In my eight plus years at TFP, I’ve engaged in more value conversations than I care to count. Most have gone reasonably well; at the end of the process, our value selling team—usually my client, their customer, and me—can usually produce an effective financial analysis that helps the customer understand the potential value of my client’s technology in their environment.
The occasional engagement has gone sideways. Periodically, I look back at those conversations and wonder what I could have done differently. In some cases it wasn’t going to end well no matter what I had tried. It might have been a “hail Mary” ROI to rescue a floundering deal. Or the customer wasn’t really engaged in the first place, and wasn’t willing or able to devote the time to make the process useful for anyone.
But when I look at what I did right, and what I did wrong, when the engagement doesn’t end as we had hoped, I come back to the same thing. That regardless of what solution I was selling, my own failures had likely come from my not listening well enough to what the customer was telling me. And being a good listener is, I’ve decided, the most important (and often overlooked!) skill for effective value selling.
I see this most often in the determination of benefits. This may seem unlikely, especially if you are selling a solution where the technology is well understood and the use cases tried-and-true. Even if you’ve sold the technology dozens of times, you never know exactly how and why the customer is considering the purchase unless you ask.
I saw this recently in selling a client’s solution to a large global retailer. Historically, the solution has been sold on the fact that it enhances employee performance in the sales function. When successfully deployed, it often helps the customer sell more effectively, resulting in higher close rates, and more deals won.
I asked the customer: “Why are you considering this purchase? What problems are you trying to solve?”
Her answer surprised me: “We are losing employees because they are frustrated with our systems. They get annoyed on a daily basis, and eventually they leave. And it’s too expensive to keep backfilling those positions.”
And there it was—the key value that was going to be the foundation of my analysis.
My client was surprised—this was not the value that they had been taught to emphasize for this particular solution. But it was what the customer cared most about—and that’s all that mattered. And if we had stuck to our preconceived notions of customer value, if we had failed to listen, we might have blown past what turned out to be the critical selling point to get a deal done.
This is not to say that it’s OK to ignore your solution’s primary selling points and the applicable customer personas. By all means be conversant in how other customers have deployed your solution, know the outcomes they have experienced. Be up to speed on your organization’s selling practices and methodologies and be ready to volunteer ideas about potential value based on past engagements.
But for my money, there’s no better way to find the specific value points for your customer than by asking broad, open-ended questions, and listening carefully to what they say.