Does Your Sales Force Have the Right Stuff for Value Selling?

Sales are down. That’s typically why an organization reaches out to me. Either top line revenues are falling or margins are starting to erode.  What I usually find is that the sales force is still “solution selling” even though most buyers no longer find that approach compelling.

Popularized in the 1980s, solution selling was an innovative methodology at the time. Instead of pushing a particular product, the seller assumed a consultative role in defining a bundle of products and services to solve a particular pain or challenge for a customer.
Today, we’re at a point where experienced customers probably know every firm’s products and services even before they talk to a salesperson. As the Harvard Business Review noted: with “increasingly sophisticated procurement teams and purchasing consultants … companies can readily define solutions for themselves … In this world the celebrated ‘solution sales rep’ can be more of an annoyance than an asset.”

That’s why most companies are (or should be) trying to improve sales performance by retraining and, if necessary, restocking their sales organizations with reps who can sell on value. That is, sellers who are skilled at identifying a prospect’s business objectives (expand into new markets, grow the business, dominate a category, for example) and articulating how their products and services are relevant to meeting those goals.
Value selling requires certain skills that not all salespeople possess. Here are three capabilities that may seem counter-intuitive at first glance but are critical to communicating value and making the sale to today’s increasingly demanding buyers.
ACKNOWLEDGE IMPERFECTION – Rather than downplaying or avoiding a prospect’s objections, a skilled value seller makes it a priority to discuss and map a course around roadblocks. No solution is 100% perfect and a rep demonstrates value by meeting buyer concerns head-on and saying “yes, these are potential obstacles, but here’s how we can manage them in order to get the result you want.”  Value sellers realize that reps from other companies will face similar objections and it may be how well those negatives are managed that differentiates one vendor from another in the buyer’s eyes.
QUESTION THE DEAL– It takes a confident rep to not immediately whip out a contract when the client says: “This is what we need.  Can you deliver it?” Value sellers push back and ask additional questions to make sure the problem or objective is accurately framed. Thorough analysis of existing operational scenarios, resources, and issueshelps ensure that the final deliverable is actually what the client needs. Value selling is relationship-based rather than transactional and there is everything to lose by making a quick sale that misses the mark.
BE A KNOW-IT-ALL – Value-oriented sellers take time to fully understand the nuances of the targeted organization and make informed judgments about high-level business issues.  That means going beyond the D&B basics to uncover the strategic directions of the company.  How do they really make money?  Is it on the margins from cutting-edge products or by providing more add-on services?  Are they still trying to recover from the economic downturn or looking to aggressively grow revenues by expanding?  What do they plan in the future?  By demonstrating familiarity with the company’s history, revenue models, and business objectives, a seller communicates value. In sales discussions, the spotlight falls naturally on the issues that the buyer cares about rather than “here’s our product and why we’re better than the competition.”  Part of selling for value is doing that homework up front.
These are just a few of the capabilities essential to adding, demonstrating, and communicating value in a sales situation. The first step in transforming your sales force is to build a profile of the attributes essential for success in your organization and then auditing your current reps against those requirements to make smart decisions around retention and development. In my next blog I’ll discuss why you may not be getting the return you expect from your sales training program.



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