For a very long time, we used a small set of sales weapons to create and win new opportunities. Over time, we developed new and better weapons, tools that produced better outcomes. The old weapons are not the problem: they are still available and even powerful under some circumstances. But even though selling has evolved, most sales organizations have not updated their methods or upgraded the weapons they use to compete for and win deals.
Creating more new opportunities and winning big deals requires making those upgrades, especially when you compete against smart and tough competitors. This post will provide some guidance.
One way to view the sales competition is as two contests. The first contest is about creating the greatest value for the client whose business you are trying to win. The second is about building the client’s preference to buy from and work with you in the future. It is possible to sell every day without recognizing that you are being judged on multiple levels: 1) the value you create and the preference to buy from you first, 2) your solution, and finally, 3) your company.
Some weapons create lower levels of value. It’s not that these weapons aren’t important; it’s just that they don’t do much to help you accumulate value throughout the sales conversation. These weapons may include your outdated legacy sales process, your company’s reputation, your proof providers, and your product, service, or solution. The client’s experience of working with you is important, as are things like your service and your support, but they too are relatively low-value weapons.
These weapons aren’t powerful enough to create value and a preference to buy from you because they do nothing to help your prospective client discover something about themselves or help them understand why or how they might need to change to get better results. The sales conversation may be nonlinear, but it almost invariably starts with a conversation about change, only later getting to solutions.
When you have time, listen to this podcast about the levels of value. But to sum it up in a few words, the lowest value level is your product itself. The second level is your experience, things like your service and support. The third level is the tangible business result you create. The fourth level, the highest level, advances strategic outcomes.
To give you a quick glimpse of why lower-level weapons are impotent when it comes to decision-makers, imagine you have 20 minutes to brief a C-level executive. How much time would you want to spend telling him about your company, your existing clients, and your solution? How much time would you want to use to explain the features and benefits of your solution? If you answered anything but “zero minutes,” you need to update your sales approach and your weapons.
More Effective Weapons and Approaches
There are better approaches and better weapons available to you. These weapons offer higher value levels, addressing a client’s strategic outcomes and the changes they need to make to produce better results. They start the conversation at the highest level of value, working backward towards the lower levels, which often appear much later and typically with different stakeholders.
The weapons that makeup what we call Level 4 Value Creation are more effective in the two ways necessary to create and win new opportunities—as well as to vanquish your competitors. These weapons start by defining the strategic outcomes your client needs, the reasons they need to change, and how they should think about the decisions that will impact their future results.
When you recognize that being consultative means helping facilitate your client’s decision-making around their business, it is clear that you create value by altering their assumptions, providing them with new information, and shaping the lens through which they see their business and their decisions. Not only do your clients benefit when it comes to value creation, but by using more effective weapons, you create a preference to buy from you.
Approaches for Different Stakeholders and L4VC
Be careful here, since value is in the eye of the beholder. You can still use an underpowered weapon with decision-makers and leaders, something you recognized in the scenario with the C-Level executive. But you can also use an overpowered weapon with a stakeholder who needs a different level of value.
In many cases, the end-user of your solution cares very deeply about the solution and the experience. Depending on what you sell, they may be incredibly wowed by your product or your demo. However, they care very little about the strategic outcomes, as the responsibility for those outcomes belongs to people in leadership.
There are other stakeholders who need you to provide a product that delivers a better experience. Some of these stakeholders won’t use what you sell, but they will have to interface with your company. Maybe your IT department needs to have access or Accounting needs some special consideration. In the new world of sales, where consensus is consistently necessary to win big deals, you are going to need their consent.
Managers are generally leaders, especially as authority continues to be pushed down in organizations. To serve them, you need a full complement of modern weapons. The product and solution both matter, as does the experience. But they also need their teams to be able to execute. Even managers outside of executive leadership need you to share how your solution contributes to their strategic goals.
Finally, leaders need help creating the strategic outcomes their business needs. Most sales approaches are still missing the ability to create the kind of compelling, differentiated value that creates a preference to buy from them. Effective salespeople can bridge that gap by positioning themselves as truly consultative—as trusted advisors who can help ensure their clients have a competitive advantage in their marketplace.
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