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The Gist

  • At one time, information about your products and services would have been valuable enough to earn a meeting.
  • Later, information about your solution seemed to hold the value, as it solved the client’s problem.
  • Now, the value you create during your conversations with prospective clients is found in your insights, your advice, and your recommendations.

The idea of what makes up value in B2B sales has changed dramatically over time. But because our sales approaches fall into three different generations, each different in some meaningful way, some salespeople still haven’t recognized what buyers value.

Legacy Laggard: Products and Services

From Legacy to Modern Sales Approaches Parts 1-2:

Legacy Laggard: Products and Services

Before there was an internet, buyers had a difficult time finding information about the things they needed to buy. Acquiring information required speaking to a salesperson, whether the purchase was for a business or a consumer. As the primary providers of information, it was important for salespeople to speak effectively about their products or services. Their presentations were also the most effective way to provide prospective clients with the information they needed for a purchase.

There were a number of evolutions inside this approach. To differentiate their products and services from their competitor’s, some salespeople explained the “features” and the “benefits” the client or customer might expect. Later sales pitches added “advantages.” The result was something like “our soap is made with coconut oil to keep your skin hydrated, making you the envy of your neighbors.”

At the time these approaches came into use, professional salespeople developed practical and effective strategies and tactics to sing their products’ praises and win over clients. Typically, the salesperson’s knowledge would be limited to their products and services, expertise that is still necessary but no longer sufficient for modern B2B sales.

Legacy Solutions: Problems and Solutions

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Legacy Solutions: Problems and Solutions

In B2B sales, the legacy laggard approach started to give way to a focus on solutions: rather than simply pushing products, salespeople elicited data on clients’ problems and sold them solutions. As you might imagine, when everyone else was selling features, benefits, and advantages, potentially solving specific problems for the business was both exciting and attractive.

The main focus of this approach was to identify the client’s “pain point,” “hot button,” “dissatisfaction,” or “the gap in their results.” Much of how we sell today is based on the approaches that developed as long as forty years ago. The idea that your product was solving problems made your offer more compelling, providing clients a rationale for buying something practical and effective. You know you are selling using a legacy solution approach when your main drive is to find a problem that fits your solution.

Much of how we sell today dates back to the “legacy laggard” and the “legacy solution” approaches to selling. You have to be careful when evaluating approaches, though. For example, the legacy solution approach requires the salesperson to have knowledge about their prospective client’s problems and how to solve them, something that’s still important today. Even though there are better, more modern ways to sell, your contact still needs a compelling reason to buy what you sell!

Modern: Insights and a Provocative Perspective

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Modern: Insights and a Provocative Perspective

Your clients can now acquire information about your company, your products, and your solutions with nothing more than a few keystrokes. Because this is true, simply sharing information about these areas creates little to no value for your clients.

The evolution from solutions selling to a modern, insight-based approach has been a huge leap forward, one that gives consultative salespeople a massive advantage over their legacy competitors. The idea is for the salesperson to develop and share insights that provide their clients with a new perspective, something we refer to as a higher-resolution lens through which to see their world.

These insights differ from the legacy solution approach by starting with a theory as to why your client needs to change, then supporting that theory with data and a perspective about what the client should do to improve their results. As we will see later, the goal of discovery has shifted from “finding a problem” to “teaching the client that they have a problem and why they are not producing the better results available to them.” Instead of asking the client what is keeping them up at night, the modern approach is more proactive, seeking to help the prospective client recognize what should be keeping them up at night.

One of the reasons this approach is powerful now is that it provides the context necessary for your perspective client to make sense of their world, enabling them to make more informed decisions for their business, decisions that lead to better results. In an increasingly complex environment that is marked by constant, accelerating, and disruptive change, it is difficult to make decisions. There is often a greater fear of being wrong and making things worse, leading many companies to fear change and many deals to end with a “no decision” instead of a knockout.

Like the two legacy approaches, the modern approach to sales adapts to its environment. Your clients need a consultative approach that enables them to recognize the need to change, to understand their world and the nature of their challenge, and to gain the certainty necessary to move forward in a time of uncertainty. Our approaches to professional selling are a response to what our clients need from us, including the type of information they need.

Read the next chapter in the series: Part 4 | Discovery

Do Good Work

  • Recognize that the internet provides a large amount of information about your products and services, so that information is inadequate for value creation.
  • Even though you are helping your clients improve their results, don’t believe your solution has sufficient value to win deals.
  • Pivot to a modern sales approach to create the value your client needs for you to earn their business and help them reach the best results for their company.
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Post by Anthony Iannarino on June 15, 2021

Written and edited by human brains and human hands.

Anthony Iannarino
Anthony Iannarino is a writer, an international speaker, and an entrepreneur. He is the author of four books on the modern sales approach, one book on sales leadership, and his latest book called The Negativity Fast releases on 10.31.23. Anthony posts daily content here at TheSalesBlog.com.
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