Here’s a take that may ruffle some feathers: Sales hasn’t changed since the days of merchants trading their wares in Mesopotamia. Not really.
Sure, we may have more (powerful) sales tools and new methodologies. We’re even starting to harness AI to predict buyer behavior and respond to it more quickly. But, strip away all the nuanced strategy and tech, and sales remains simple: Identify a need and show how your product or solution meets that need while delivering positive economic impact. That’s the heart of value selling.
Here’s what I’ve learned about this age-old sales strategy, and why putting customers’ needs first will increase your chances of success.
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What is value selling?
Value selling is a sales strategy that focuses on helping prospects solve problems while delivering positive economic and resource impact. That impact can be realized in a number of different ways, but commonly falls into four buckets: cost savings, time savings, competitive advantage, and risk mitigation.
Why is value selling important?
Almost no customer I know comes to a sales call wanting to talk about product features. They have a problem or a need and they want you to solve it. Equally as important, they want you to do it in a way that shows how the benefits of your solution outweigh the status quo. This isn’t new; Harvard Business Review laid this out in some detail years ago, emphasizing that buying based on value is largely the norm, which means value selling is key to landing deals.
In short: A seller’s job is to get prospects to “fall in trust” with them, not merely fall in love with a new product or service. If you can deliver on the value buyers are looking for, you earn their trust. That trust is critical to building long-term customer relationships, opening the door to future cross-sells and upsells.
How to build a value selling framework
The success of value selling hinges on deal customization. It has to meet the unique needs of each prospect if it’s going to work. To identify and meet those needs, there’s a simple, three-part framework you should follow: research, solution mapping with clear value propositions, and pitch customization. Here are some steps to guide you:
1. Get to know your prospect’s needs and challenges
You can’t solve a problem if you don’t know what it is. The best sales reps know how to get their prospects to paint pictures of pain. There are two ways to uncover this:
First, spend some time learning about your prospect via the buyer’s LinkedIn page, website, and quarterly financial reports (if relevant). Take note of anything that suggests an obstacle to growth or a marked downward trend in revenue, headcount, or production. Supplement this with market research via online searches and trade publications that show broader industry and business need.
Next, schedule a discovery call. Ask questions about your prospect’s current situation and the struggles they’re facing, using your research to guide you. Then, ask what an ideal solution might look like and what the operational, financial, or productivity value would be.
2. Determine your value proposition
With the problem laid out, identify how your product can serve as a solution while delivering positive resource impact. It’s helpful to break this down into smaller problem “chunks,” then map these to product features that solve them. With each of these mini solutions, identify the value proposition: time saved, cost saved, risk mitigated, or competitive advantage gained.
For instance, if the prospect’s problem is a manually-updated, disjointed tech stack that’s plagued with old and inaccurate data, then tackle the manual update issue first. Can your tool offer automatic data syncing? Perfect; time saved. Next, identify a solution to the inaccurate data problem. Can you offer automatic updates that cut out the potential for human error? Brilliant; accuracy improved. Lastly, pull it all together with a solve for the messy, disjointed tech: a single, low-cost platform with extended functionality thanks to custom apps (wink, wink). Money saved and competitive edge gained.
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3. Make your pitch perfect
With the details of your value proposition in hand, draft a formal sales pitch. Tailor your messaging to show the prospect exactly how your product or solution can solve their problems, while delivering on the value most important to them. Use “story selling,” not storytelling here: Make a case for the value of your product based on stories of how it might be used in real life. To help, fold in testimonials from similar customers and case studies that show how successful your solution is and the ROI it delivers. Remember to provide measurable results; don’t just talk in generalities. If you want more guidance, check out our article on crafting the perfect sales pitch.
5 value selling tips & best practices
Because of the nuanced nature of value selling, it takes a fair amount of preparation and practice to get it right. Here is my advice from decades in the field:
1. Role-play before you pitch
The best way to perfect your value selling messaging is to role-play. Start by reviewing calls and customer communications from similar deals to identify what value selling tactics have worked. Then, use these to draft a sample pitch. Solicit the help of a fellow rep to practice delivery of your pitch — and ask them to lean into objections that would be realistic for your target prospect. This helps you get comfortable with your messaging and test out responses. It will also make your real-life sales pitch feel authentic.
2. Earn the right to ask deeper questions with careful preparation
In my 20-plus years in sales, I can tell you that the companies willing to go beyond superficial sales chatter are those that win the business. The key here is preparation. If you’ve done the work of step one in the framework, you know the big issues the prospect is facing and can come to the table with insight and guidance ready to go. When you do that, your customers will be receptive to deeper questioning that lets you gather information needed to frame your value-first solution, like budget details, productivity needs, and operational hurdles.
