Let's look directly at an inconvenient truth most are unwilling to recognize or acknowledge: Your company, as good as it is, has competitors who are equally as good (and some may be better). Your company isn't going to be perceived as different when you and your competitors both try to convince a prospective client that your company is the best choice for the better results they need. It's also unfortunate that your solution, as different as you might believe it to be, isn't all that different than your competitors’ in your prospective client's view. Your sales force isn't likely to find any differences compelling enough to create a buyer’s preference for your company and your solution.
When you do exactly what your competitors are doing, you create a strategic disadvantage, specifically that the salesperson comes across as a commodity selling a commodity. Remember that commodities are interchangeable, so this presentation makes it nearly impossible to differentiate from competitors. Those who want to find a strategic advantage will need to make a number of changes that create greater value for their contacts and prospective clients.
Eliminating All Anti-Value Conversations
The concept of via negativa is that one can improve by removing something instead of adding something. For example, you might lose more weight by removing the foods that cause you to gain weight than by increasing your exercise. Even though both would improve your health, removing bad calories and creating a caloric deficit may do more.
In the sales conversation, the things worth removing are excessive rapport building at the beginning of a first meeting and the "why us" presentation that bores an already skeptical client into feeling they are serving a prison sentence, desperately waiting to be released from a punishment they don't deserve. These techniques attempt to create relevance and credibility, but they do the opposite of what is intended. Another thing to do away with is a list of the name-brand clients your company serves, something that doesn't create any value for your client. All of these techniques create anti-value, meaning they use up your client’s time without giving them anything in return.
Removing these staples of the legacy approach gives you the space to replace them with something designed to create greater value for the client, something that will improve your team's ability to create greater value.
Your sales force needs to be your competitive advantage, but putting them in this position will make them uncomfortable. Remember, when you have done something the same way for a long time, it can feel awkward to do something different. But, with a little practice and experience, your sales force will become a strategic advantage for your company and your clients.
Creating Strategic Value
To create a strategic advantage for your company, you first have to recognize the contest in sales isn't between two companies or two solutions, but between two sales teams. If you have ever wondered why a bigger and arguably better company with an arguably better solution loses to a smaller company with what you might perceive as an inferior solution, the answer is that they created greater value for the decision-makers in the sales conversation.
To understand this variable, you have to start by recognizing what a decision-maker and leader does. They make decisions. The AC/DC environment (one of Accelerating, Constant, Disruptive Change) requires a decision to be made in the face of uncertainty. No leader wants to make a decision that, if made poorly, causes their company to fail instead of improving their results. Leaders, yourself included, benefit from the advice and counsel of someone who is One-Up and able to help them make the best decision for their company and their future.
If you want to reach me, teach me. The salesperson is positioned to create value in the sales conversation because they have the insights and perspective that can only be gained by helping clients change. This person has the experience to explain the forces that are preventing the client from getting the results they need, providing an understanding that makes a decision easier, even if the decision-maker is plagued by uncertainty. This is strategic value creation.
In a conversation that creates anti-value, the salesperson asks the same questions as their competitors about the client’s problem. However, the salesperson creating strategic value has a deep understanding of the client's challenges and starts by explaining why the client has the challenge in the first place.
Teaching the client what factors to consider in their situation and what is possible for them also creates value, as it helps the client recognize the changes they need to make and how they should weigh different factors and choices, including the changes they will need to make to ensure they succeed in improving their business.
One of the reasons buyers suffer remorse after choosing the wrong partner is that they didn't know how to assess the different delivery models they were offered by different sales organizations. The salesperson who can sit beside the decision-maker and explain the benefits and concessions of each makes them something closer to a strategic advisor, differentiating the salesperson from their competitors.
Is Your Sales Force Your Strategic Advantage?
Your sales force could be—and should be—a strategic advantage. For your sales force to provide that advantage, they need to create a strategic level of value for a client’s decision-makers and stakeholders. This value comes less from the company or their solution, and more from the help they provide in making a decision.
To help clients requires that the sales force's differentiator is their counsel, advice, and recommendations. Consider the difference between the legacy approach, which looks, sounds, and feels like a pitch, and a business advisor whose sole goal in the sales conversation is to enable the client with the education they need to ensure their future success.
The way to make your team a strategic advantage is to increase their overall effectiveness in the sales conversation, the single-vehicle for creating value for your prospective clients.