Thursday, August 10, 2023

Why all the buzz about Value Selling?


I had an interesting conversation recently with someone who has a deep sales, marketing and communications background. He's worked for a couple of household names. You'd recognize them. If you've been in finserv for a while, you would probably recognize him.

He asked an interesting question: "why all the focus on value selling on your Thoughts On Selling podcast? I don't get it."

When I started to explain value selling to him, he cut me off. "Doesn't everybody sell this way? In professional services we've always focused on the customer."

That got me thinking. What's the difference between selling a product and selling a service?

With a product, you can point to its attributes - size, color, horsepower, storage capacity, number of CPUs or circuits, whether the LEDs are surface mounted, etc.

With a service, you have nothing to point to. It's an intangible. It doesn't exist outside of the experience of the service delivery (except perhaps for the simple "Want me to cut your grass?"...and even there value prop there is pretty obvious.

So...why do we focus on product attributes of the product rather than its ultimate value to the user?

Frankly, we're lazy.

It's what engineering driven/led organizations focus on...because it's comfortable. It's what the founders understand.

And we're swept up in the competitive leapfrog of "my widget is 10% shinier than the other company's widget."

We count on the prospect/buyer/user to make the jump from "high performance fabric" to "completing my analytics job this morning rather than tomorrow afternoon or next week." And that requires another couple of jumps..."if i can run many more analytics jobs (what-ifs) I can make better business decisions to improve product quality or employee retention or marketing efficacy or stock investments...which results in a higher bonus for me."

When I ran marketing, business development and sales enablement for an early cloud provider, we never talked about the technology behind our offerings. For our customers it was simply magic. Our focus was solely on helping clients to build scalable, performant environments so that they could provide up to date information to their subscribers. Major League Baseball didn't care how we did it, just that their subscribers would have a seamless experience from spring training to the last game of the World Series.

Most decision makers today don't care how things work, just that they deliver on their brand promise. The market is noisy and crowded, confusing buyers. Further, most buyers of larger ticket items (new ERP system, for instance) may have zero experience with evaluating and selecting a system and the details simply distract them, leading to "No Decision."

As sales leaders or sales enablers, we need to understand our buyers' challenges and opportunities, to empathize with them, and to shape our conversations and messaging accordingly.

One CIO told me: "I don't care how much better this is than our current environment; I'm not asking my team to learn another set of tools. They just don't have the bandwidth." Clearly we hadn't focused enough on the autonomous part of our Autonomous Data Warehouse offering conversation, describing how his team would not have to learn anything new.

Conversely, when I talked with the head of operations at a major airlines about the possibility of moving his analytics from a batched 24 hour look-back (what happened yesterday), to a realtime view of his operations (what's happening right now), he said this: "You can do that? I'll take two!" In this case, we had connected with his strategic goal of substantively improving his operational abilities.

Here's the jumping off point.

  • If you're still "solution selling," you're losing 30-40% of your opportunities to organizations that have embraced value selling. Maybe more.
  • And...if you've recently implemented value selling, most of your sales people are still solution selling, or worse yet, still pitching features. Been there, seen that.

Because...value selling is not a thing to implement. It's a mindset, one that has to be shared from the top down. When it's done right, I've seen individual sales people grow their individual deal sizes by an order of magnitude or two. And when as CSO I implemented it at a mature business services firm, we increased sales by 75% in just over a year.

Where are you in this journey?






Thursday, August 3, 2023

Is AI going to take over sales?


Is AI going to take over sales?

Yea, sure.

I’m no luddite …I installed early AI supercomputers at leading software companies many years ago and built expert systems on personal computers. I’ve sold predictive analytics to enterprise accounts and worked with many customers on analytics projects. I trained thousands of Google and Oracle sales people on data analytics.  I understand the power of leveraging large data sets.

I’ve also worked with thousands of customers and sales people and I’ve seen how customers lean in when an expert says “in my experience…”

If the sales person isn’t adding unique value, Generative Ai will take their seat.  And repetitive selling functions undertaken by corporate sales people – “how many more servers do you need” -- will be replaced by smart (AI enabled) outbound communications (written, voice, perhaps even generated video). Live chat is already being taken over by AI bots.

You need to add value.

Or you’re toast.

