Thousands of posts are written about value propositions and value creation. By now, most people tend to say value is defined by the customer, though most implementations seem to be driven by what we think the customer should value.
There’s also a lot written about differentiation, creating superior value, and exceeding customer expectations.
There also seems to be a “silver bullet” aspect to value propositions and creation. Somehow, I get the sense of people looking for that magic set of sentences, that when spoken to the right people at the right time, they immediately pull out a PO, asking “How much should I order?”
But through much of the discussions, I get a sense of value being “static,” that is, something we define as part of our overall marketing and sales process, but with little change/adaptation through the process.
I think there’s a different approach to value creation, communication, and delivery. For the lack of a better way of expressing it, I’ll call it “Just good enough Value Creation.” Perhaps we can add to the idea by calling it “Just good enough, delivered just in time.”
Here’s what I mean.
Early in our marketing and our sales process—very early in the customer buying process, we are really just trying to be good enough. Differentiation, superiority would be nice, but not critical. Our goal early in the process is not to get our customers to fall over and issue a PO, but simply to get invited to play—to become one of the three alternatives they are looking to consider as a solution.
At this point, value can be relatively generic. Possibly industry, market, or functionally focused. So we might have value propositions focused in CFO’s in investment banking firms, CIO’s in the same firms, or others focused on CFO’s and CIO’s in discrete manufacturing. They have to be interesting, relevant, intriguing. They don’t really need to be personalized (probably because we aren’t addressing an individual, but a persona in a certain function/market/industry). And they don’t have to be really differentiated–they just need to be good enough.
The “just good enough test,” needs to satisfy this criteria: Get the customer to select us as their 1 in 3 they will seriously consider in their buying process.
This doesn’t mean we should be careless or sloppy. The bar for being just good enough is always shifting and getting higher. It’s just that too often we try to be unique and differentiated, when at this point in the buying process it’s both meaningless and virtually impossible.
Once we become 1 in 3, our challenge changes, we have to become unique, differentiated, and superior.
But the way we do this is different. It’s the process of becoming quite specific. It’s where we move from personas to people, individual human beings. It’s not the CIO, but George, the CIO of this division of XYZ company, or moving from the Controller, to Amy, Controller of XYZ, It’s moving from our generic view of the world to the specific situation each individual finds themselves in at a particular moment of time.
So George and Amy are experiencing different problems, challenges, needs, and have different priorities in their roles right now. It’s the job of sales people to understand these differences then to start presenting our value in a way that addresses each person’s specific issues at a moment in time.
This is where, too often, we fall short. We stay to the generic. We may get to CIO’s of discrete manufacturing, but we fail to get to George, the CIO of this division in a discrete manufacturing company, who is facing these problems in keeping his customers happy, or the specific issues his organization is facing. To differentiate ourselves, we must go further, understanding George’s specific situation, needs, challenges, problems, opportunities and goals. We must then be very specific about what we can do about those things. How we eliminate problems, improve a situation, help address an opportunity.
In doing this we start becoming very specific, hopefully becoming unique and differentiated. But we don’t have to be that much different or that unique–just enough.
But there’s one more step–one which virtually 100% of sales people miss, but which becomes the ultimate differentiator in the buying process. It’s understanding George as a human being, and what he is trying to achieve. Most of the time, we can’t express this value in terms of ROI, Payback or a business case, but it’s what drives decision-making.
Ultimately, it’s what we do for George that no one else is paying attention to. It may be simplifying George’s life so he can get home to see his kid’s soccer (football to those who aren’t in the US), baseball, and swimming events. It may be getting his boss off his back, it may be getting that promotion of bonus. Interestingly, all of this probably has little to do with what we sell, but it’s all about connecting with people and how we can impact their lives.
The ultimate value creation and differentiation is not what we do to help CIO’s of discrete manufacturing—that’s table stakes, it gets us to be 1 in 3.
It’s not what we do to help George as CIO of XYZ corporation–that starts stetting us apart, we have to be as good as–probably slightly better than everyone else for the specific circumstances George as CIO of XZY faces.
But the ultimate differentiation, is to discover George as a human being, to understand his frustrations, hopes, dreams, ambitions, goals and what value we can create in helping him achieve those.
We don’t need to do any more—but too few sales people do this, and it’s the value most important and impactful to the customer–George. And we have to do this for each person in the decision-making process.
Value creation isn’t a mystery. It’s dynamic, the value we have to create varies depending on where the customer is in the buying process. It varies based on the specific problems and issues customers face in making their buying decision. It will change as they go through their buying process–as their knowledge, requirements, and priorities shift. Finally, the most important part of value creation, the part that most people fail to do, is the intensely personal and unique part–what do we do for each person, as human beings.
We don’t have to be that much better or different. We just have to be good enough in the parts that mean the most to each person involved in making a decision.
Do you know enough about your customers, their businesses, and them as individuals to be just good enough?
The other day I was speaking to a large group of sales people. Many were very new to sales, they had been selling for only a few years.
During the conversation, one person asked how she should progress in her career. She and several others related they were looking for new jobs. They saw opportunities to move to new challenges, increase their compensation, move higher in the food chain.
We all want to grow–we want jobs with increasing levels of responsibility, higher levels of compensation. Sometimes, we don’t like our current roles/organizations/managers, sometimes it’s a great new opportunity.
Sometimes, however, I wonder if we do ourselves, our current employers, and future employers a disservice by moving too fast and too frequently.
