The Ultimate Sales Goal Is Connecting to Buyer’s Value Drivers — NOT Creating Value

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Today many sales experts — those who deliver those motivational sales keynotes — write and speak about how salespeople create value. This is 100% rubbish and let me explain why.

This past week I interviewed five top-performing women for the 2016 Second Annual Women in Sales Awards. I asked all five if they believe salespeople create value. Four responded with “Absolutely!”

What was interesting to note as all explained their beliefs, not one of them used the word create. Instead, they all used the word connect. Each of them explained how sellers must connect to the buyer’s value drivers. Even these high-performing salespeople have a lack of clarity when it comes to this particular word.

Only one of these top-performing saleswomen expressed doubt that salespeople could create value. She then provided a detailed explanation about how to connect to the buyer’s value drivers. This explanation delved into pre-sales research along with active listening during the actual sales meeting. She said she listens to what is driving the decision to make a purchase and then aligns her responses to those drivers. She also shared that all buyers are unique — and therefore so are their value drivers.

With nearly 40 years of sales experience, I have been advocating that value creation is a fallacy sold for salespeople to buy more books or attend more paid seminars. Value is unique to each buyer and each buyer prioritizes their value drivers differently depending upon what is happening to them, their operations or what is within their strategic business plan.

For example, when I was in corporate sales back in the 1970s, I had male tradesmen (existing customers) tell me they did not want to speak to a woman. This was one of their value drivers. Now I could have insisted they had no choice but to speak to me, given some real good reasons why they should speak with me, but that would have only alienated these loyal customers. My solution was to politely say “Okay, let me get you my boss, Ed.”

Then usually within a few minutes, I would hear my phone ring. My boss sent the person back to me. The male tradesman would say something like “Ed says you know more than he does.” My response was “How may I help you?” Never did I make the individual feel foolish for not wanting to talk to me as that would be counterproductive, nor did I ever become upset due to “gender insensitivity” or “gender bias.” I realized and respected his value driver.

Having been in industrial sales for over 20 plus years, my early encounters convinced me value was unique to each customer. One customer might want a quicker delivery while another might want only products made in America. Some buyers would buy on the minimum specifications due to pricing.

The other caveat within this fallacy of value creation is one of ego. When salespeople believe they create value, they may miss sales opportunities because they are already on the “been there, done that, know what is better for you path.”

To create means to bring into existence. Maybe it’s me, but I do not have the power to bring value into existence. What I can do is to discern what the value drivers are for each buyer and then connect to those value drivers through our sales conversations and ultimately dialogues.

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  • Leanne HoaglandSmith

    Thanks so much for sharing this posting. As someone who challenges the existing status quo about “value creation” I truly appreciate your sharing this posting with your readers and visitors.

    • davebrock

      My pleasure Leanne. This is an important discussion–one which too many sales/business professionals don’t get and which limits our abilities to connect with and engage customers.

  • davebrock

    This is an outstanding post, Leanne’s done a great job in helping us refocus on understanding what customers value (value drivers) and focusing on how we help the customer in those areas. This is the foundation to success in customer buying cycles. Too often, we don’t recognize that value is defined by the customer, not what we think.

    Having said that, and hoping I’m not wordsmithing, I couldn’t disagree more about sales ability to “create value.”

    This article focuses on customers that recognize the need to change and have embarked on a change initiative. But there are far more customers who don’t realize they should/must change, there are opportunities they are missing, there are areas where they can improve. It’s our responsibility to help educate customers, help them identify ways to grow, improve, even bring sanity to their lives. This is value we create for the customer.

    In complex decisions, the majority of customer efforts fail. Data shows as many as 60% of buying initiatives end in no decision made. This means, the customer still has a problem or opportunity, but they have failed to solve it. Research shows it has little to do with the selection of a solution, but more on the ability of the customer buying team to align their priorities and objectives to make a decision. Sales people play a critical role in helping customers with this process–helping them make a decision, hopefully for the sales person. This is value creation.

    In these days of customer research and self education, customers will inherently focus on the things they “value.” But what if they are missing important considerations–after all, they unless they are buying in this category every day, they may not know what they don’t know. Consequently, they may be doing something very wrong, or be missing opportunities. Sales people educating customers on these issues is value creation.

    If sales people are doing what they should be doing, focusing on customer problems and opportunities, rather than pushing products, they should be expert at doing that. Because of their expertise, they may in fact know better than the customer.

    Value creation is not limited to bringing something into existence (though I believe that is a huge element of value creation—new business processes, new technologies, new methods). Value creation is also about bringing things into awareness for the customer.

    We limit ourselves and how we serve our customers by not doing everything possible to help customer reocgnize and realize value.

    • Leanne HoaglandSmith

      David, I truly appreciate your compliment and insight as well. Given I am quite literal and high intellectually speaking, I seek clarity around words. Additionally, I believe in the intrinsic motivation Theory of Self-Determination. For me, the word “create” means to bring something into existence that was not there to begin with.

