It’s not uncommon for companies to plan their sales training programs based on what salespeople say their biggest needs are. But at a time when so much rides on your reps’ ability to articulate value throughout the sales cycle, you have to wonder: How reliable is that approach?
Not very, according to a Corporate Visions self-assessment survey.
Behavioral economists sometimes refer to the concept of “declared preferences” (what people say or feel) versus “revealed” preferences (what people actually do). They often mention the idea when explaining the discrepancies between opinion polls and actual behaviors. There seems to be a similar discrepancy between where reps say they’re struggling most in their customer conversations, and what behavioral outcome data actually reveals about their challenges.
Last year, when three Corporate Visions subject matter experts and I published our latest book, The Three Value Conversations, we launched a parallel self-assessment tool, with questions aligned to the key skills and concepts highlighted in it. Specifically, the assessment was designed to measure reps’ proficiency in three critical areas: creating value (differentiation skills), elevating value (executive conversation skills), and capturing value (negotiation skills). Since that time, nearly 300 sales professionals have taken the assessment.
For each skills area, we asked reps which skill (from a list of six) they believed to be their biggest selling challenge. Then, we compared what they thought their biggest challenge was against what the behavioral outcome survey indicated. In each value scenario, there was a discrepancy, as the challenges reps believed was their biggest selling hurdle didn’t correspond to the ones indicated by their answers to the survey questions.
Create Value (Objective: Defeat the status quo and differentiate your solutions)
- Participants declared: Illustrating a sharp contrast between a customer’s current state and a desired future state was their top challenge.
- But the data revealed: Creating and confirming urgency by stirring emotions is their actual top challenge.
Elevate Value (Objective: Make a business case that frees up budget and passes muster with executive buyers)
- Participants declared: Winning access to executive buyers rather than being delegated down was their top challenge.
- But the data revealed: Identifying specific financial metrics that their solution will impact is their actual top challenge.
Capture Value (Objective: Protect pricing and expand deal size during tense negotiations)
- Participants declared: Getting customers to reveal underlying motivations was their top challenge.
- But the data revealed: Gaining agreements to mutually beneficial terms in response to your concession plan is their actual top challenge.
These results hint at something worth remembering the next time you plan your sales training: Perceptions are not reality. In other words, what your reps say anecdotally about their greatest selling challenges could be preventing you from identifying and addressing even bigger skills in your customer conversations.