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Can Sales Really Create Value?

by David Brock on August 4th, 2016

Leanne Hoagland-Smith wrote an outstanding post, The Ultimate Sales Goal Is Connecting With Customer Value Drivers, Not Creating Value!

In the post, Leanne hits head on what too many sales people miss about value.  We tend to think of value and value proposition in our terms.  Instead, it’s the customer that defines value!

For us to be effective in engaging the customer it’s critical to understand their value drivers, positioning our value in the context of what’s important to them.

As a result, when we look at most complex B2B buying decisions, multiple people are involved.  It’s incumbent on us to understand what each values and engaging them in discussions about those drivers and how we impact them.

It’s also important to recognize value is situational and time dependent.  Stated differently, our customer value drivers change over time and with the situation.  Assuming that certain personas, let’s imagine CFO’s, have the same value drivers is dangerous.  While their functions are similar, the specific situation, their individual views, what they are trying to achieve is different.  And the same person will change over time, based on needs and what they face.  To make it more complicated, these value drivers may change within the same buying/selling opportunity.  As customers learn more through their buying process, their value drivers will change.

Leanne’s article is critical to understand as the foundation for any discussion of value we have with customers.

Having said this, I disagree with the assertion that “it’s a fallacy to think sales people can create value.”  (I really respect Leanne, so I hope I’m not simply playing word games, I don’t believe I am).

There are a number of cases where I think sales people have the responsibility and obligation to create value for their customers.

Leanne’s article focuses on customers that recognize the need to change and have embarked on a change initiative.  For customers already on a mission to solve a problem or address an opportunity, it’s critical to understand and engage on the basis of their value drivers.

But there are far more customers who don’t realize they should/must change, there are opportunities they are missing, there are areas where they can improve. It’s our responsibility to help educate customers, help them identify ways to grow, improve, even bring sanity to their lives, or grow their businesses. This is value we create for the customer.

Helping our customers think differently about their businesses, to disrupt their status quo is critical to their success.  Look at the evolution of computers/technology  from card based mainframes, to minicomputers, to PC’s to tablets/smartphones, to wearable devices to whatever the future holds.  If sales people weren’t disrupting the status quo, getting people to think about information/computing differently, our customers would miss opportunities.  Helping our customer consider new business models—leveraging agile practices, imagining new possibilities in IoT and how they engage their own customers are ways that sales people create value.

In complex decisions, the majority of customer efforts fail. Data shows as many as 60% of buying initiatives end in no decision made. This means, the customer still has a problem or opportunity, but they have failed to solve it. Research shows this failure has little to do with the selection of a solution, but more on the ability of the customer buying team to align their priorities and objectives to make a decision. Sales people play a critical role in helping customers with this process–helping them to organize themselves, align the varying agendas and priorities, helping them make a decision, hopefully for the sales person. This is value creation.

In these days of customer research and self education, customers will inherently focus on the things they “value.” But what if they are missing important considerations?  After all, they unless they are buying in this category every day, they may not know what they don’t know. Consequently, they may be doing something very wrong, or be missing opportunities. Sales people educating customers on these issues, challenging them to think differently, challenging their assumptions, having them consider different points of view or alternatives is value creation.

If sales people are doing what they should be doing, focusing on helping customers identify and address problems and opportunities, rather than pushing products, they should be expert helping customers recognize the need for change, mobilize change, develop and implement plans/programs to achieve their goals.  Since we focus on our sweet spots, the problems we are the best in the world at solving and those who have those problems–we have deep expertise and greater knowledge than the customer.  Teaching, educating, helping our customers recognize new opportunities, mobilize, and execute is value creation.

Value creation is not limited to bringing something into existence (though I believe that is a huge element of value creation—new business processes, new technologies, new methods). Value creation is also about bringing things into awareness for the customer.

We limit ourselves and how we serve our customers by not doing everything possible to help customer recognize and realize value.

Finally, recognizing when customers don’t value those contributions, leaving them alone, and going somewhere else is a form of value creation (or responding to their value drivers).

We have to be well grounded in the basic elements of understanding what customers value and engaging them on their own terms with what’s important to them.  But we are not fulfilling our obligations to help customers succeed organizationally and individually if we aren’t constantly seeking to create value.

Afterword:  Thank you Leanne for an outstanding article on the foundations of value.  Thanks for challenging all of us to think about value differently, more deeply, and in a richer context.Book CoverFor a free peek at Sales Manager Survival Guide, click the picture or link.  You’ll get the Table of Contents, Foreword, and 2 free Chapters.  Free Sample

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5 Comments
  1. David – First thanks for the most gracious compliment and second sharing your disagreement. If we all agreed, then life would be rather dull, wouldn’t it?

    My concern goes back to the word create – meaning to bring into something into existence that did not exist before.

    From my experience in asking this one question “Are you where you want to be?” 99% reply with No. What these individuals share is the fear of facing what is limiting their progress. Something already exists by their knowledge they are not where they want to be.

    Personally to keep our egos at bay because overly strong egos do not work in sales IMHO, I shall stay with the word connect. This may require collaboration and usually results in a dialogue not just a sales conversation.

    Additionally as I am a firm believer in the intrinsic motivational theory of Self Determination (Deci and Ryan), all humans share the same 3 internal motivational drivers. They have established value based on their experiences.

    • Great points Leanne! Let me address a couple, and you’ve stimulated ideas for follow on posts.

      First, both of us are really talking about serving our customers, helping them improve and address new opportunities.

      I like your definition of create–bringing something into existence that did not exist before. Everyday, we see new products, new applications of products, new methods etc. Educating our customers about these helping the customers understand how they might leverage these to grow and improve fits the literal sense of your definition of creation and our ability to create value for customers.

      I also believe an aspect of this is awareness. So much of what challenges our customers is simply the lack of awareness. The lack of awareness of problems or missed opportunities, the lack of awareness of new ways of doing things, and so forth. In the context of customers, making them aware of something that already exists, but they don’t know is value creation.

      Our greatest abilities to serve and create value for our customers is not just in helping them solve problems they already know about, but help in helping them discover and learn new things, to grow and improve in ways they never imagined. I believe this is the core of value creation. In serving our customers it’s our obligation to help them in these areas.

  2. Well, Dave, since bad sales can kill a good deal, then a good salesman has to be creating value when they put a deal together.

    Or more abstractly, if the buyer and seller are not at the same point in a zone of agreement, then there is the possibility of creating value.

    Or did I miss something from Leanne? (And yes, I read her comment.) Thanks.

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