3. Keep the buyer’s funnel stage in mind
Put another way, meet your customer where they are. If you’ve sold a thousand widgets to similar customers, you may be tempted to jump ahead during sales calls and explain value your prospect won’t appreciate or understand — especially if they don’t yet fully understand their problem. That doesn’t get you anywhere. Instead, listen to the challenges articulated in the moment and address those.
For example, you may learn during a discovery call that a prospect is struggling with inefficient project management but hasn’t yet identified the need for a specialized tool to help. Sure, you’ve dealt with a hundred other clients in the same industry who are dealing with the same challenge. Don’t rush to explain the ROI of your software as a potential solution. Instead, deliver some resources that help the prospect define the problem in more detail first — like an audit checklist or internal survey.
4. Be an active, empathetic listener
When the end-of-quarter looms and quota pressure is high, it can be tempting for sales reps to rush to the close. Resist this urge. Instead, lean into empathetic listening so you can uncover needs to address in the moment. It may take more time to get to the finish line, but the long-term reward is worth it: an effective, value-based conversation and a trust-based relationship will lead to a successful close — and possible future sales.
5. Avoid the hard sell
You’ve heard this before, but in the context of value selling, it’s critical: A fastball sales pitch will almost always sink a deal. It reeks of “I gotta hit quota” desperation and completely ignores the most important thing, your customer, and the value they are seeking. The best way to avoid this is to keep the customer front and center. Let the customer guide your conversations so you can identify how best to move the deal forward and close the deal.
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Value-based selling example
It’s the end of Q4 and Paul, a sales rep at AI finance platform developer FinServe, is keen on hitting quota. Through a referral, he makes contact with the VP of operations at Dollars and Sense, an accounting firm that specializes in audits.
During the discovery call, Paul asks open-ended questions about how Dollars and Sense operates and how tasks are managed across the team. As he listens, the VP starts to open up. It turns out he works late into the night and on Sunday evenings reviewing dashboards and generating reports manually. There’s no other time in the week to do it, he confesses, and it’s robbing him of quality family time.
Paul even goes one step deeper and asks the VP to provide the number of hours it takes to complete the company’s standard audit, how many customers Dollars and Sense has, and how many accountants they have on staff. The numbers are scary: Audits take so long, owing largely to a diminished workforce, that results are almost always delivered late. Now, Paul has made the VPs headache feel like a migraine. There’s a real picture of pain — and a way to show the value of FinServe software.
Paul begins to map out his value proposition: His company’s platform generates reports automatically so teams don’t have to waste time with manual number crunching. And the clear value for the VP at Dollars and Sense? No more late nights. No more migraines.
Before diving into his pitch, Paul sets up another call to talk through the specifics of Dollars and Sense’s platform. He comes ready with the right reporting shortcuts specific to the exact pains the VP expressed previously. This is when the VP starts to “fall in trust” with Paul and wants to keep the conversation moving forward. Paul follows up with deeper questions about what the company is paying for their current solution and how much time the team spends on manual tool upkeep. Good news: FinServe’s solution is roughly the same cost and can cut as many as four hours of manual tool updating and report generation every week.
When Paul has all the information he needs to create a value-based pitch, he sets up a formal sales call with the VP and other decision-makers at Dollars and Sense. He first shares the economic impact of the prospect’s current situation and confirms with everyone that these numbers are accurate. He then shares how FinServe’s solution can eliminate tedious manual updates, and folds in an example from a recent customer. To seal the deal, he asks the group if the time savings of FinServe’s platform make sense. All heads enthusiastically nod.
With buy-in secured, Paul suggests a price that’s a hair above what Dollars and Sense is paying for their current solution. Knowing there may be some pushback, he has prepared a possible discount to sweeten the deal — if needed.
Fortunately, no discount is needed. Dollars and Sense eagerly signs on the dotted line, seeing not just a solution, but clear ROI: time saved with no increase in cost. The deal just, eh, makes sense.
Customer-centric value selling for the win
The more sales changes, the more it stays the same. I’ve seen this day in and day out: Delivering value and putting the customer first remain the keys to sales success. Value selling doesn’t end at a closed deal, either. Make sure to regularly check in with customers to see if the value delivered when you rolled out the product still holds. If you find it doesn’t, take the opportunity to re-evaluate and explore additional avenues to meet your customer’s expectations. Remember, they fell in trust with you. Don’t break their heart.
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