This is a definition of selling I use with non-salespeople and managers.

Selling is matching your customer’s needs and wants, with your products and services, in such a way that they perceive better value from you than from your competitors”.

Generally speaking it is accepted without question. I then ask them, “what value do you create”? This is generally met with silence or a deflection strategy that says it depends upon what you mean by value. This is a definition I like:

Value = Benefits – Costs

where benefits are what the customer gets (return on investment, service, convenience etc.) and costs (money, inconvenience, risk etc.) are what the customer gives; all nicely quantified into terms that everyone understands i.e. pounds, dollars or euros etc.

If we look at the environment in which we work, we have professional buyers whose single objective it is to remove differentiation and effectively commoditise our/your products and services. Thanks to the internet buyers today often know more about your products and services than your salespeople. They also know more about your competitors offerings too. So when they ask you for a quote or a proposal they have already done over 60% of what salespeople did in a sales campaign years ago. They have their scoring matrix at the ready and all they need is the last piece of the jigsaw – your price.

We are not going to fall for that ploy. We are going to differentiate our offer through lots of value added facilities and throw in our service and quality excellence, our flexibility and of course, our global capabilities through our partner network etc. In honesty added value means added cost; if you don’t have service and quality excellence you would not be invited to bid, and is there really any value in other motherhood statements? There are but three ways in which you can differentiate:

 Technical leadership e.g. Apple, Samsung

 – Operational efficiency, best price e.g. Polypipe, Aldi

 – Customer intimacy e.g. PwC, EY et al.

The first two are by their nature transient; the best price today may not be tomorrow, and technology changes drives changes in leadership. There is absolutely nothing wrong with these approaches as the best price or easiest to use product fit nicely into my definition of value. Customer intimacy though, offers the best way to understand what your customers value, and what they do not. Thoroughly understanding your customer’s business through a professional relationship will simplify the task of creating and articulating your value. What’s more customer intimacy is sustainable.
Our December 2014 issue of the SalesPulse talked about how creating value makes you different. We talk about advice in some cases being worth more than the product or service. You can only give valuable advice if you understand the customer’s business.
In your strategic, (most important) customers your senior managers need to support whoever is responsible for the relationship and have them engage with their counterparts. They need to find out what the customer values in its relationship with you; they need to find out if you are a strategic supplier, If not what is it you have to do to become one. Most importantly this is a learning exercise; your customer will expect to see action as an outcome of them investing their time with you. Let’s also be clear, these discussions are not easy. You will hear things that will make you uncomfortable, that are threatening and which may even challenge your core business and investment strategies.
However, the process will facilitate business strategy development and help the company understand the value it needs to create and articulate. As a very important consequence, when executed correctly it will significantly strengthen the ongoing relationship.