When I started in the sales training industry about 25 years ago, I had the good fortune to start with a great company and work with a really smart guy. At the time we were selling sales training programs that helped our clients do a better job selling value in major accounts.
The programs were well received worldwide because not only did we highlight the notion of selling value, we taught the skills necessary to do it. But that was only half of the success story. The other half was attributable to the fact that most of the competition was still talking about other topics such as: 101 ways to close the sale, how to craft and deliver an effective product pitch, or why objections were really buying signals.
Well, that was then – this is now. Those other topics are now just old tales heard around the campfire. Everyone agrees that selling value is the key to success in major account selling.
However, with that agreement comes a downside – since everyone is doing it is no longer a differentiator. Simply being good at selling value won’t get the job done. You have to move from being good to being great. And, as Jim Collins noted in his best seller Good to Great – “Greatness requires being multiples better over a sustained period of time.” And when it comes to selling value that “multiple times better” criterion is not so easy satisfied.
So, let’s explore three barriers that need to be overcome if you are going to move from being good to great at selling value
- Knowing a lot about the problems and not so much about the successes. In the sales value literature a great deal of time is spent on discussing how to uncover and clarify customer problems. If you don’t understand the problems you can’t provide a viable solution. This of course all makes great sense and is a story that needs to be told many times.
But there is another chapter to the story. If differentiation is to be achieved, it is also necessary to understand the customer’s successes. What are they doing, when they are doing something great? What are the pieces of the puzzle that contribute to their greatest successes? And, how can those successes be leveraged? If in addition to understanding the problems, the customer’s success story is known, you can position a solution that separates you from those who only know half the tale.
- Know a lot about the past and present and not so much about the future. Over the years we have had the opportunity to do ride-alongs with sales people across a wide spectrum of companies. During one period we kept track of the amount of time sales reps focused on understanding the past and present versus the future. Observation – a majority of the sales reps spent of majority of the time asking questions about the status quo versus what will be.
Understanding the status quo enables a sales rep to present a viable value proposition to the customer but a status quo perspective means the solution will probably look and sound a whole lot like what everybody else is positioning.
If differentiation is to be achieved then a clearer picture of the future needs to be developed. Some questions used by sales reps that develop this perspective are:
- How will the set of players who are making the key decisions change in the next several years?
- What will be expected from your customers in the future as a given that is now considered exceptional?
- Which of your competitive advantages will be most difficult to maintain as the future unfolds?
- Knowing a lot about one thing in depth and not so much about a lot of things in breadth. The first thing noticeable about developing value in a major sale is a lot of things going on and a lot of players are involved. One of the consequences of this fact is the lack of time to find out everything about everything all at once.
In major account selling – breadth comes before depth. It is important to get a broad information base early in the sales cycle. This provides the base for formulating an initial strategy for where you need to go to get in-depth information and what you should do when you get there.
When it comes to selling value the trap is getting a lot of information about the wrong things from the wrong people.
If you are going to excel in major account selling, getting really good at selling value is a must do. But being really good requires more than asking a few questions and uncovering a few problems – you have to be great at doing things the competition hasn’t even thought about doing.