Alexander Group’s Chief Sales Executive Summits in New York and Half Moon Bay, California attracted twenty executives from leading firms, who discussed their views and experiences in building sales organizations that add value to the products and services they sell. It was agreed up front that value selling is an important part of most growth strategies and that the sales function is an increasingly important means of achieving competitive differentiation.
The question we addressed at these sessions: How are companies pivoting sales resources from selling things to delivering value?
This blog post summarizes the seven key points distilled from these two Summits. View the entire executive summary for more details.
Take a New Look Around
Value is in the eyes of the customer. The key is to clarify what customers either would value (if it were available) or do value (but may not be getting). Achieving this clarification requires new and innovative thinking about how to get insights from customers, the role of sales in doing this and how a more productive relationship with marketing can help package these “value ideas” into something customers will buy. The point is that the sales function cannot “dream up” good value propositions on its own. Value identification is a team sport. New processes and new functions are needed to identify what customers really value.
Make Some Investment
Ideas on value need to be turned into action. That requires investing in talent with deep understanding of both customer issues and the solutions you can offer. As well, effective value selling requires sellers to recalibrate whom they call on and how they price. Put simply, they need to call higher and price bolder.
If sellers are to succeed in this mission they will need help…from a team with deep experience in industry issues, economics, terminology and solutions. One of the Summit attendees said, “That means our specialists are more than just a warmed-over former seller with a new title.” As to calling higher and pricing bolder, both training and coaching (emphasis on coaching) is absolutely necessary.
Tell Some Stories
Stories that describe HOW your products and services have helped customers improve their businesses are a must. These can be in the form of references, cases or simply anecdotes designed to help sellers certify that they can actually deliver the value and ROI they promise. One executive referred to this as “evidence based selling.” Another comment was, “You can’t expect customer attitudes or behaviors to change simply by ‘challenging’ them. You need evidence that you can make an impact, make a difference.”
Hold Your Course
It takes time to build interest among the executives that matter in a value-based sale, but the payoff can be well worth the effort. You may need to build relationships with P&L level executives that are not traditionally involved in the sales process. In value selling, efficiency is not the main event. Finding ways to make inroads at the P&L level and imbed more value in the “customer contact continuum” is the key.
Bring the Whole Team
Value selling is the opposite of “sell and run.” It is what some executives referred to as “accountability selling,” where companies invest energy across the entire customer contact continuum, from discovery to implementation and roll out. That means finding ways to work smoothly across multiple functions. Product Development, Marketing, Sales and Service need what one executive called “a shared purpose: customer success.” This implies cross functional interlock in areas such as planning, coverage, organization, job design, metrics and compensation.
But Product Development, Marketing, Sales and Service have traditionally been separate or “siloed.” These walls need to come down or be bridged if sellers are to become partners with customer commerce leaders. One executive referred to this as developing a “co-dependency” between these functions.
Manage the Risk
Customers who buy based on value do so because they see opportunity for ROI enhancement. That usually happens by changing processes to manage costs, enhance capability, or both. But in doing so, this same customer will be exposed to new risk; suppose the process change does not work? Suppose it is slow to produce results? Value-centric vendors need to find ways to help the customer manage these “implied” risks. One executive expressed that “Customers are looking for vendors to share in losses and gains, risks and benefits. They are looking for shared commitment to success.”
Think Like a Customer
Value selling is not for every organization. It takes time and investment to do right. Results may not be immediate. Product offerings must have sufficient breadth and complexity to create a compelling value proposition. And creating cross functional teams can require new organizational structure, processes and behaviors. Value selling is hard work.
But as one Summit attendee noted, “Value-selling requires you to think like a customer. When you do this you see the world very differently. And that can open up a whole new world of possibilities.” In an age when value means competitive advantage, companies seeking growth through sales need to think carefully about how to develop their own version of value selling.
Download the complete Executive Summary.
Learn more about the Alexander Group’s revenue growth strategy.