Articulating Value for the Complex Solution: Tips from the Sales 2.0 Conference

by Kayleigh Bush

Last week I was lucky enough to attend the Sales 2.0 Conference in San Francisco. Among all the speakers, I found Jeff Thull’s presentation the most compelling.

At Stratavant, we create solutions that help our customers articulate the value of their complex B2B solutions to their own customers. So Jeff’s presentation topic, “Unquantified Value: The Greatest Threat to Profitable Sales Results,” was right up my alley.

As the author of Mastering the Complex Sale and Exceptional Selling, Jeff has built a reputation for being a thought leader for sellers and marketers, particularly when it comes to relationship management for businesses engaged in complex sales. (He has designed and implemented business transformation and professional development programs for companies like Microsoft, IBM, HP and Georgia-Pacific, as well as many fast track, start-up companies.)

As Jeff pointed out (and as we’ve talked about on this blog before), the percentage of sales pursuits that end in “no decision” is high, and win rates are dropping. Whenever the customer is not motivated to solve their own business problem, Jeff said there are three possible causes:

1)   Your solution has no value.

2)   The process and tools to quantify the new potential impact of your solution are not effective.

3)   Your field organization is unable to execute effectively.

As Jeff sees it, a multi-faceted and complex solution creates a complex decision-making cycle for the customer. In other words, when customers are unable to make a decision, it’s typically because they have difficulty understanding and differentiating the complex solutions that the market is presenting to them. They’re unsure about their ability to successfully change and achieve expected value. Jeff theorized that this is exactly why so many deals are being lost to “no decision.” As he said onstage:

“What often looks like a sales problem is actually an organizational challenge. Uncertainty is what’s defeating decisions. Value clarity will defeat uncertainty. If you can provide a higher level of certainty in a world that is very uncertain to them, you’ll have a considerable competitive advantage.”

For those not familiar with the Sales 2.0 Conference, it is a chance for sales and marketing professionals to gather and improve their strategies with the ever-changing culture and technology of the business world along with the resources to help. People got really into it posting pictures and insights at the conference. Even I got involved.

I met some incredibly dynamic sales experts there and enjoyed my first experience representing Stratavant at an industry event. I am hoping that this post will get a good conversation going around value. Please join the discussion!

Do you agree deals are being lost to “no decision” because customers do not understand the value of offerings in the market? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Strengthen Your Sales Pitch with a Business Case

During my conversation with Kevin Purcell of Hewlett Packard some weeks ago, we discussed the idea that a business case has become a staple of success in sales. Not only has it become a staple, but we also agreed that this is a permanent condition.

Here’s more context. When the economy was good, sales and marketing would generally expect to rely on deeper pockets and looser budgets. CFOs or other budget-minded decision makers were not necessarily as likely to be involved in every purchasing decision, unless it was a major investment. However, in a slow economy, a strong business case was necessary to get budget allocated even for smaller investments. Without solid numbers to support their position, sales and marketing didn’t have a lot of leverage to close deals.

What I see happening now is a permanent shift toward needing a business case. Whether the economy is soft or strong, everyone is thinking like CFOs and scrutinizing projects for indication of a measurable ROI. For example, this recent blog post, “Six Steps to Building a Better Business Case,” on Inc.com takes for granted that a business case is a necessary component of a successful sales pitch. The very first question they advise asking when assembling a business case is “What is the potential value in this situation?”

“A strong business case begins with a logical financial and strategic foundation for value creation.  If you are selling a product, this is as simple as explaining why the product creates more value for the customer than any alternative. If you are selling the idea of a business partnership, you’ll want to focus on why the partnership will create a high return on investment.”

The days of being able to “wing it” and close deals without a compelling economic business case and cost justification are over.  The new normal requires that we all help customers to cost justify our solution to be included in the business case portion of their budget authorization.  If you aren’t doing that, then chances are you aren’t closing as you should be.

What are you doing to help customers cost justify the investment in your solution?

Three Qualities That Will Win a Buyer’s Business

Why does one sales team win a customer’s business, while another sales team finishes in second place? According to research announced in this blog post, New Sales Research: What Sales Winners Do Differently, three simple selling behaviors separate winning sales teams from their competition.

The findings of the study, published by RAIN Group, are based on an analysis of more than 700 B2B purchases from buyers representing $3.1 billion in annual purchases. Let’s look at the top three factors that buyers attributed to sales teams that won the buyer’s business:

  1. Educated me with new ideas or perspectives,
  2. Collaborated with me,
  3. Persuaded me we would achieve results.

Now let’s look at these same factors and see how buyers ranked second-place finishers in their ability to demonstrate these attributes:

  1. Educated me with new ideas or perspectives – 42nd place (dead last),
  2. Collaborated with me – 26th place,
  3. Persuaded me we would achieve results – 41st place.

