In my opinion, the term “Value Selling” is in very real danger of taking on the moniker of the latest fad in B2B selling.  And therefore is at risk of simply becoming another in a long line of sales buzzwords such as “partners”, “what keeps you up at night”, etc.  This is really unfortunate, for I believe selling and delivering value is the only true differentiator. Sadly, this is not just my view as I’ve heard it stated a number of times by my buying clients.

The basic issue is that the salesperson will clearly state during the sale that they are there to provide “value” to the customer and, in many cases, will go through the steps with the customer to try and understand what is of value to them. Less often, the proposal from the salesperson will also propose delivering value to the customer (versus a laundry list of products, services and pricing). When well positioned, this will most likely lead to a sale. You are probably thinking “so far, so good… what’s the problem here?”  Winning deals is not such a bad outcome. And you are certainly correct – at least for the short term.

However, for many of these sales reps and their companies, things can potentially take a decided turn for the worse.  As I’ve stated many times, from the customer’s perspective, the process of selling and negotiating deals is typically viewed as a necessary evil.  What customers really want (and the whole purpose of the exercise from their vantage point) is that the promised value gets delivered. Here is where selling organizations can get themselves into real trouble.

I want to be clear that I’m not talking about malicious acts on the part of the sales rep—in my experience, the vast majority of salespeople are sincere in wanting to help and deliver value to their customers. Unfortunately, too many selling organizations are not equipped with the processes and cultures to ensure that the promised value gets delivered. What are some of the elements that are missing?

  • The selling organization does not institutionalize the concept of a formal kickoff meeting after the sale to ensure both parties are aligned on the desired outcomes, metrics for success, timelines, path for getting there (and each party’s roles and responsibilities), and a communications plan for reporting progress.
  • The selling organization has not institutionalized formal Customer Business Reviews (CBRs) after implementation to “self-report” on the value delivered.
  • The selling organization incentivizes, and many times, encourages the sales rep to move on to the next opportunity and to turn the recent win over to an implementation and services team. Which may be fine unless…
  • The implementation and service teams were not part of the kickoff and do not have clear visibility into the outcomes and thus the value the customer is trying to achieve. Too often they only know what products and services were purchased and when, but not why the customer bought them.

What could possibly go wrong?  Here are some situations I’ve recently observed:

  • The decision maker with the customer that originally approved the deal has left for a new job. When his or her replacement starts asking why this purchase was made, no one has a clear or satisfactory answer.
  • The implementation was completed and when the total cost was tallied up, the CFO began asking uncomfortable questions such as “what are we getting for all of this money?” When no one has a good answer, not only is the supplier under the gun, but also the individual that approved the purchase.
  • A competitor starts asking the innocuous question of “wow, you all have really spent a lot with XYZ Corp. They must really be delivering value!”  Before long, people begin asking the same questions within the organization.

What’s the solution?  A few simple but powerful processes and tools can go a long way to cementing the delivery of value (and getting credit):

  1. Hold formal kickoff meetings for every win. They can even be effectively done via WebEx or a conference call.
  2. With the customer, jointly develop a business plan upon winning a deal that details the outcomes and metrics as well as timeline (value), the path for getting there and responsibilities for both parties and the communications plan for reporting progress
  3. The first output from the kickoff meeting and joint business plan is scheduling the first Customer Business Review. Make those meetings happen even if it is not always convenient for everyone—we’re only talking an hour or so. You’ll be surprised at the positive response you will get from key decision makers and the potential new opportunities that may arise.

When done consistently, my experience is that the selling organization is well on their way to having a customer for life.

Good Selling!