How to use the hidden power of Value Discovery.
Research 'discovery in sales,' and you will learn a lot about needs discovery. But about value discovery? Not so much.
Value usually comes down to, ‘if I get what I need, then that would be value.’ That is true. However, as a sequence, it is back to front.
Put Value Discovery ahead of Needs Discovery, and you will have a host of silver bullets.
Read on to know why and how...
The problem with needs in selling is that needs are not a problem. They are merely a symptom. Why try to 'solve' a need?
A need is ‘a lack of something requisite, desirable, or useful (Merriam-Webster).’ Essentially, we only have a need to the extent that there is something we want that we are not getting. That something is value.
It is not the ‘something’ i.e., the need, that is important, but the value that the something will enable us to have.
And that value is not simply $$$, as I explain later.
For example. You have a headache: is it the painkiller you want, or the absence of a headache?
No headache. Right?
The painkiller is the ‘something’ that enables you to gain the value of no headache.
The difference is not semantics.
A painkiller might alleviate the headache, but what if you had a brain tumor? A painkiller would not solve your real problem.
That is why doctors when performing diagnosis (a.k.a. discovery), go beyond the symptoms (perceived needs) to identify root causes, the real problem.
In sales, focusing on value is a path to root cause.
Need isn’t the problem. Lack of value is.
In a business sense, real problems are an absence of, or use for, value. And just to clarify, I mean value in it its broadest sense, not just $$$. And particularly, value for each decision-maker or Buyer. For example:
- Makes my job easier.
- Helps me keep my job.
- Reduces my stress.
- Enhances my chances of promotion.
- Enhances my income potential.
- Enhances my reputation.
- Increase my leisure time.
…and so on and so on
Except for ‘making my job easier,’ none of those items of value is likely to appear in a Request for Proposal (RFP), or any other formal requisition or purchase documents. Nor are they referred to in subsequent sales proposals or bids.
And nor are they typically unearthed in a regular Business Needs Discovery.
Yet, those are the things that are on every Buyer’s mind (note the ‘me’ and ‘my’) as they make their decision.
When it comes to influencing buying decisions, those perceptions of individual value carry more weight than business value e.g., ROI, Cost/benefit and the like, which are how we typically look at value in B2B.
If you doubt that:
Remember the Elephant
Can you imagine any decision-maker voting for a purchase that places his/her job, or income, or advancement, or reputation, etc at risk, regardless of how good the business ROI appears to be?
As I have mentioned in previous articles, the Buyer’s ‘Elephant’, their irrational/emotional brain that is primarily interested in their safety and well-being, is responsible for all their decisions. And as such, it is a far more powerful force than their rational/logical brain, a.k.a. their ‘Rider.’
You can’t beat evolution!
The Elephant just naturally heads down a path that it feels is the safest and most comfortable. A relatively weak Rider is powerless to have it to do something different, even it is logical.
The ‘Real’ Value Discovery
By ‘real’ I mean what really makes the difference in Buyer decision-making. And that is their Personal Perceptions of Value (POV). That is the Value Discovery that Sellers should perform to understand what will influence Buyer decisions.
For example, given what you now know, how would you rate your chances of a Buyer recommending you when your offer reflected a clear path for their Elephant?
100%! Right? That suggests that:
B2B sales processes that do not take account of Buyer personal Perceptions of Value are fatally flawed.
My personal view is that POVs are the only reliable indicator of progress in a sale. That is based on a life in sales and not being aware of a single instance where a purchase decision went against the personal desires of the most influential/powerful decision maker(s).
Can you think of one?
And so, given that, reflect on your own sales process. To what extent, for example, do your sales cycles, forecast, pipeline et al, cater for Buyer Perceptions of Value (POV)? Are they even a thing?
For the most part Sales Cycles/Stages i.e., progress, are based on Seller perceptions:
- Buyers identified: yep, done.
- Needs Discovery: yep, done.
- Proposal: yep, done
- Demo: yep, done (or vice versa)
Contrast that with the following example of a Value-focused process. It reflects the Seller’s understanding of the Buyer’s Journey to discover value, which in a Complex (multiple decision-makers) Sale, would be different for each Buyer.
The steps the Seller goes through are:
- Discovery: find out who the Buyers are.
- Engage: Interact with each Buyer to grow trust and discover their POV.
- Collaborate: with each Buyer to discover their Value Gaps (the difference between results they are getting and what they want).
- Invent: Collaborate with each Buyer to co-invent their solution to close his/her Value Gaps. Now is the time to define Needs. You might say that Needs are the finish of Discovery, not the start of it!
- Note: To this point there has been no discussion of product, no demos, and no proposals.
- Dovetail: Seller ‘dovetails’ or maps his/her product/service to the Buyer’ Solution, which conforms to each Buyer’s POV in addressing their Value Gaps.
As you might appreciate by now, a value-focused sales proposal reads differently to a needs-based one. It is substantially addressed to individual Buyers rather than to (say) a collective buying group.
For example, when authoring a proposal, the Seller is conscious of always talking to someone. That goes something like: ‘You described B as the result (value) you want, and you are currently getting A and so to close the Gap, we agreed X, Y, and Z needed to happen. This is how our product/service does that...’
What about formal bids?
A common question I get is ‘what about formal RFPs? Naturally, you conform and prepare submissions in the required format, however, the language you use should be as I have described. Target each response to whomever in the buying team is notionally interested in that response.
That said, the Executive Summary is your opportunity for maximum impact. Your proposal will pass many sets of eyeballs, and key decision-makers are unlikely to read all the detail. However, they will read your Executive Summary if nothing else. So, really nail your value case there.
I occasionally get asked to review Executive Summaries, and when I do, I ask for a profile of the key decision-makers. I then cut out everything about the vendor (usually 50-75% of the summary!), except for one or two sentences. Decision makers do not care who you are (your boilerplate). They simply want to know what’s in it for them. I then re-frame the key value points in the proposal to speak quite specifically to each stakeholder.
Here's the thing about that:
Unlike needs which are typically a very long list. Value comes down to just a few items. For each Buyer, usually two, maybe three max. And that is because value is, well, valuable. They are BIG wins, which is why value is so impactful compared to needs.