It’s a question that’s bewildered sales leaders through the years: What distinguishes high performing salespeople from low performing ones?
Like most questions where the answer seems elusive, it breeds more questions: Are your best reps benefiting from more business-friendly territories? Are they simply getting more leads? Are they selling better products than your low performers? Are they being trained on a better sales process?
The answers to these questions, in order, are no, no, no, and no.
Most of you know full well that business-to-business companies strive to standardize these areas across their enterprise, training their salespeople the same way, having them sell the same portfolio of products, and giving them equal territories and lead quantities.
So, with all these variables controlled, what’s the number one factor driving the excellence of your top performers? According to analyst firm Sirius Decisions, it’s the ability of your reps to articulate value in front of prospects and customers. In fact, 71 percent of executives identified value conversations as the biggest determinant of a company hitting its revenue targets.
The question is, how do you make sure your team masters the ability to articulate value in all their sales interactions?
Three Value Conversations
Yet another tricky question. After all, “value” is about as subjective a term as you’ll find, so to make sure salespeople know how to communicate it, you have to arrive at a more concrete definition of what “value” means across the sales cycle.
In my mind, there are really three distinct but complementary “value conversations” that happen in every sales cycle. I explore the specific dynamics of these conversations in my upcoming book, “The Three Value Conversations,” slated for publication this summer from McGraw-Hill. In the book, one of the messages I stress is that for your reps to really make an impact in front of prospects and customers, they need to master all three of these pivotal moments in your customer conversations.
Conversation #1: Create Value (Differentiation)
Objective: Defeat the status quo and differentiate your solution.
Reps routinely struggle with the challenge of creating differentiation. This struggle, however, is often a function of conducting the wrong conversation at the wrong time. In other words, salespeople have a tendency to leap ahead and tell prospects why they should go with your solution before they’ve sufficiently convinced them why they should change from their current situation. This “why change” story is a crucial (and often missing) component of many customer conversations. Without it, you won’t create the urgency and uncertainty you need to dislodge your prospect’s status quo, and as a result, many of your deals will fizzle out into no decision.
By focusing first on the “why change” story, you’ll be able to create a buying vision that will set you apart and put you in pole position to win the “why you” conversation to follow.
Conversation #2: Elevate Value (Justification)
Objective: Win executive buy-in and demonstrate your business impact.
Analyst firm IDC found that 80 percent of business-to-business decisions now require the sign-off of decision makers with vice president or higher titles. That means high levels of business acumen and advanced industry knowledge are indispensable traits for the modern sales rep. In a high-octane environment like this, traditional solution presentations aren’t going to deliver the business value impact you need to resonate with executive buyers.
To secure executive buy-in, your reps need to deliver a conversation—not a presentation—in which you build a business impact model that demonstrates your value. That, in turn, will free up the budget for an opportunity and justify your prospect’s investment in your solution.
Conversation #3: Capture Value (Maximization)
Objective: Preserve your margins and maintain (or expand!) deal size.
Believe it or not, it’s not just at the end of the sales cycle where your pricing craters. In actuality, the perceived value of your solution has been diminishing all throughout the sales cycle as customers ask for things and you give them away.
To make sure you’re protecting your margins, your reps need to recognize that these giveaways are in fact opportunities for negotiation, meaning they have a chance to protect your pricing instead of letting it dwindle. A better option is to execute something I call “pivotal agreements.” Think of these as milestones you can use to exchange value as your deals advance, as opposed to giving away demos, meetings and early price concessions – and shrinking your perceived value. These agreements can give you the leverage you need to protect the value of your deals throughout your sales conversations.
While each “moment of truth” outlined above has specific objectives and outcomes, each is also an interdependent part of a winning customer conversation. The closer your salespeople get to mastering these skills and techniques, the less sales leaders will have to worry that your reps aren’t performing when and where it counts: With their lips moving in front of prospects and customers.