Obviously the second-place sales teams were not trying to lose the deals on purpose. I think the likely problem is their failure to adapt to changing buyer behavior. For the second-place teams, unless they recognize what has changed (see the top three factors above), their only chance for success is if the winner is not in the deal and they are only competing against the third-and fourth-place vendors.

What I found encouraging was the behavior of sales winners. The three main verbs from their success factors (educate, collaborate, and persuade) are the building blocks of the approach that I advocate (aka, ROI-based selling). The keys are for salespeople to help prospects:

  1. Better see the magnitude of their problems,
  2. More clearly imagine how things could be better,
  3. Work with them to project measurable results, and
  4. Deliver a business case to overcome internal objections.

There are different types of tools that can help salespeople accomplish each of these four points and communicate value at different stages of the sales cycle. Regardless which tool you use, the fundamental approach remains the same: educate, collaborate, persuade. By shifting their focus to what buyers really want, I believe that second-place finishers can become sales winners.

Do you use tools that help you educate, collaborate, and persuade buyers? Do you agree these are key selling behaviors to win with buyers today? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Why Selling Will Never Be the Same: Thoughts from a Sales Leader at Hewlett Packard

Recently I had an interesting conversation with Kevin Purcell, Americas Director, Storage Business Unit, at Hewlett Packard about selling and the state of the economy.

Historically when the economy is struggling, companies start cutting budgets and spending less. Also, spending approval moves higher up the food chain; suddenly your director-level contact no longer has the authority to sign off on new purchases. This obviously makes it tough for sellers and marketers to succeed.

Conversely, boom times are typically accompanied by deep pockets, big spending, and less scrutiny of purchasing decisions.

Personally, I think those characteristics of boom times are never coming back. It’s not that I think the economy won’t get stronger. I just think we’ve passed a point in business where you can get away with making a sale without a strong business case to prove the financial need to invest in your solution.

Kevin, who spoke with me in advance of his upcoming presentation at the Sales 2.0 Conference in Boston, had a similar view. During a thriving economy, sales “could get away without an ROI-based business case,” but those days are over; even if the economy gets much stronger, sales teams will still need a way to prove their ROI to the customer.

As Kevin told me, he used to sell to the Telecommunications Industry for one of the “Big 5″ (back when there were 5) Consulting firms, which followed a Solutions Selling process. In that environment, a strong business case was considered crucial to winning deals. Value remains a top priority for him to this day. As a sales leader, he’s made it a point to train his team to understand business problems/issues and financials.

Here are some other intriguing takeaways from our conversation.

  •   He agrees that most deals are lost to “no decision” because sales lacked a business case.
  •   HP has a tool that was developed internally by a support team. The tool does an assessment at an installed base account by examining maintenance, TCO, savings, and cost of doing nothing. Each assessment results in a three-page discussion document to use with a customer.
  •   His focus is to help existing installed base customers realize how to drive costs out of their business(s) by acquiring newer IT Solutions and Technology. These savings can come from maintenance of the existing equipment and/or the increased performance of the new technology.
  •   The easier that you make a tool for the sales team to use, the better.

HP has thousands of salespeople in the Americas Region alone. Over the past six months, they’ve placed a heavier focus on installed-base accounts and they’re continuing to see rising success in Global, SLED, SMB and Commercial markets. Kevin said he’s directed his team to engage with HP’s financing arm as soon as possible and work with the customer to determine whether the business case should be built around purchasing or leasing. I think this early intervention to drive toward economic value for the customer is a key factor contributing to success.

As he pointed out, the economy is still recovering, and every deal is still challenged. There’s a vital need to have executive sponsorship internally to focus on up-selling existing customers, and to fully engage channel partners. His advice was to focus on the customer’s priorities and match proposed offerings to the customer’s business needs (operating cost reductions, revenue growth through differentiation, etc.).

All in all, it was a great discussion with an impressive sales leader. Kevin has held numerous executive roles at HP over the last seven years and clearly has a lot of wisdom to share. I’m looking forward to hearing his presentation, “Sales Leadership Tales from the Field,” on July 15 in Boston.

Do you agree that selling will require a case for ROI from now on — no matter what state the economy is in? Share your thoughts in the comments section.