During the past 30 years, I’ve had not only the privilege of directly leading some truly great B2B sales teams – but also, in the past few years – to coach many more.
It’s actually in the latter activity where I myself have probably learned the most. As eloquently put by Robert Heinlein: “When one teaches, two learn”, it’s not only the student but also the teacher who learns.
By being able to fully detach myself from the various deals the teams were working on, I was able to identify several very common errors in B2B sales, which I will share here. I will also offer guidance in terms of how to avoid them.
Remember To Value Your Product Through the Eye of Your Customer
If you want to engage with decision-makers, then you must connect to their world and show how, whatever you are selling, is going to enable them to achieve, at least partially, one (or more) of their business objectives.
Most salespeople start in a company by learning all about the product, service or solution that they are selling. They are constantly trained and provided with all sorts of internal product-centric information and how great their solutions and their company is.
This breeds confidence in what they are selling and creates pride in being part of the company. And when they are dealing with procurement or people that are specialists in the product that they are selling, they are very often speaking the same language.
This is all great, however it can be very limiting when trying to engage with the decision-makers of their customers. Perhaps you are an entrepreneur or a startup founder that is fully immersed 24/7 in your own technology and product features. If so, this could also be your challenge.
However, value is all about context.
If you are looking at the world only from your company’s perspective and being oblivious to what is going on in the context of your customer, there’s a strong possibility that you will miss why the product you’re selling is actually relevant to them.
This explains a lot about the resistance that you may encounter when you are trying to engage with the decision-makers in the company. They are talking a different language and have a completely different perspective.
This usually translates into talking uniquely about technology, features and functionality rather than what the actual impact to the client’s business will be.
That being established, let us dive a little bit deeper into how you can determine the value of your product or service for your customer.
10 Practical Tips to Define Value for Your Customer in B2B Sales
As a famous sales leader in one of my previous employers put it – what you are selling will either “make the client money, save them money or keep them out of jail”. However, there are many more ways to look at creating value for your customers.
Ask yourself, how, what you are selling, will help your customer to:
1. Increase Revenue
Your product can help your customer to increase revenue, either by helping them sell more to existing customers or by helping them sell to new customers.
Ask yourself for example: “Does my product help reduce customer churn?”, “Will it lead to an increase in repeat buys?”, or “Will my product create up-sells to higher priced products or cross-sells to other products in their portfolio?”.
You could also increase revenue in B2B sales by helping them to better target and acquire new customers in existing markets or gain access to new markets.
2. Optimize Costs
Ask yourself if your solution can optimize your customers’ costs by either reducing their total costs or by generating more benefit for the same or higher level of cost.
For example, your solution may increase their overall costs but may lead to far greater increases in revenue.
3. Improve Cash Flow
You should also think about cash flow.
Can you get cash into the customer’s bank account faster by reducing the time to invoice customers? For example by allowing them to sell their products directly online?
Or can your solution delay cash outflows by increasing the time to pay through better payment terms?
4. Reduce Risk
Risk can come in many forms. There are cyber-attacks, business continuity risks from downtime, reputational risks and more.
How does what you are selling reduce the current level of risks for your customers?
5. Ensure Compliance
Does your product help to improve compliance and avoid penalties due to non-compliance with relevant laws? GDPR data privacy non-compliance, for example, could cost up to 4% of revenue.
6. Improve Brand Reputation
Maybe your solution can help improve the brand reputation of your customer by improving
quality or customer service?
7. Improve Employee Engagement
Can your product remove repetitive or unpleasant tasks of employees or make your customer’s business a better place to work?
This will help them to retain, attract and onboard more and better talent and create value.
8. Enhance Sustainability
Does your customer want to meet certain sustainability goals?
How can you help your customer to achieve their sustainability goals? Will your product require less power consumption or lower the customers CO2 emissions?
9. Improve Speed
Increasing the speed of product development and reducing the time it takes to bring a solution to the market will bring in revenue and cash faster.
It will also create a competitive advantage over competitors.
10. Increase Customer Satisfaction
Ask yourself how your product can enable superior customer service or enhance the customer experience?
Do Customers Actually Know What They Need?
Steve Jobs once said: “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
The more you can look at the world from your customer’s perspective and understand what is important for them and what they are trying to achieve, the more you can think on their behalf.
This means that you can understand what they need, which may actually not be what they think they need.
Sometimes the customer is looking for a product in a certain niche, and you have the best product for that niche on the market. However, very often it isn’t as simple as that.
Don’t fall into the trap of just providing what the customer is asking for. Your competitors are going to fight you on price if you’re competing on the same set of features in B2B sales.
