Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Hey, Lets Do Value Selling

Over the past few months, a number of senior sales leaders have reached out for help, stating "we want to implement value selling."

They see value selling as a tool to unlock more value (revenue) or to improve their pipeline or to gain a competitive selling edge.

They are on the right path...value selling can certainly have a net positive impact on revenue, pipeline and competitiveness.

However, their perception of value selling and how it's implemented is a bit short sighted. Value selling is not a thing. You don't "implement value selling." 

Value Selling Is Not a Tool

First and foremost, value selling is not a tool; rather, it's a mindset. Value selling is a way of thinking about how to engage with customers and requires a broad organizational commitment to putting the customer first.

Value selling focuses on the customer's strategic business goals (not technology habits). It focuses on the firmagraphics (the culture) of the buying entity (first mover/late adopter, risk taker/risk adverse, etc). It considers the needs/wants/desires of the individual stakeholders and contributors to the buying process. Value selling requires a specific focus on the use of language to align with those entities.

As a result, value selling is not something easily boiled down to Step One, Step Two, Step Three...

Instead, a value selling approach should be baked into onboarding, selling preparation, communications, actions and activities. And it requires an organization-wide change management process.

Start With Opportunity and Account Planning

Opportunity planning and development, and its cousin, account planning, are great places to start. 

Traditional opportunity planning starts with a profile of the target customer (focusing on installed base and potential budget) and the questions "what can we sell them and how much share can we steal from a competitor?" As this approach is highly transactional and competitive, it leads to sales with low profitability and mediocre customer satisfaction ratings. Sound familiar?

Value centered opportunity planning also starts with a profile of the target customer, but with a focus on strategic business goals, the gaps between goals and capabilities and the motivations of the organization and the key stakeholders. Reps or teams consider how they can help the organization to achieve these goals, independent of any product or service offering (Solution development comes much later.)

Value selling involves co-creation with the customer, and in many, perhaps most cases, doesn't have much impact on existing vendor relationships. It tends to focus on net-new value creation, generating far larger impact and results than a simple vendor substitution might.

There's no comparison of vendors' TCO in value selling. It's just not relevant. That's pocket fluff in comparison to the impact true co-creation offers. Why focus on shaving 10% in operating costs if the project could lead to a 20% increase in customer satisfaction or manufacturing quality. Most of the senior executives, the decision makers in a strategic project, will focus on the latter.

The team must consider "are we well positioned to help the customer achieve their goals?"  Once the organizational goals are identified, the reps or teams develop an influence map that details the key stakeholders, the strength of the relationships, and an action plan to further develop those relationships.

Finally, the team develops powerful messaging that emphasizes alignment and ability of the team to help the organization achieve their strategic goals, and the ability of the individual stakeholders to meet their personal goals.

As with any strategic sales improvement project, the assistance of a knowledgeable sales enablement sherpa to provide direction and to carry the load is critical. If you don't get value selling right the first time, you won't get a second chance. Senior management...and the sales team...will move on to other shiny new objects.  




Thursday, May 25, 2023

Abandoning the Hero Sale

When companies first get started, the founders may do most or all of the selling. They have the vision, the passion, the depth of knowledge of the service or product and connect well with early adopters.

At some point the Hero Sale risks becoming the Hero Fail. The challenge is that as the business expands, the founders (the heros) need to focus on running the business, managing the growth, courting investors, hiring managers, etc., and they have less time for selling.

So...they hire sales people. 

And they expect sales people to act and perform in their image, with the same depth of knowledge, passion, and ability to connect with mainstream customers.

I've seen and experienced it first-hand.

When I sold predictive analytics to some of the largest tech companies in the industry, the company president and founder expected the sales team to leverage his 100 page slide go deep into the technical details of the what and how of the platform. Much of our sales training focused on this technical deep dive, and only lightly touched on personas and messaging.

Conversely, my mainstream customers were only interested in the benefits of leveraging the platform - could they increase pipeline velocity, improve pipeline size and shape,  bolster their customer acquisition rates, meet their quota and revenue targets. The decision makers didn't care what was under the hood, only whether it would bolster their marketing results and how difficult it would be to integrate the predictive analytics platform and workflow into their existing marketing processes.

IBM wasn't even interested in the platform...they had their own...they were interested in our curated third party data. And we discovered this not through a detailed review of the CEO's slide deck, but in an extended white boarding session focusing on work flows. (White boards are my favorite selling tools.)

In talking with clients I hear many facing this same the company grows, expected sales productivity fails to increase as experienced sales people are hired. And the founders question the new hires, the selection process, the target markets, everything but their own outsize influence in setting sales strategy.