      I usually ask this question: Are you where you want to be? So far 99% of the people have responded No. This suggests to me most people do know they need to change. They fear change, they fear being uncomfortable and hence retreat to the status quo.

      What I have found given enough time through the coaching process, most people do know what is limiting their growth be it personal or business. They lack clarity as how to positively overcome these limitations.

      Again my sense is when salespeople strongly believe in “they create value” there is a consistent tendency to allow their egos to override the customers’ need and to ignore what the customer values.

      I agree with you 100% your last statement. . Again, thank you for sharing your perspective. Learning from each other is something we can all benefit from.

      • davebrock

        Great points Leanne! Let me address a couple, and you’ve stimulated ideas for follow on posts.

        First, both of us are really talking about serving our customers, helping them improve and address new opportunities.

        I like your definition of create–bringing something into existence that did not exist before. Everyday, we see new products, new applications of products, new methods etc. Educating our customers about these helping the customers understand how they might leverage these to grow and improve fits the literal sense of your definition of creation and our ability to create value for customers.

        I also believe an aspect of this is awareness. So much of what challenges our customers is simply the lack of awareness. The lack of awareness of problems or missed opportunities, the lack of awareness of new ways of doing things, and so forth. In the context of customers, making them aware of something that already exists, but they don’t know is value creation.

        Our greatest abilities to serve and create value for our customers is not just in helping them solve problems they already know about, but help in helping them discover and learn new things, to grow and improve in ways they never imagined. I believe this is the core of value creation. In serving our customers it’s our obligation to help them in these areas.

        • Leanne HoaglandSmith

          Maybe it is semantics as another colleague Mike Kunkle mentioned. We are both on the same page about serving or supporting our clients.

          Now you mentioned another word “help” that is a discussion for another day.

          One of the most limiting sales behaviors is a strong ego supported by too much knowledge. This limits the salesperson’s ability to actively listen because he or she knows it all.

          As you mentioned about new products, many potential clients are far more educated than some salespeople realize. Research suggests 40-60% of the buying decision is already consciously if not unconsciously made. For me this suggests value is already present with the sales lead. If we can suggest new ways to do something, that only reinforces the existing value drivers.

          Example – Yesterday I ordered an audio CD for a client. My vendor told me of a new product, a MP3 file, that was available. There was not a price difference. As I had already priced my coaching solution based on the existing price, the new solution had no value as far as profitability. The value I already recognized was my client was younger and may appreciate the MP3 versus the tangible CD. So I was able to offer 2 options which further reinforced autonomy (having choices) through the Theory of Self Determination.

          Enjoying this discussion by the way very much, thanks again.

          • davebrock

            Leanne: I want to avoid going down a path of parsing words so specifically, but I think your comments actually prove the point of the sales person’s ability to create value.

            The research on the customer doing 40-60% of the research prior to to buying can be very misleading. We assume the customer knows what to research, they know the right questions, they know how to evaluate the information they get. But customers are not experts in most of these complex B2B solutions. So these assumptions are very dangerous. The sales person creates significant value in helping the customer think about those issues in a different way or makes them aware of things they should be considering. Many of these ideas may not have “existed” in the customer’s mind, so the customer is creating value by bringing that into existence for the customer.

            What about the other 60-40% of the buying process. These are other areas where great sales people are creating value. For example, the web research gives the customer the basic knowledge about a solution, but doesn’t translate that into specific “what does it mean for me.” This “last mile” problem is a critical area on which the sales person creates value. Since each situation and customer is unique, the sales person leads the customer through a process of creating something that didn’t exist before.

            Your CD/MP3 example is a perfect example of a sales person creating value, enabling you to create more value for your customer. The MP3 did not exist for you—again we have to look at the contextual element of existence. The sales person created value by making you aware of alternatives that might better serve you. While your profitability may not have changed, there are other dimensions to value which the sales person was tapping into. The fact that you might better serve your client by offering a different and more preferable format.

            If we are going to serve our customers best, we have to look at value in the very broadest contexts. And sales people do, actually create value.

          • Leanne HoaglandSmith

            I will return to the definition of create “to bring into existence”.Top sales performers connect to the existing value drivers whether they are known (conscious) or unknown (unconscious).

            Think about the analogy of farming. Do farmers create crops? No they plant seeds and nurture the crops. Each action or connection they make supports the growth of the crop. Their actions produce hopefully a good bounty.

            Also I believe value is unique to each person. What one buyer values another doesn’t. I had this conversation months ago with Dan Waldschmidt.

            “A different and more preferable format” is subject to the value perception of the buyer. I agree about looking at value in the broadest context and making sure in that effort we do not allow our egos to trample over the desires of the customer because “we know better.” So my friend we are at a crossroads.

            The good news is both of us want what is best for the ideal customer and both of us know to focus on the customer first.