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Enabling Value-Based Selling

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Wed Oct 16 2013

Enabling Value-Based Selling
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Today, sellers must consider the perspective of decision makers and ASK about their needs, rather than rain statistics down in a dizzying flurry of numbers and details. Statistics can be disorienting, uninspiring, and (worst of all) irrelevant to your audience when overused. And in sales, BOY are they overused.  

To be sure, data is presented with the best of intentions—to show the buyer that a product has relevance and value. But until we sit down and have a conversation with that buyer, how can we possibly know what’s of value? First, let’s take a look at our audience.  

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Division of labor

Adam Smith first used the phrase, “division of labor,” describing the hierarchy of specialists in an English pin factory in his seminal treatise The Wealth of Nations. The idea he posits is that production output, skill level, and industrial innovation are all increased by creating and filling specialist roles. A company with even as few as 10-20 employees has specialists.  

As sales enablers, we’re specialists too. The common mistake sellers make, however, is to assume that every person we’re speaking to during a sales conversation is a well-informed super-specialist in their industry. But keep in mind that for most mid-size and even larger companies, buyers may wear more than one hat. Likewise, in the smallest businesses, everyone does everything at all times. In many cases, there is no purchasing department, accounting group, finance specialist, or marketing pro on site.  

Selling based on value

The brain power of decision makers at most companies is split between dozens of tasks on any given day. Concerns like growing the business, creating a brand in their market, or meeting revenue goals are all considered alongside the day to day tasks of the specific industry they inhabit. And everything is a cost concern or a line item.  

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A friend of mine who owned his own shop used to say: “People see the world in color, dogs see black and white, and business-owners see it in black and red.” The only way to reach a person spread so thin—and so interested in costs—is to sell on value.  

This is not new advice. You’ve been hearing the same wisdom over and over since your very first bit of Sales 101 education: sell benefits over features, be a good listener, ask good questions. Much like the content of the driver’s test they took as teenagers, sellers often lose sight of these fundamentals in one way or another throughout their careers, often finding success despite them.

As sales enablers, we have to keep the focus on selling on the value of our products to sidestep the presentation of irrelevant, boring facts to the buyer.

Is value different for every type of business?

From our perspective, value is not different for every type of business. Even if you’re selling vacuum cleaner motor parts to a tiny manufacturer of vacuum cleaner motors, you’re still trying to communicate that you provide one of the same basic benefits. No matter how complicated the feature or service, it should boil down to one of a few basic benefits:  

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  • This will save you on costs.

  • This will save you time (less hassle, simpler process)

  • This will grow your business (number of customers, visibility among potential buyers).

  • This will increase your revenue (frequency of spend, average purchase size).  

If you can’t distill the product or feature down to one of these universal business needs, you’re giving the audience a reason to end the conversation. Keep your presentation relevant to the needs of their business, not the strengths of yours.  

What’s wrong with statistics?  

Statistics are good—even critical—in some types of selling when used sparingly. But salespeople (in marketing, too) are notorious for overusing statistics in customer conversations. I had a great sales director who once told me that I should go into every meeting armed with lots of statistics, but be prepared to not use even one.  

Think of yourself as the district attorney from the show Law and Order. Stats are your Exhibit A; they support the premise you’re putting forward after you’ve gathered all the information you need through needs analysis questioning. They represent a very small portion of your conversation, numbering just a few in total.  

For many products, statistics are really not needed at all. When I was selling million-dollar media programs to Fortune 500 companies over a six-week period, stats were critical to the buying decision. But for most businesses, there is no specialist to pore over those details, fact check, and make use of your info. The 15th stat you mention on page 20 of a yawn-inducing sales deck is not going to be what changes the mind of a decision maker.  

But by saying, “This is how we’ll decrease your equipment shipping costs by 20 percent…,” will get her to sit up in her chair, lean forward, and start asking questions.

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