Moving from a hero-driven revenue model to one that is sustainable and scalable requires a fundamental shift to a traditional selling model -- a formal selling methodology, selling processes, SFA and CRM platforms, formal onboarding activities. Dedicated sales managers will provide strong leverage for additional growth, particularly if a coaching methodology and mindset is part of the structure.

When I joined BAO, the outsourced inside sales organization, as its first sales leader, I implemented a formal selling methodology and spent a lot of time coaching my sales team on value selling techniques. Many had come from the delivery side of the organization and had been accustomed to a highly transactional sales approach...making up to 250 calls each day. The investment in time and effort paid off...we signed a number of key accounts that had been chased for fifteen years.

We also drove an increase in revenue of 75% over that first 18 month period.

Moving to this scalable selling model requires both support and patience from all of the key stakeholders. It won't happen all at once, and it does require a substantive shift in approach. The founders must step back and give the hired managers the space and time to do their job.

A formal approach to change management...and specifically...setting expectations with the key stakeholders will prove useful.

And maybe, just maybe, that hero can take their first vacation in four years.



Wednesday, April 5, 2023


Why People Buy

One of the most powerful attributes of value selling is that it should give you visibility on what people care about - how they're motivated, what their personal goals are, etc.

People think that they buy based on data and analysis.  But they don't. You don't. I don't. I buy the running shoes because they'll make me look faster on the trails or at Starbucks. You buy the solar panels or EV because it underscores your care for the environment. A coworker once told me that she was going to sell her 911 Cabrio to buy a Tesla (back when Tesla was cool)...because she wanted to save money on gas.

Um, no. She was going to lose thousands of dollars on the transaction, so the financial justification was weak. However, the new car was going to signal her care for the planet, which was her real motivation for the purchase.

Corporate buying is no different. Whether it's a new AI chatbot to improve the experience of your customer, or the repurchase of another thousand Chromebooks, at the base of the decision is feeling rather than data.

Here's a great quote on change management, and after all, selling is all about change management:

See – feel – change is more effective than analyze – think – change. The process used here is "See, Feel, and Change", as opposed to "Analyze, Think, and Change". The latter is all head, no heart, and often fails to motivate people to recognize the importance of a given problem.
As part of my enablement work, I leverage story telling, developing customer vignettes - the people, personas, their "care-abouts". I explore individual MBOs and what an MBO represents. To drive the point home for the sales people in the session, I show a jet ski, something that the lead purchaser intends to buy with their MBO. I actually get groups of sales people to yelll "jet ski" when I ask what motivates that individual.
They get it. 
Data is nice, but don't kid yourself. People don't make decisions based on TCO or ROI. Do you need to check those boxes? Absolutely. But a good ROI argument doesn't get you off BAU. Getting a customer to feel why different is better starts the real consideration process, otherwise the (perceived) RISK hurdle is just too great.


Monday, March 27, 2023


Is Value Selling a Methodology?

We designed and implemented a formal value selling methodology at Oracle and I was tangentially involved with another effort more recently.

Here's the thing about value selling. It's not just a approach to selling. It is a mindset, a way that sales people (and others) think about preparing for, and engaging with customers. To be successful, the mindset has to be present in everything the sales person does, or the initiative fails.

Here's the rub -- everyone else  in the organization, and most of the practices and processes, is either product-centric or transactional in nature.

If you train your sales people to engage with customers focused on the business benefits of reducing risk and fraud, and your product managers focus on speeds and feeds, product/service attributes, a cognitive dissonance is created. Then the rep's manager focuses on inspection and forward movement of the opportunity, talking about pricing and contract terms. Obviously, the latter is important, but frequently it is delivered in opposition to the value selling approach/mindset.

At Oracle, the sales engineer was my primary line of reinforcement. I coached them to ask reps: "Do you have a business value hypothesis...". If the rep hadn't done the work to create a value perspective, I coached the SE to decline joining them on the sales call. The first line sales manager was my second line of reinforcement, providing a lot of coaching on business value.

We had the benefit of high level executive support for our value selling approach. It helped that many senior sales executives had risen from the ranks, had been trained on value selling and saw their average deal size grow dramatically.

Conversely, in a more recent situation, value selling was deemed a "good thing to do." And it was done.  Well done, by some very senior and knowledgeable people, people who have done it well elsewhere. But it was not supported in the field by sales management, it had little to no real executive support, and product management had to be coached, over and over, to recast their product enablement assets to be more supportive of a value selling approach.  It has not really taken hold and as a result has delivered little real value.

So...value selling is a mindset, one that has to be shared by all the relevant stakeholders, and actively supported by senior management. And as such, your primary challenge is that of change management. How will you to change the hearts and minds of the stakeholders so that your investment in value selling pays off, so that sales people can focus on the value to be co-created with customers?

Looking forward to your comments!