit to selling customer value. They invest time and consulting dollars in quantifying and building Value Propositions. They come up with marketing collateral in support. They train sales and pre-sales team members on their Value Proposition content.
But then their execution is lackluster. Why?
Some lack or misfire on one or more of the following key elements:
Even when these ingredients are present, Value Selling can fail because an organization lacks the audacity to:
Implementing Value Selling need not be a major change in course. The elements of Value Selling success are the elements of business success. Great organizations overcome the challenges of Value Selling by building and executing on the following:
1. Strategy. Formulating and articulating a good value selling strategy is an important step in driving an organization in the right direction.
- Senior sponsorship. Having a strategy is good. Having the right people live and articulate the strategy is better. It doesn’t take much senior executive time to work customer value into their messages to the Street and their messages to employees. The best senior executives bring customer value into their own customer conversations. Senior executives can drive value in a number of ways: a five minute intro to an internal webinar by a VP of Sales, a three minute sales success story by the CEO or CFO at a national sales meeting, high fives from the C-suite to a Value Rockstar for a closed deal, questions about customer value to product management at a launch preparation meeting.
- Clear objectives. Successful organizations find that value selling increases pipeline, deals closed and deal profitability. These 3 objectives are a good place to start. Other objectives can help guide resources toward priority targets. Important, addressable problems and opportunities should take precedence. Aiming for early success creates momentum.
- Value selling is not pixie dust. Some strategic initiatives try to accomplish too much, solving a wide array ofidentifiable problems all at once. Value selling is no exception. Unsuccessful efforts have aimed at problems that include: (i) how to sell more of a company’s poorly differentiated products, (ii) how to merge single product sales forces overnight into an effective, coherent solution sales force, (iii) how to transform the skill set and motivation of sales dinosaurs into high achievers. It is always best to start with one or a few strategically important, differentiated products or solutions. A few of the better rep and pre-sales teams usually drive early success. Who, how and when value conversations with customers occur will evolve based on experience and success. Driving broader product and team execution can follow. Success stimulates virality.
- Simple & useful messages & tools. Good product managers sometimes reach a point where they understand customer value in rich and profound detail. For internal decision-making, this depth may help, but for engaging a customer in a business conversation, simplicity is essential. The most useful and effective messages are clear and direct. They highlight no more than 3 or 4 key points for sales to communicate on a call. The layout of information should make it easy for sales to have summary conversations and to move selectively into details of a Value Proposition, perhaps with pre-sales support, at the right point. Sales or pre-sales should test drive Value Propositions for clarity and usefulness. Tests invariably highlight a need to clarify, simplify and improve the usefulness of tools.
2. Culture. Focusing on Customer Value requires a distinct cultural mind-set. Customer Value and Collaboration are intertwined. There are several dimensions in which a collaborative culture matters:
- Customer Value = Customer Collaboration. Customer conversations about value are, by their nature,collaborative. A value conversation is customer centric, redirecting the focus from our product to how it makes money for the customer. Tailoring a Value Proposition to customer specifics takes collaboration to the next level. The customer engages. The customer provides information. Important decision points are jointly identified. The customer emerges as a co-owner of the Value Proposition. The process of arriving at a consensus Value Proposition builds customer confidence not only in our product, but in our commitment to their success.
- Internal Collaboration. Delivering, refining and improving Value Propositions effectively requires internal collaboration. Product management relies on sales for customer understanding, feedback and validation. Sales relies on pre-sales for in-depth value conversations specific not just to the product, but specific to the customer. Pre-sales relies on product management for value content that helps them de-complexify the details of their product into a simple, one-dimensional message of why a customer should buy.
- Articulate how Value Improves Each Function’s Performance. Collaborative concern for colleagues’ success is a noble attitude. But self-interest is often a more reliable and more powerful motivator. Customer Value helps each of the involved functional groups reach their own objectives. Good organizations articulate this benefit. Individual sales reps may not realize they have a problem connecting with customers until a value conversation increases engagement, breaks down barriers and gets the next meeting. Sales starts to see the light when Customer Value saves an existing account or closes a new one. Pre-sales may not realize that they overcomplicate things, that they are bad listeners or that they talk too much about cool product features. When they experience how a value conversation redirects focus from product to customer, cutting through complexity, it changes their approach and improves their performance. Product managers may not realize their opportunity to drive product revenue growth until they see how a Value Proposition captures sales bandwidth, redirecting selling effort toward their product. Internal collaboration is strengthened by each group’s own success. It gets even better when they all get paid.
3. Content. Content is very important. But who uses it and how the content is used are just as important. Product managers designing Value Propositions need to consider how a Value Proposition is likely to be used by sales and pre-sales in customer conversations. Once content is deployed, product managers need to learn from field experience and refine content to make it more useful.
- Early usefulness. Value Propositions are effective in the red zone, but they are also useful in moving the ballbetween the 20’s. Value Propositions need to be designed for early use by sales. Simple summary value messages can help sales get the next meeting or get the right meeting. An early value conversation helps establish that a sales rep knows the customer, building sales credibility. Value Propositions help sales connect and collaborate with a customer. These early opportunities are missed when Value Proposition design forces a lengthy discovery process before any quantified value messages are available. Sales needs early wins. A good Value Proposition, useful in early customer conversations, speeds up sales cycles.
