Sales Management Best Practice: Toot Your Own Horn

19 May 2011

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Creator of Value

The role of a salesperson has always been fundamentally the same – to create value for customers. The nature of that value has changed over time, from a distribution channel in the 1800’s, to a source of information in the 1900’s, to a problem-solver in the 2000’s. And no matter where the profession of selling goes from 2010, a salesperson ‘s role will always be to provide some unique value to their customer, else the buyer will go to a catalog, retail store, or web site to transact at a lower cost.

Communicator of Value

It was therefore no surprise in our study of world-class sales forces to find that their salespeople were creating a tremendous amount of value for their customers. What did strike us, though, was the sales forces’ diligence in communicating value to their customers. No, they were not communicating the value of their products and services to their customers – that task has been largely overtaken by the Internet. These world-class salespeople were extremely adept at communicating their own value as a seller.

Lest you think that these were sales forces populated by braggarts and blowhards, they were in fact salespeople who were able to express in concrete financial terms the value they had created for their customers. They were essentially business consultants who were able to uncover opportunities, bring them to life, then measure and (most importantly) report the customer’s realized return on investment. They made real monetary improvements and were not afraid to point it out.

Three Conversations of Varying Impact

Many salespeople mistakenly assume that prospects will connect the dots from buying their company’s products to realizing future financial returns. They say things like, “This product has been proven to save money for all of our customers who use it.” However, prospects are not experts at taking your generic claim and applying it to their specific situation. All they hear is, “The product you are selling has saved money for some other people.”

Better salespeople will actually do the math for the prospect and make a more tactile statements such as, “Based on your historical usage, switching to our product will save your organization $213,432 each year in reduced re-work.” In this instance, the prospect hears, “There’s a chance that, if I trust this salesperson, I might actually save two hundred grand and beat my cost projections for the year.” A better sales approach indeed.

But the top sales forces we studied had conversations like this: “Last year we projected that using our products would save you $213,432. But in fact we saved you $343,238 according to your plant managers whom we recently interviewed.” In this case, the customer has no choice but to see what the salesperson has done for them – created value that they would have not realized without their help.

Which of these three salespeople would gain your loyalty

One Process Worth $1 Billion

It is important to note the sales forces we studied were not staffed with CPA’s and PhD’s – their salespeople were math mortals like the rest of us. However, sales leadership had equipped their sellers with sophisticated processes and tools that helped them calculate and communicate the financial returns that their customers were receiving. They left no chance that the first two conversations were taking place in the field – They implemented systems to ensure that it was the third.

One of the sales forces has even trademarked a process called Documented Value Added® to help them demonstrate the impact they have on their manufacturing customers’ bottom lines. Their salespeople use a PC-based system to calculate the value they create for their customers through reduced maintenance costs, increased productivity, and other means. They work with local plant managers to identify the specific sources of improvement and to quantify the economic impact of the changes. They then document the impact and obtain sign-off from the plant managers as proof that the value was realized.

Their vice president of strategic accounts described the system’s impact on its customer relationships in this way:

“Too often customers simply do not remember all the good things that you do. Through this process we have documented over a billion dollars worth of savings for our customers. It is fun to go into a customer and say, ‘You bought $200,000 last year from us, but we saved you $85,000 in Documented Value Added® savings in your process and your procedures in your plant.’ That takes the sting off of a 3% or 4% price increase or a competitive offer that might be a few points better than you are. It allows us to clearly convey to the customer, in terms the customer understands, what we are doing for them.”

The Takeaway for Sales Leaders

The lesson from our study of these world-class sales forces is this: It is not enough to promise or even to create value for your customers – You must demonstrate to the customer that your salespeople are creating explicit economic value that demands their patronage and loyalty. It’s one thing to say you offer value. It’s slightly more convincing to quantify the value you offer. Yet, the most powerful sales pitch you will ever make is to point backward in time and prove that you actually delivered it.

Jason Jordan is a Vice President of Vantage Point Performance, a sales management training and consulting firm.

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