I was reading Rebel Brown’s great post: Accentuate The Positive. It focuses on positive messages and approaches in sales and marketing. She raised an interesting question, What if we can’t find a compelling value-based approach for our solutions?
The question is scary, but fascinating. I think it impacts many of us, whether in a specific sales opportunity, or in marketing and product programs. It’ something we’re afraid to confront with ourselves, our managers, our companies. The current economy makes this issue all too visible. A month ago, I was having a conversation with a senior sales executive with a very large company. He made the statement, “We are struggling to be relevant to our customers again.” He followed that with an explanation of the new programs and initiatives they were launching to become relevant again. Many of the programs were outstanding, some struck me as just increasing the noise level and confusion.
No amount of activity, no fancy marketing program, no creative sales initiative will solve the problem if we cannot create compelling value in the solutions we provide our customers. As is often the case, in solving the issue, in all our sophistication we often create more complex approaches that cost more and increase the market risk. What if we turned to simpler solutions to this problem.
For me, everything starts with a customer. As a sales person, if I can’t define a compelling value proposition for the customer, I need to look at things again. Perhaps, I haven’t understood what the customer is trying to do. Perhaps I haven’t probed deeply enough or spoken to the right people to understand the real issues? Sometimes, we rush so quickly to the solution, that we haven’t understood the customer and are poorly prepared in presenting our solution in a way the demonstrates our compelling value and differentiation in solving the customer’s real problems.
Sometimes, after all that, we find we don’t have a compelling value proposition. Hopefully, we discover those early and disqualify the opportunity, however, whenever we discover that we cannot create superior and compelling value for the customer, we need to walk away. We need to stop wasting the customer’s time and our time.
What happens, when this starts happening frequently and systematically? What happens when your peers start discovering the same thing? This may be an indicator, that our customers and competitors have passed us by—our products and solutions are no longer competitive and no longer produce differentiated value.
Unfortunately, this is very common, and unfortunately, many corporate reactions are completely wrong. Too often, the reaction is to redouble and intensify activities. New sales programs, new marketing programs, new initiatives — all costing a lot of money are put in place. We try to spend or shout our way into creating value and differentiation. We may try to frighten the customer using tactics Rebel describes as FUD. These tactics may be successful for some time, but usually don’t create sustained success and growth. Customers will find solutions that create value for them—they just won’t be our solutions.
Often, we see another thing, the company decides to ignore the customer, somehow thinking it knows best. Business history is littered with the carcasses of once great companies that have done this. When I started selling computers, there was IBM and the BUNCH. All of them have fumbled, most are dramatically different now. What about those that no longer exist, great companies like Digital and Wang (and so many others) that failed to satisfy customer needs and create compelling value in the face of customers continuing to raise the bar on what value is. We can see the same thing in every other sector–today the finance, automotive, and healthcare are the most visible..
It’s an interesting question: “What if we can’t find a compelling value-based approach to our solutions?” It’s a wake up call for any of us who experience it. The solution alwasy starts with the customer. Whether a sales person looking at winning a deal, or a company looking to make their solutions relevant, it the solution starts with engaging your customers in a conversation about what they really value.