Interview: Why Selling with Value Requires Modern Tools + Modern Training

I recently had the opportunity to interview Dario Prolio from leading sales training and performance management firm Richardson

Here is the content from that webcast interview session (click here to access the recording):

#1 Issue – Inability for Sales to communicate value messaging?

SiriusDecisions says the #1 issue preventing Sales quota achievement is not the lack of marketing leads, lack of good solutions, or a lack of product knowledge, but the inability for Sales teams to effectively communicate value messaging.

Some have said that even though this has been reported for 3 years running that they don’t think this is really the number one issue. Do you believe that this Value Deficit is the top issue?

Yes, I believe that it has grown to become a significant issue, and we have seen it in our prospects. Their sales folks are still using a product selling approach, when today’s buyer has significantly changed and could care less about your latest version and what’s new in it.

Being in the sales performance improvement business, I find it fascinating to listen and observe sales people in action. I encourage sales leaders to not only do ride alongs with their reps, but to mystery shop their competitors. Go to their web site and submit a web for to become a lead, and listen to what they say and what you say. It could be shocking – especially if and when your people launch into a product pitch without asking any questions to understand the customer and his or her situation. You can position value if you don’t know the pain or opportunity. In some cases it will be obvious, but in others you need to do some digging first.

When you do, then you can better align with your customer’s priorities – or influence them to set or reestablish priorities in your favor. But ultimately, your customers want to know how what you proposing is going to let them do more with less, manage risk, help them grow the top line, or reduce the bottom-line. So there is definitely a value gap.

So how have prospects changed?

Buying behavior has clearly changed, and as a result your selling behavior needs to change too. The customer conversation needs to change. Think about how you buy as a consumer – maybe how you bought your last car. Think of the process that you went through to determine the type of car that would best meet your needs, all of the on-line research to determine the right brand, model and price…right down to the dealership based on inventory and reputation…maybe a yelp review.

Our buying behavior as consumers has influenced our buying behavior as b2b buyers. There’s a ton of research online and its on the buyer to be as smart as possible. There’s no excuse for making a bad decision.

Prospects are struggling with the current “do more with less economy”. They have more demands on them every day, but with fewer resources, less budget and reduced risk appetite.  Prospects are more inclined to stick with “business as usual” and “do nothing” versus change. In fact, the issue we see clients facing the most is not a loos to competitors, but a loss to the status quo.

B2B buyers are better informed, more cautious, and often must sell their ideas internally to very senior-level executives to get funding. These executives aren’t as close to the front-lines to see the benefits to the user, and will evaluate the merits of a decision based on the numbers. If your buyer isn’t equipped to have that conversation up the ladder to sell the internally, you won’t be successful and they probably won’t waste their time trying. They need to pick their battles, and nobody wants to put their credibility on the line or look bad in front of their peers and bosses.

And sales reps are struggling with this new environment?

Yes. First, there is a shortage of good value messaging content and quantified financial justification to create a provocative and compelling conversation between buyer and seller.

We have seen too many companies approach the Value Deficit with generic, one sized fits all value messaging. With today’s more complex decision making committee, you need specific content relevant to each stakeholder, matching their unique issues / challenges and value that matters to them most - a unique Point of Value.

For example, take a BI solution purchase - what matters most to an IT exec might be the cost of BI solution maintenance costs and administration labor, compared to an analyst who cares about the time it takes to produce custom dashboards and business insight reports, compared to business operations concerned about not having the reports they need to help control business costs or make key decisions, and Finance, which cares about having the insights to better manage spend to budget and forecast performance better.

Second, there is a lack of good tools at most organizations to help Sales deliver the messaging – moving beyond PPT and whiteboard markers to have more provocative, insight driven conversations, and automate the diagnostic assessments and financial justification process.

And finally, most organizations lack the Sales training needed to advance sales from product / solution selling to value selling - building the capability, competency and credibility sales reps need to be successful. As I mentioned earlier, benchmark yourself against your competition – what are they saying and what are they doing. After all, this is what your customers are doing. 

Your reps simply may not know what they don’t know. They hear “sell the solution” but they don’t know what that means and they don’t know how to do it. Even very senior-level people don’t know how to do it. We see this all the time in the classroom. On the surface,  a training program looks very basic to these people, and they cop an attitude that the training is too  basic. Then we put them through some drills – pretty tough drills – and we see them struggle and even fail in front of their peers. Then they realize that they in fact do have a lot to learn. Sales requires a personal commitment to continuously improve – especially as the world changes so dramatically around us. 

The market, competition, buyer behaviors…these are all changing very fast, and what worked yesterday isn’t guaranteed to work today.

Vertical Challenges?

Regarding this Value Deficit, Richardson works with several key verticals especially Financials / Insurance. What changes have you seen in some of the key verticals you work with?

In Information Technology, we have seen a significant migration in the decision making power from the CIO and IT executives driving the decisions, to the business units taking the lead role. There are more stakeholders involved in each purchase decision, with recent research indicating up to 20 involved in each enterprise decision.