A key account director once told me that his job was to take orders (big orders.) He didn’t understand that his job was to create opportunities rather than to take orders. He’s no longer with the company.

The sales person approaching the customer with a hypothesis of how to accomplish their strategic goals differently, better, faster, more profitably will continue to be successful. And in some cases, that sales person is suggesting an approach or goals that might not have been on the customer’s radar. They will co-create a new way of doing business together.

Sales person who synthesize their business value hypotheses from a variety of inputs (customer, industry, sales engineer, analyst, prior experience) will continue to find a warm reception from their customers.  GenAI will have a role – it will suggest specific customers to approach, or synthesize the business case for use with those customers. At Oracle we outsourced that task to a team of people offshore. Today, companies can outsource the task to GenAI.

But…successful selling engagements ultimately focus on the “see-feel-do” model rather than the “hear-think-act” model. And people are really good at the “feel” part, if you let them. Michael Douglas, in The Komisky Method repeatedly asks “how did that feel”, not “what did you think?” I ask that exact question after every role play and phone call (during facilitated Power Hours.)

Now…this is a different question than whether GenAI will support or enable sales. AI based sales training is already a thing, and a powerful and scalable one at that. RNMKRS has already provided realtime feedback and coaching to tens of thousands of college sales students and Fortune 500 sales people. AI recommendation engines on “next best steps” are being built and deployed.

I’ll note that sales people do not want to be overburdened with too much data. They are masters of “just give me enough to get started and I’ll do the rest on my own.”  Let’s not burden them with too much information!

Here’s my message, and it’s exactly the same I delivered in a keynote address at a very large vendor's SKO in Las Vegas. “If you’re not moving up, you’re falling behind.” Your peers are not standing still (and neither is Generative AI). Either continue to improve your skills, to add more value, or be deprecated.

Even ChatGTP and Bard don’t think AI is going to take over sales anytime soon.

ChatGTP stated:

By automating certain tasks and streamlining workflows, AI can free up salespeople to focus on more high-value activities, such as relationship-building and strategic planning.

And Bard stated:

In the future, we will see a hybrid sales force where AI and human salespeople work together to close deals. AI will handle the tasks that it is good at, while human salespeople will focus on the tasks that require human skills and creativity. This will allow sales teams to be more efficient and effective than ever before…it is important to remember that AI cannot replace human salespeople entirely. The human touch will always be an essential part of successful sales.

What do you think? Are you concerned that GenAI will replace you or your team? Or are you looking forward to better tools that will allow you to engage more powerfully with your customers and prospects?







Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Getting the most from your account planning investments


Account planning sessions are "sacred" events to me.

Never mind the staff cost of $20-$50K just for the sales team to show up and participate. Never mind the "interruption" to their normal responsibilities. Never mind the hours of research, planning and prep to ensure a great outcome.

It's the potential impact. We can substantively affect the outcome of a client's business when we conduct the proper research and planning. For a finserv account, perhaps it means that their customers will get loans rated faster and more accurately. For a manufacturing company, perhaps it means that we can help boost their production quality. And for a life sciences company, perhaps it means finding a cure for a disease more quickly.

Oh, and the team stands to benefit financially - making their numbers, receiving their commissions, going to Club.

When facilitating an account planning session, I always include three components:

  • A CPR -- a statement of the Context, Purposes and expected/desired Results (which we co-develop at the beginning of the session
  • A value selling mindset
  • And finally and perhaps most importantly, the action plan

 Without the action plan, people leave the session thinking "that was great", now back to work. And everything learned, discussed and decided is quickly forgotten.

With a good detailed action plan, people leave the session with a strong understanding of their roles, responsibilities, next steps and expectations (Change Management 101).

Yet, even a good action plan does not guarantee success. Success requires ownership and follow up. I've facilitated three hundred or so account planning sessions over the years, and I always charge the sales manager or sales leadership with owning that follow up - ensuring that the commitments people make are actually completed.

But, to be honest, I still haven't cracked the code on this. That follow up just doesn't always happen.

How do you ensure follow up to account planning sessions? To the promises made by your sales people?

By the way, if you don’t currently conduct formal account planning sessions, and want help in setting them up or facilitating them, let me know! (You do have to promise to follow up!)