Sales Mistakes You Can Make When You Try to Sell Value

The Gist:

  • Salespeople generally should sell value instead of product or price.
  • The legacy approaches to sales start conversations in a way that commoditizes the salesperson.
  • Your best chance to differentiate your value begins and ends with your approach and your sales conversation.

Salespeople are often frustrated by the difficulty of selling value, especially when a client focuses on price or some other factor that overshadows their solution and the better results they can deliver. Their attempts to differentiate themselves from their competition generally fail to move their prospective clients to see the greater value. Getting out of that rut requires recognizing and remedying two common mistakes you’ve probably made when selling value.

A salesperson uses a magnifying glass to recognize value on her computer

Those Who Refuse to See Value

To understand how to sell value, we have to eliminate one type of contact from this conversation, focusing on the stakeholders who you have a reasonably good chance of moving away from a transactional view of their decision and towards some higher level of value. Certain people tend to see individual salespeople as interchangeable parts. Their professional training taught them to treat anyone they buy from as a “supplier,” or worse as a “vendor.” Any contact who saddles you with either label will certainly resist any and all attempts to see—and pay for—greater value.

It’s not that professional buyers actually refuse the additional value; they just refuse to pay for it, even when it would serve them better than some other choice, and even when it would lower their costs. In some cases, their incentives are designed around lowering prices instead of lowering costs, an incentive that blinds them to greater value.

There is little you can do to change the view of a person whose professional position and success are determined by their refusal to pay for greater value. There is only one strategy to sell greater value to companies who have a procurement function that operates this way. You need to move up to a person who can recognize the greater value you create—and who may be willing to pay for it.

A group of a sales force trying to fix a machine

Correcting Your First Mistake

The first misstep you often make in this scenario is a product of the legacy sales approaches, most of which are falling apart after decades of use. That mistake causes you to position yourself as a commodity, even when you can have the ability to create greater value for your contacts and their companies.

These approaches start with the best of intentions, directing you to introduce yourself, your company, and your many accomplishments. But all your client will feel is a nagging sense of déjà vu, wondering if there really is any difference between you and your competition.

If you would prefer not to be treated like you are selling a commodity, you must not behave like one. The earlier in the conversation you start talking about your solution, the more likely you’ll project that the level of value you create is not only relatively low but also indistinguishable from your competitor. To create greater value, take the spotlight off your solution and put it on the strategic value you can create for your prospective client and their company.

Correcting Your Second Mistake

The second mistake you might make when attempting to sell value is an undifferentiated approach to discovery. The legacy approach to discovery is now at odds with value creation. When insights and valuable ideas are a click away, no salesperson should spend the precious little time they get with their prospective clients asking them to disclose the problems they’ve already identified. Likewise, there’s no value in playing the game of trying to find a problem the client will admit to having.

A better approach is starting the sales conversation with your insights, your view of the strategic outcomes, and the value you believe you can help your client deliver to their company. Modern discovery puts a greater emphasis on sense-making, helping the contact better understand the nature of their challenges, the factors that cause those challenges, and the things they might consider to improve their results.

If you want to move beyond selling your price or product, start by selling the greater value you create. You want to position yourself as a potential strategic partner, not a vendor who might eventually be useful.

A superhero salesperson puts an award on the top chart for standing apart from the crowd

Far from the Boring Crowd

The only real chance you have of differentiating yourself and the value you create is through the sales conversations you have with your prospective clients. Take the initiative to set yourself apart, starting by refusing to believe that it’s your prospective client’s job to recognize the difference between you and your competitors. If their experience of your sales conversation is no different—if you look and sound like every other salesperson who has sat across from them and promised they were the right choice—then you are no different. The more you need to differentiate, the more you need a different, and more effective, approach to managing the sales conversation and creating value for your prospective client.

Selling the value you create requires that you start positioning that value and proving it in the very first interaction you have with your prospective client. There is little chance that your client will perceive greater value unless you help them to recognize it—and the improvement it creates for them.

When you have a higher price than your competitors because you invest more in your solutions, don’t withhold information about that greater value from your prospects. You are better off teaching them to understand the different delivery models that companies choose, as well as the concessions that come with these choices, including the choice of paying more for much better—and more strategic—outcomes.

You will almost always do better selling greater value to the people who already have a propensity to perceive value by the nature of their role. While procurement drones avoid paying for greater value almost by definition, leaders invest in the better results they need to move their businesses forward. If you want to make it easier to sell value, start by speaking with people who buy greater value.

Do Good Work:

  • What do you do that might cause you to sound and look like your competitors?
  • What kind of strategic value do you create for your clients?
  • What would a strategic conversation sound like if you met with an executive bent on buying the greatest value?

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