In medical solutions, where a sales rep used to influence the physicians, the decision making here to has moved to the COO and Finance / procurement.

It’s not about the technical features and functions any more, but about the ability for the solution to drive business growth, streamline business processes and save money – bottom-line impact rules.

There’s been a huge change in life sciences and health insurance, much of it driven by what the insurance companies will pay and for what, and the affordable care act. For example, no longer can pharma companies swarm a doctor’s office and influence them to write scripts for your meds. More and more, docs need to affiliate with larger hospitals and heath care organizations, and must play by the rules set by corporate – maybe a chief medical or pharmaceutical officer – who must play by the rules set by the insurance companies and governments. The ACA is a huge change that is rocking the insurance world. Individuals will soon buy private health insurance through exchanges. That business is in a huge state of flux and we’re all trying to figure out how it will play out.

COOs, business leaders, CIOs and Finance and procurement are more involved in each decision, bumping up the need for formal business cases and financial justification.

As a result, you can’t talk in general about the value impact either. You have to quantify the impact into tangible savings and business impact, and provide relevant proof points from research, their peers in order to validate that the savings are real.

Value Messaging Development?
How do you recommend a company go about developing impactful value messaging?

Any approach starts with the buyer’s challenges and opportunities that your solutions help to uniquely solve or unlock.  We begin by usually trying to determine these challenges around three key business areas:

  • Operating inefficiencies – how is the company struggling with cost management, productivity and process?
  • Risks – what business risks and compliance issues is the company faced with, and what are these risks costing the business each year?
  • Growth – what growth, agility and scaling issues is the company experiencing, including lost revenue opportunities that they are not able to currently capture.
  • Reduce / avoid costs
  • Improve productivity
  • Streamline processes
  • Reduce risks, or impact of risks
  • Generate revenue opportunities / Capture lost business opportunities
  • Improved Value messaging and quantification
  • Aligning Sales process with facilitating the Customer Problem Solving Process
  • Compelling and Credible Sales Tools
  • Sales Training and Reinforcement
  • Evolution Plan and Process

Second, the Buyer’s Challenges need to be aligned with the solution. How can the solution help to address each challenge, highlighting the unique attributes of the solution and how it can better?

For both the challenges and the benefits, it is important not just to create value messaging, but figure out ways to help the sales rep quantify the costs for not addressing the challenges or tally the specific tangible benefits that the solution can deliver.

Relevant to different prospect roles?
How do you make sure that the value messaging and quantification will resonate with the ever-expanding number of stakeholders involved in each decision?

We list specific buyer personas, and for each role, make sure that we map each role with the challenges and benefits that they primarily care about.

Often during this process, we’ll realize that perhaps the value messaging and quantification was not thorough enough, and have to expand the list to make sure we have good value messaging for the entire set of stakeholders involved.

Too often we see companies hire value messaging specialists or create their value messaging at too high a level and one sized fits all … three business objectives and 9 challenges that don’t speak well enough to the different stakeholders and their unique “point of value”.

Value and Decision Making?
How do you see value messaging and quantification apply to the customer's problem solving / decision making process?

Early in the decision making process its about helping prospects better understand their issues, and the impact these issues are having on their business.

At this stage, you have to arm sales reps with Diagnostics and Insights, so that they can confirm that issues they are experiencing are typical, but that they don’t have to live with them, and illuminate issues of which the buyer might not have been aware.

Comparing the prospect’s issues and shortfalls to their peer’s practices at this stage can often add a prioritization and peer pressure that is essential to getting “do nothing” buyers moving.

Not only is it important to identify key issues, but to quantify what the issues are costing the prospect if not addressed. In particular quantifying the costs of current inefficiencies, potential losses due to risks, and lost business and growth opportunities. Quantify the Pain.

Once the buyer is convinced they have a priority issue worth addressing, it is important to quantify the benefits of your proposed solution – the cost savings and avoidance, productivity and process improvements, risk reductions and growth-  helping to Justify the Gain.

Once the buyer is convinced the solution is worthwhile, they always have alternatives. At this final stage, you could have made the case for change only to lose to the competition. It is essential that you Prove You’re not the Same, quantifying the total cost of ownership advantages of your solution versus the competition, and proving that your solution can deliver higher value.

One more area of focus recently is in post deployment value messaging. Many solutions are an annuity, a renewable, and need to be justified not just initially, but throughout the life of the service to assure renewal. Sales reps need to be able to help customer recognize whether they have realized the gain or not, and if not, help to drive realization.

How can these steps best be made a part of the sales process

You really have to understand how your customers buy and align your sales process accordingly. There are different stages of the sales process where it will be more appropriate to dive deeper into quantification. For example, early in the sale process, you might stay at a higher level to understand more about their specific situation – the severity of the problem, the sense of urgency…really where they are today, where they need to get to and what they have in place now to help them get to that end state. 

Every organization is unique. This information will help give you the inputs so that you can build a more accurate and credible business case. As you move through the sales process, you often involve more people on your customer’s side and uncover more information, again that will help you refine your value proposition, business case and ROI.

How can tools help?