- Focus on differentiation and what it is worth. Good product managers really understand their customers. Their technical understanding and market research sometimes demonstrate this. Extensive information about customers and technical operations can be great inputs to a Value Proposition. But it can also be a distraction from the main event. At its core, a Value Proposition should focus on how a product is better and what that is worth. Information that is irrelevant to quantified differentiation can cause meeting detours and derail a sales process. Great content focuses clearly on the sources and magnitude of value created by our solution. Clear differentiation supports call preparation and sales confidence. It supports stakeholder-specific conversations. It supports sales/pre-sales handoffs and collaboration.
- Agile content marketing. In a cloud world, the development of value data and content by product management and marketing can and should be agile. Agile marketing involves designing an initial version (v1) to limited objectives, developing v1 fast, testing v1 quickly and iterating rapidly to improved versions. Initial perfection of content, data and layout are unnecessary. Testing, feedback and an approach that emphasizes continuous improvement will deliver quality. Agile marketing delivers speed.
- Design tools and content for sales usability. Sales reps spend their days differently from product management. They spend a lot of time in call preparation. They work at ways that they can make connections and get messages returned. The content and format of Value Propositions need to be designed with sales usability in mind. Easy access to the right Value Proposition is huge. Fast, easy tailoring to customer specifics is important. Content is used more often when it takes only a few clicks to get the right collateral, slides or leave-behinds.
4. Talent. Deploying value selling is like any other initiative. There may already be sales or pre-sales people using value in their day-to-day work. But the benefits of value deployment in sales are the benefits of scale. Developing skills, experiences and the broader talent pool is important and should be included in any value deployment program.
- Focus on Adoption. Talent development is about more than training on content or tools. When class isdismissed, the important question is how the day-to-day effectiveness of sales and pre-sales personnel improves. The primary objective of any value selling effort must be adoption by customer-facing professionals. Putting value into sales practice is the aim.
- Make Value a Path to Career Enhancement. The checkbox approach to implementing value sometimes makes value deployment a staff job. If the internal image of Value Strategies is a windowless office with value modeling geeks slaving away chained to their spreadsheets, sustaining any value efforts is unlikely. Senior sponsors can help elevate the importance of the effort with a few choice comments in a meeting. But the best way to develop talent is to make the creation and use of Value Propositions a career enhancing opportunity. The willingness of a millennial, tech-friendly sales rep to use value in a customer conversation is an event that warrants the creation of an overnight Rockstar. In great organizations, Value becomes a way to grow young, articulate, analytical types into effective pre-sales professionals. A broad perception that Value is strategically important results directly from making those active and successful in value selling into Rockstars.
- Celebrate Success. Raising the profile of Rockstars goes hand-in-hand with success stories. Celebrating that success draws the attention of other reps and pre-sales personnel. A few of them may try it themselves. In the midst of that celebration it is important to tell the customer success story, describing how value helped close a deal or, more modestly, helped a rep move a sales process forward. Customer success stories provide others with ideas of how to use value in a conversation or a sales process. They help direct potential value sellers to the right resources. Concrete success stories invariably promote adoption better than abstract, color-by-the-numbers, skills training slides.
- Socialize support, tools, resources. Even the sales dinosaurs can’t avoid the world of social technology. Webinars, videos, smart email promotion and sites with social content all drive awareness, skill development, confidence and adoption.
5. Mobilize. Although the four elements above are all needed in a value selling effort, the single most important success factor is to develop a team accountable for mobilizing value selling. Members of the team need not have full time commitments to value, but the team does need to have collective accountability for driving organizational adoption and success in value selling. This involves several priorities for the group:
- Drive and evangelize early success. The core team mobilizing value needs to constantly look outside itself. It is essential to identify Rockstars, assist them with data, collateral, coaching and support, even if they are capable of succeeding without help. Evangelizing their success, propagating their success stories and raising awareness to senior level attention are all part of any good adoption program. Early successes generate momentum. Rockstars collect groupies who adopt their behaviors. And the core team has the opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t by supporting the Rockstars. That interaction bolsters the quality of their coaching and of their program management.
- Centers of excellence for widespread quality, adoption & success. The core team should make themselves key members of one or more centers of value excellence. They can recruit others to paint fences with them, but the center of excellence should own: (i) the assessment and improvement of Value Proposition content and design quality, and (ii) the identification and propagation of what is working in value selling. For effective content quality improvement, some members of the team need to be effective coaches. Most importantly, the center of excellence needs to be close enough to the underlying business that its members have direct experience of customer value conversations. It must include members of the customer facing team to get the direct benefit of their experience. The center of excellence works best if it aligns closely with or includes one or more Rockstars.
- Drive agile deployment. The content discussion above highlighted the importance of agile content development. But value selling implementation itself, including organization, strategy, support, focus and talent development should also be agile. Every business unit and sales organization is different. Pre-existing recipes for performance have their limits. Trying early versions of a plan, testing, training and coaching help an organization learn from success and avoid replicating failure. Agile value deployment embeds the flexibility to reorient efforts, reconfigure talent and redeploy resources to obtain the best results. The core team should have the opportunity and the responsibility to identify successes and adapt to scale them.
Summary. Winning B2B enterprises use value selling effectively to increase revenues and profitability. The key elements to drive value selling are not complicated. Value selling can be implemented rapidly. The most important component of a successful value strategy is the energetic mobilization of quality Value Propositions to make them central to customer conversations and sales success. Great senior management focuses on identifying, building and sustaining a core team who are accountable for driving value selling adoption and agile deployment.