As we sell in these tough economic times, sales people need to think about how they position themselves with accounts. It’s too easy – and often tempting – to focus on price. Many customers will do just that, leaving sales reps to believe that winning business under these economic conditions requires offering price concessions. While price has moved to a more prominent position in all sales, it still remains central primarily in transactional sales. In major sales, while customers may be more price conscious than in the past, value remains the cornerstone to successful selling.
And, to grow the business in major accounts, sales people need to do more than sell product. They cannot create value for the customer and separate themselves from their competition by talking about features. They must have the ability and confidence to carry out technical and business conversations with the customer about the unique benefits they can provide. After all, customers care most about solutions to problems.
We want to take a moment and explore the notion of value itself. The word “value” is so omnipresent in sales training today that we think sometimes the true importance is lost. So, here are three points we think are critical when talking about value.
First, a fundamental one is value migration – that is, what constitutes value often shifts over time. Whether you analyze it from the perspective of the individual, company, or an entire industry, expectations about value tend to be dynamic. Business history is rich with examples of companies that had very viable value propositions but failed to accurately judge the shift in the market’s value expectations, subsequently ending up with a business model that was no longer responsive to their customer base. Implication for the sales team: be an early warning mechanism for value migration.
A second point is that value is position-specific. What value means to a COO differs by organization. And individuals holding different positions in the same organization have differing views on what constitutes value. Of course there are some commonalities, but understanding the differences enables sales people to differentiate themselves from the competition. Implication for the sales team: there are no generic customers – how you sell value must be customized to the individual.
Finally, products have no inherent value. Products possess features; they do not possess value. Value is a relative idea that is all about fit – the fit between the customer’s needs and your solution. If the product does not address a need, then it has no value to that customer. This is why top performers make such a big deal about the distinction between features and benefits. Features simply describe the characteristics of the product. Benefits, on the hand, are about the degree to which a product meets a customer need. Implication for the sales team: in order to create value, you must focus on selling benefits, not features.
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