Great content should have great impact. Strong Value Propositions for differentiated products are often terrific content. But the impact of a Value Proposition on sales results frequently depends not just on the content itself, but on how product management and sales management drive adoption.
Don’t get me wrong. Content quality matters. B2B Value Propositions need to be clearly structured in the language of the customer. They should be adaptable to customer specifics and designed based on 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.
But making great content available and hoping for the best is rarely an effective strategy for sales adoption. Product and sales management should have an active plan beyond training to drive value selling. Here are 4 key ingredients of value strategy implementations that predictably drive success:
1. Identify and Support Value Rockstars. Some customer-facing team members take more readily to selling value than others. Value Rockstars are members of the team who: (1) understand Value Propositions, (2) credibly participate in direct customer conversations and (3) have the experience and/or the courage to engage in direct customer conversations about value. Value Rockstars are the key to early traction.
Identify Value Rockstars. Value Rockstars emerge with many job descriptions and many job titles. Some product managers have sales backgrounds and sales skills that make them effective in direct customer conversations. Some product management job descriptions are explicit that the product manager should take an active role in customer dialogs and presentations. A strong, customer-facing product manager is often the first Value Rockstar to emerge.
Many organizations selling complex B2B products have pre-sales specialists, technical sales, customer-facing business development (BD), field support or Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). In most cases, pre-sales, technical sales, BD and SMEs have a deeper understanding of specific products. Their technical skills and knowledge usually makes it natural for them to engage customers in value conversations. The key to making them Rockstars is often to motivate them, get some of their bandwidth and provide them with the tools.
Some organizations hire or develop SMEs who specialize in value: value experts, value engineers and value managers. Some of these have a specific job description. Some are experienced and make a career of value management. Some are energetic go-getters early in their career, starting with flexible job descriptions, who grab value selling as their accelerated pathway to business experience and management. Relying only on value experts to have customer conversations has limitations, but they can be incredibly important lighthouses and leaders in driving the value conversation into everyday practice of sales and pre-sales.
Finally, identifying Rockstars in the salesforce can be like discovering gold. Some sales leaders, in management or in the field, have been building value spreadsheets and discussing them with customers for years. Understanding their approach and their content helps to design Value Proposition content and to guide a broader value selling rollout. Getting their buy-in to a scalable approach, replacing their one-off spreadsheets, can result in instant credibility among a broader team. Pre-existing value selling experience and success provide a stronger foundation for scaling a value strategy.
- Support Value Rockstars. Once identified, Value Rockstars deserve special care and attention. It may be counterintuitive to put Rockstars on the intensive care list; they tend to be self-sufficient in selling value to customers. But there are many ways to support them without getting in the way: tutorials on tools and collateral, providing customer-specific data, producing slides and follow-up material, brainstorming and responding to feedback for specific situations, making sure they get credit.
Aligning with Value Rockstars and supporting them has a number of benefits:
- It accelerates any change from how they do things today, sustaining the adoption of new tools and approaches that are part of a broader implementation.
- Providing additional support to Rockstars can improve their direct productivity. That means benefit to them, closing more deals, and it means more opportunity for early successes.
- Staying close to Rockstars means more opportunity to build a track record and war stories of success.
- Understanding what Rockstars are doing helps to provide insights into their best practices. Observing and capturing best practices helps to embed and scale them more broadly in the organization.
- Staying close to the Rockstars accelerates a product manager’s process of refining and improving the content and design of Value Propositions.
Successful Value Rockstars, participating in any value rollout program, are good for broader adoption.
2. Motivate Sales Adoption: Celebrate Success and Communicate War Stories. No matter how compelling your content, sales’ attention span is strongly correlated with the payoff they anticipate. Their interest in learning new content, new skills and new tools will increase when they understand how that learning generates commissions.
- Celebrate Success. Successful value selling doesn’t need to be an epidemic to have an impact. A single, difficult competitive deal that gets across the finish line when a customer engages in the value conversation is an important early event. The victory may be isolated, but celebrating it helps make it contagious. Identifying early successes and celebrating them is motivating.
- Communicate War Stories. Every success has a narrative to go with it. War stories both reinforce the motivation to sell value and provide a roadmap of how to get it done. Sales would rather learn from a real story about how value helped close a deal than they would from an abstract sales training manual or a technical demo of a sales tool. Good war stories, told by pre-sales and sales Rockstars in the trenches, will get reps’ attention. Good stories can also provide reps with practical insights into diagnosing when to apply value, identifying better ways to have a value conversation and pointing a rep to where they can get the right resources and support to be effective.
3. Build Senior Sponsorship. Selling based on customer value can happen organically when one or a few Value Rockstars make it happen. Bottom-up value initiatives can be contagious or even viral without someone from the C-suite banging the drum.
But the practice of Customer Value spreads faster and more predictably when senior management emphasizes its importance. It doesn’t take much: a three minute intro to an internal webinar by a VP of Sales, a five minute sales success story by the CEO or CFO at a national sales meeting. A victory lap by a Value Rockstar is more meaningful when the high fives come from the C-suite. A typical rep, no matter how jaded, is more willing to consider changing behavior and doing something new if the message comes from the top.
4. Take an Agile Approach to Value Propositions. 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. The best Value Propositions are living, evolving power tools where sales experience is a driver of continuous improvement. Successful adoption of value selling is an evolving process that gathers momentum, generates learnings and changes in character over time.
- Who sells value changes over time. Value selling may start with the Rockstars, but success creates new Rockstars. Success also gets individual sales reps motivated to start selling value themselves. As they try it, refine it and find success, broader sales adoption gets underway. Sales reps increasingly realize when value is most effective and understand how to sell value. The result is an increase in both the number of sales users and the number of value conversations.
- How Value Propositions are used in the sales process changes over time. Early in a value selling rollout, Rockstars are typically brought into a meeting where they present differentiation, quantify it, drill down and handle objections, all in the same meeting. These orchestrated, self-contained presentations of a Value Proposition usually give way over time to earlier deployment of selected components of the Value Proposition for specific purposes: call prep, headline value discussions to stay in the game or get the right meeting, customization of value props to key customer assumptions to build trust. The presentation of key points of product differentiation and value drivers to a broad customer audience can often be effectively separated from discussions with customer sub-teams whose instinct or mandate is to drill down on assumptions and validate a Value Proposition. How Value Propositions are used and the types of effective customer value conversations expand and mutate over time.
This evolution argues strongly for an agile approach to deploying Value Propositions, where early use and initial versions generate feedback. An agile approach uses that feedback to modify and adapt the tools and the content to improve results and increase adoption.
Product management 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 a work of art for the ages. Marketing forgets about team, takes a victory lap and adopts the attitude that it is now Sales’ problem to make the Value Proposition effective.
This is 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. This process 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. The best sales and marketing teams are as well.
Effective deployment of Value Propositions in sales results from a combination of great content and great leadership. The best teams realize this, implement a coherent approach and deliver results effectively and collaboratively.