Tools can be used to help sales have better value conversations, and certainly in delivering provocative insights, benchmarks and financial justification.

Alinean’s ValueStory is an example of a great tool – evolving traditional “death by PowerPoint” presentations, old-fashioned whiteboards, and difficult to use business case spreadsheets, ValueStory helps assemble the right value storytelling and justification intelligently based on the type of company and roles of the folks being engaged. ValueStory delivers the value messaging needed to emotional connect and engage each prospect, and the surveys, diagnostic assessments, benchmarks, cost of do nothing and benefit calculations needed to engage the most frugal buyer.

The best is that its in a really easy to use App that sales professionals love to use.

How can you assure that the messaging and tools get used?

Sales reps often struggle with finding the content they need and using it in sales conversations. Various studies show that they barely use the content that is provided, leveraging only 10-30%.

How do you help assure that when you go through the effort of creating the value messaging and quantification, and work on improved toolkits, that they get used to shape a better sales engagement?

We have a sales management philosophy at Richardson that utilizes what we call verifiable outcomes and high impact questions. We will work with clients to design their sales process, and then at each stage of the process we establish the activities required to complete that stage and the verifiable outcomes – objective actions that are leading indicators of success – that establish factually that a rep has indeed followed the process. We also design high impact questions and train sales managers to ask these questions as they coach their reps through an opportunity. These questions help establish if the verifiable outcomes have been in fact completed.

So in the case of Alinean, we could look at the CRM record for the meeting and ask the rep for the output of the Alinean presentation that ultimately resulted from the meeting. Either the rep shows the output or they don’t. If they don’t then usually they didn’t and that sets up an entirely different conversation.  But, even if they didn’t, its important to understand why. Maybe the rep isn’t comfortable with the technology, or maybe the value story needs to be refined. There may be some very good reasons that will help drive continuous improvement of the process and tools

How can Training Help?
Training is essential to make sales professionals comfortable, competent and credible with the value messaging and justification, as well as the engagement process. In many cases, the training is the start of the change process for your reps, so it is very important that they leave with a great experience.

Your reps –and managers -- need to know why the change is happening and what they need do differently. And, the training really needs to be 100% relevant to developing the skills they require to do what you want them to do differently. Out of the box, one size fits all training never works. Your people need to work through the situations and challenges they encounter every day in their jobs, discuss solutions as a team and with the benefit of a skilled facilitator who can add to their expertise and guide the discussion.

It is best if they are training in context, so if you’re introducing a new tool that supports their interaction with customers, then you should incorporate that tool into the training – again, making the experience in the classroom as reflective of what is expected of them in the real world. Just an aside -- we see organizations that have gone out and bought 1000’s of iPads and give them to their teams, but their people have no idea what to do with them other that what we all enjoy about tablets – video, games…but, they still have to carry a PC because the tablet can’t do everything they need to do their jobs….but I digress.

Finally, they need an opportunity to practice in a safe and supportive environment. The training should be hard work, but it should also be stimulating and dare I say fun. It can be both. A great facilitator will do that.

90% of Training Forgotten?
I have seen some studies where nearly 90 percent of the sales training is forgotten in less than four weeks after it is delivered.

What do you think of these findings, and with the amount invested in training each year, how do we stop this knowledge leak?

The stat you’re quoting actually comes from Ebbinghouse’s Forgetting Curve. Ebbinghouse was a psychologist and a pioneer in the study of memory. Basically, if you don’t get what you learned from short-term to long-term memory, then you will forget. So, what’s crucial is that you incorporate a process to do that….move from short-term to long-term memory to drive knowledge retention. We do this with our clients through our award winning QuickCheck™ system, that was developed at Harvard Medical School. It was developed to help residents and nurses forget less and it has been clinically proven to work and is patented.

The system is simple. Basically, reps get 2 emails a week for about 8 weeks. The emails contain a question that they answer related to what they learned. They have to get each question correct twice before that question gets retired. When each question gets retired, the process is complete. Their answers get tracked in a database and reported on a leaderboard against their peers. This motivates them to get the answer right – even if they have to go back to the course materials or confer with their peers. Sales managers also get a report that shows how their people are doing, and if they are deficient in an area, that could be the focus for training and reinforcement.

So, that addresses the memory and forgetting issue. Reinforcement of behaviors in another closely related and critically important issue to consider. Learners need to be supported, and managers need to know what they need to do to support the expected behavior change, and leadership needs to know too. Coaching, performance support tools, metrics…all of that helps a lot, but if leadership and management isn’t onboard and committed, most sales improvement efforts fail to realize full potential.

How can you make sure the program stays relevant?

Think of sales improvement as a continuous improvement effort and not a singular event. Set KPI’s you want to move through your efforts and track whether they are moving in the right direction. Observe your reps in action, and mystery shop them against your competitors. Do win-loss reviews to see what’s working and what’s not. Finally, talk to your customers and ask them what they think.

Top Five Steps to Value Deficit Reduction
In conclusion, you are suggesting the following five steps to reduce the Value Deficit and improve selling effectiveness:

Yes, that sums it up wonderfully!


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