By now, we are all familiar with the challenges of selling services or solutions with “soft” value.  The customer wants our assistance in quantifying the value and we want to put our best story forward.  However, the “customer” is really a committee of six people charged with making the recommendation. What will we do?

Defining Value

To address difficult problems, it is best to start at the beginning and make sure we understand the definitions.

Value can be a slippery term and it is used in many different ways. According to experts, here are the keys to defining value:

  • Value is the monetization of the benefits – as perceived by the customer.  It can change depending on the context of the decision and decision maker at any time.
  • Value can be quantified – economic value can be quantified in a currency, other aspects have their own forms of quantification such as Quality Adjusted Life Years in healthcare or Carbon Footprint for green solutions.
  • Value is composite and decomposable – value can be analyzed into a set of value drivers

There is more than one aspect of value – in B2B, the most important aspect is the economic, but other aspects such as the emotional, environmental, and social value can also be considered.

We are all good salespeople who clearly understand and embrace the concept of the Challenger Sale (also known as the consultative sale).  So we have learned that our value calculation must be relative to the current favorite alternative, do nothing.  That is, if we continue doing what we always do, this is what it will cost (including benefits) per day, week, month, or unit of output.  Our value calculation has to say,

“if you implement our solution, this is how much it will cost per unit of time or output and these are the total new benefits you will enjoy.”  

And part of these new benefits has to address the emotional needs and wants of each committee member.  This post will identify examples of some new benefits but you, the salesperson, has to package them in a way to will work for you unique Purchasing Committee.

As a guide, lets use the famous Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:

Physiological needs and safety and security are a given so there is very little a seller can do to positively impact these emotions unless the seller sells insurance or wage and salary consulting.  Even it this situation, it is unlikely that any gains will improve the mental state of the decision makers.

However, your offer can result in a negative situation for the decision makers.  For example, if implementing your proposal results in a large reduction of force, then the executive who must take public ownership for the action will certainly be in a situation of having negative feelings.  It is not unheard of for an executive to reject a cost saving proposal that results in large layoffs, especially if the organization is located in a “company town” where everyone knows everyone and shops in the same stores, etc.  If you get yourself or your organization into this situation, your best course of action is to frankly discuss this with the decision maker and, if necessary, co-create a situation which may be sub-optimal for both parties yet still adds some value to the business.  It is possible that the rest of the plan can be implemented at a later date.

Love and belonging does not usually come to mind when thinking about creating customer value.  Yet, we are now being barraged in the press and on social media to build sustainable relationships with prospects and customers. I think we just discovered at least part of the reason.

Self-esteem is about respect and the need to be positively recognized by others.  If you can make a case that by selecting your solution the business will receive significant tangible benefits, and the spotlight will shine on the decision maker, then you have created some intangible value.  This is why so many organizations have conferences where users and the public interact and where decision makers who took the leap of faith are giver awards or asked to tell their unique story in a keynote address.  Talk about stroking someone’s ego.

Self-actualization is the ultimate level of ego satisfaction. This is why business people write books and attend major conferences as a keynote.  It is also why successful individuals join non-profit boards or make large donations that include getting their name on something like a building.  While most of your customers will not achieve this level, there may be ways that you can utilize your network and introduce them to “important” or “special” people.  And, of course pictures create permanent evidence of these successes.  Think about how many politicians at all levels, and other leaders have an “I love me” wall of pictures in their offices.  If you can help them, you made a friend and earned their trust.

In this post I am not suggesting that your sales approach should be based on brainwashing or manipulation, but if you are convinced that your solution is the best one for a business and a decision maker or influencer is on the fence, then addressing the intangible needs can, at least, create enough trust that your solution get the consideration it deserves.