I look at many of the people connecting with me on LinkedIn, I see people with average tenure in a job–with a specific company less than 2 years. Market data shows average tenure for sales roles at less than 22 months (and management tenure that’s even shorter).
Clients ask me to look at candidates they are considering, I see much of the same thing. People moving from job to job.
In each one, they talk about “Exceeding objectives,” “Surpassing goals,” “Overachieving quotas.”
Frankly, as a hiring manager, I want people with experience–deep experience.
While all claim to have outstanding performance, citing 100% clubs, year after year of beating quota, one wonders what that means.
Let’s look at some data: Average tenure in complex B2B sales jobs is 22 months, onboarding is roughly 10 months. The typical sales person is with a company no more than two fiscal reporting years.
What if they claim great success during those 2 years. Whether it’s making the President’s Club, “significantly exceeding quota,” or something else. What does this mean?
In reality, the first year success is probably more a reflection of the work done by the predecessor than the sales person. Toward the end of that first year, the sales person starts to come into her own, so we start seeing success based on their individual contributions in the following year.
Being successful, achieving or exceeding your goals that second year is great! But does that indicate sustained ability to drive performance? Somehow, I want to see a person that has the proven experience of growing a territory. Someone that can demonstrate sustained performance contributions year after year seems to demonstrate greater “experience” than someone who has lots of job experiences.
Seeing a person who has experienced adversity and triumphed, somehow seems more meaningful, than one who has a revolving door of jobs, each of which they have “succeeded.”
In looking at our own careers, we owe it to our own development to test ourselves, to see if we can “do it on our own,” to see what we are made of in overcoming challenges, to see that we can repeat the performance and grow our territories. We need to know our results are a result of our own work, not the pipelines built by our predecessors, or luck.
We all want to move forward in our careers, but over the long term, we to it better through a solid base of experience, not lots of experiences.
We know we are supposed to be customer centric. Buyers and buying have changed, they’re in control (funny, I always thought they were.). Millions are spent in creating great customer experiences.
As sales people we know we are more successful when we focus on the customer–helping solve their problems, understanding their needs. We seek to provide great insights and to teach our customers. Gone are the days of pitching or telling our customers about our products. We now know that success comes in collaborating with our customers, helping them grow and achieve their goals.
We know by helping our customers to become more successful, we are more likely to achieve our goals.
Pretty good principles, we know they work.
All of this causes me to think about sales managers (or any other executive for that matter). What if sales managers became “sales person centric?”
If we think f the works of Deming or even many of the Lean and Agile principles, sales people are the customers of sales management. (One wonders about the managers who think this should be reversed–they are the customers of sales people.)
What if we applied the principles of customer centricity to sales person centricity?
We already know the road map, we just change the context.
Instead of telling people what to do, we provide insights, and teach. We learn about our people, the problems and challenges they face. We focus on helping them achieve their goals, knowing if they do so, we will achieve ours. We work collaboratively, helping them improve and become better.
As leaders, if we set an example in serving our customers–the people who work for us, don’t we provide a much better platform to encourage them to do likewise with our customers? Just a simple shift in perspective can create profound differences in our organizations.
Perhaps the most difficult thing to recognize in moving from an individual contributor role into a management role is that made you great as a sales person will be your biggest barrier to being an effective manager and leader.
As an individual contributor, what probably made you a high performer was your ability to get things done–in the company, with your customers. These included prospecting and finding new deals, making sure they were the right deals, developing and executing strategies to win, overcoming competition, other alternatives.
In virtually every case, what separated you from everyone else was the ability to get things done and produce results in your territory.
As a manager, it’s just that ability, which too often is the biggest barrier to our success in leading our people, maximizing their performance and individual contributions.
Moving into management requires we shift our perspective. Our performance is no longer based on our abilities to get things done personally, but getting things done through our people.
We no longer have the direct responsibility for finding customers/opportunities. We no longer have the responsibility for developing and executing winning sales strategies. We no longer have the responsibility of working directly with the customer, moving the deal through their buying process.
Those are the things our people are accountable for. Those are their responsibility. The moment we start taking that away, taking the accountability and responsibility, we fail. We not only fail in our responsibility to our people but we will fail in our jobs.
The most simplistic evidence of this is running some simple math.
As individual contributors, it took our full time to achieve our goals. Now as a manager, let’s suppose we have 10 people reporting to us. Let’s also say, our people do 75% of the work, but we come in batting clean-up to do the final 25% for each of them. The result is impossible! We simply don’t have the time to do even 25% for them. Add to that, the things that are strictly our responsibility as managers.
If we don’t transition to getting things done through our people, we become the bottleneck in organizational effectiveness. We do much of the work we hold our people accountable for, and we don’t have the time to do our own jobs.
Layer on top of this, the devastating impact this has on your team. They see major parts of their jobs taken away from them. Rather than being coached to improve, they get no coaching, but stand at the sidelines as the manager does what they had hoped to do for themselves.
Our job as managers is different than our jobs as individual contributors. If we don’t choose to do our jobs, then we are cheating our people and the organization. If, in moving from the individual contributor role to the managerial role you can’t move from getting things done yourself to getting things done through your people, then don’t make the change. Turn down the managerial job and do what you do best.
Afterward: Take the “ability to get things done” with a few grains of salt. There are many things, as manager, that you are accountable for and you have to be very effective in getting things done. I’m just referring to those things you got done as a sales person and the differences in management.