There’s a gratifying amount of attention being paid nowadays to the idea that sales people need to focus on creating genuine customer value. It’s a concept that sits at the very centre of our own Value Selling System®.
And yet I still sense that there’s a lot of ambiguity about what different people mean when they talk about focusing on value. It might be best to start by offering a practical working definition of what we mean (or ought to mean) when we talk about “value” from a sales perspective…
Some people think of value in purely financial terms - in terms of the ability to increase revenue or reduce cost as a result of an investment, and while I agree that these are key components of value I believe that it is a huge mistake to narrow our thinking down to just monetary matters.
I believe it’s much more useful to think of value in broader terms: as the relative importance, worth, or usefulness of an asset from the perspective of both the owner and the receiver.
In addition to money, valuable assets can of course also include time, information or commitment. I’m sure you can think of others. The “value” of these assets can - of course - be affected by scarcity or other measures of availability.
When you consider things from this perspective, it becomes obvious that many of the things we value as individuals or organisations are relative. Something that appears to be the exact same asset can vary in value significantly according to timing and other circumstances.
The giver and receiver of the asset can also have dramatically different perspectives on the relative value of the asset. This, of course, is the basis of any good sales negotiation: an agreement to exchange assets that are relatively more valuable to the receiver than the giver.
The concept of mutuality is incredibly important in any successful relationship between seller and buyer. Both sides need to believe that a fair exchange of value has taken place. No buyer likes to come away thinking that they have been screwed over by the seller - and no seller enjoys being shafted by a buyer who seems to hold all the cards.
That’s why the concept of creating and capturing mutually meaningful value is so critical to long-term sales success in any complex B2B sales environment where we’re looking to establish a lasting and well-balanced relationship - even if the relative sizes and perceived power of the respective buying and selling organisations are very different.
And let’s not forget, either, that the customer only actually achieves the actual value they are expecting after our solution has been proven to solve the problem that they bought us in to deal with in the first place.
But creating and capturing mutually meaningful value isn’t just the end product of a successful buyer-seller relationship: it needs to be the oil that lubricates every single phase in the evolution of our respective buying and selling processes.
At every step along the way, we must be striving to establish mutual value. That surely must mean:
- No more cold calling without having done a respectful amount of research and preparation about both the person and their organisation in advance of the conversation.
- No more tedious “discovery” meetings that consist of a seller asking a string of qualifying questions without sharing a series of equally useful insights with the buyer.
- No more apparently “agreeable” sales meetings where the sales person picks up a bunch of (often valueless) actions without the seller committing to any equivalent action.
- No more progressing sales opportunities beyond the early qualifying stage until and unless we have uncovered a compelling reason (and clear potential value) for the prospect to abandon the status quo.
- No more product demonstrations until and unless we have clearly understood and can show how our “solution” solves the prospect’s critical problems.
- No more proposals until and unless we have established a clear business case and compelling reasons to change that relate to every key stakeholder.
- No more negotiations without understanding and anticipating the relative value of the concessions that the buyer and seller are trying to extract from each other.
- No more chasing or accepting opportunities where we know that even if we win the deal, it's going to be bad business for one or both parties.
- No more advancing opportunities from one stage to the next on the basis of sales actions alone without both parties agreeing that they see clear value in doing so.
If there’s one thing that I have learned from observing many of today’s top sales performers, it is that they have far too much respect for the value of both their own and the prospects time and other assets to waste it on opportunities that are never likely to result in a mutually valuable and successful outcome.
That’s why I am so convinced that we need to coach and guide every member of our sales organisations - from the most experienced veteran to the most recent new hire - in the art and science of creating and capturing mutually meaningful value in very customer interaction - and that we need to force them (if necessary) to qualify out opportunities where no potential for mutual value appears to exist.
What’s your opinion?
About Bob Apollo
A fellow of Association of Professional Sales, Bob Apollo is the founder of UK-based Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners. He works with ambitious B2B-focused organisations that have complex sales environments, helping them to establish consistently scalable sales and marketing machines that deliver predictable revenue outcomes. Follow him on Twitter at @bobapollo.