However, here’s the key, before you start to talk to your customer about some additional features that can differentiate you from the competition, ensure first that they understand why they actually need these features.
Do this by bringing in some objective insights that may come from the experience of previous customers or market studies.
In B2B Sales Focus on Quality Over Quantity
Listing off a long laundry list of benefit after benefit may sound impressive, but in reality, once you go beyond the most important ones, you are not adding more perception of value but actually diluting it.
Niro Sivanatha, Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School, captured this very well in his Ted Talk “The Counterintuitive way to be more persuasive“:
If you are fortunate enough to have a long list of benefits and you believe all of them to be highly important for the customer, then think about how you can cluster them into a maximum of three groups, for example: “Financial benefits”, “Customer benefits” and “Employee benefits”.
Always Sell the Difference
It may sound obvious but if a customer can’t clearly see the difference between what they
currently have and what you are selling, then why would they buy? No clear difference, no
Have you ever noticed how Apple announces the latest iPhone? They don’t go through all of the features of the new model. They simply focus on calling out the difference from the previous model.
Better camera, longer battery life, faster chip. If you are already an iPhone user, what you are buying is the difference between your current iPhone and the new model.
Similarly, your customers are buying the difference between what they have today and what they will have if they buy your product. In B2B sales, you have to make this difference stand out and be highly visible and tangible for your customer.
One of the simplest ways to do this is with a before and after comparison:
|Without your solution||With your solution|
|Manual process||Automated process|
|Takes 3 weeks||Takes 2 hours|
|10% errors on average||0% errors|
Converse – Don’t Pitch with Your Customer
Salespeople and entrepreneurs sometimes have great difficulties overcoming the urge to pitch and explain to the customer all about their product and why the customer should buy it.
A short 15-minute meeting can very quickly be turned into a monologue during which the customer will very often disconnect.
My advice is to treat every engagement with a customer as a conversation.
What does a good conversation sound like?
Being interrogated by someone with question after question or having to listen to another person talking non-stop about themselves is not what we would consider a good conversation. It’s the same with a business conversation.
So what is a good conversation? I believe it is some kind of value-exchange during which each party in the conversation is exchanging some elements of value with each other.
Think about what value you are bringing to the conversation during B2B sales. Think about first giving value to get value in return. If you are not bringing value to the conversation, it is most likely going to be a short conversation.
Think about what insights you can share with your customer that brings value to them. What information can you share that will be helpful for them in their business?
Perhaps the experience of similar customers or a recent study could provide some important insights.
What questions can you ask that are not only going to extract information from them but also provide them with some value by helping them think differently or making them realise something for the first time.
For example: “I was very interested to read in a recent report that the level of employee attrition in your industry is at its highest ever. What do you think are the key reasons driving this?” or “If you were able to increase the productivity of your sales team by 20%, what impact do you think this would have on your business?”.
Make Your Customer Feel Heard – Without Interrogating Them
Try to avoid turning things into an interrogation by following one direct question by another.
Alternate by using phrases such as “Would you mind sharing your thoughts on . . “ or “I’d love to hear what you think about . . “.
This will help make the conversation feel much more like a real conversation rather than a Q&A.
Think also about the sequencing of questions.
The first couple of questions are really to ignite the conversation and get the flow going, so they should be easy to answer and encourage to talk more. Once your customer has opened up you can start with more thought-provoking questions.
There is also a big difference between listening and waiting your turn to speak.
Always make sure you are connecting back to what the customer has said.
The more the customer is going to express themselves early in the conversation about their needs, risks, problems, opportunities, the more you have to connect to whatever it is you are selling.
Through your questions you’re effectively building a foundation for you to illustrate your value. It is much more powerful for the customer to realise themselves that they need what you are selling through the thoughts you have triggered via your questions, than you actually telling them that directly.
Questions can be very powerful in any sales process, but only if they are used correctly.
To learn more about this topic I can recommend Paul Cherry’s book: “Questions that Sell”.
Customers buy a product that offers them some value.
Putting yourself in their shoes and looking at their business from their perspective will enable you to understand what they will value. The more you know what they are trying to achieve, the more you can think on their behalf and use your experience to help identify what they actually need.
This can help you differentiate yourself from the competition in B2B sales.
What you are selling is the difference between what the customer has today without your product and what they will have once they buy it. Don’t forget to make this difference stand out very clearly.
Treat every customer engagement as a conversation, a value-exchange. Use your questions wisely, not just to extract valuable information but also to bring value by making your customers think differently and realise themselves what they really need.
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