The Gist:

  • The type of recommendations you make is an indication of the value you create for your clients and your ability to differentiate and create a preference.
  • Because most salespeople sell at the same level, the value at that level has been commoditized, making B2B sales a challenging endeavor.
  • Success in differentiating and creating a preference requires that you move up to a higher level.

The different levels of value are easily seen in the recommendation you provide your clients and prospects. The lower the level of the value of your recommendation, the more you look and sound like a commodity—and the more certain you will treated as one. The higher the value level of your recommendation, the more you are going to be differentiated in a meaningful way, increasing your ability to create and win new opportunities.

A crane lifts things out of a mans hand

Recommending Your Product or Service

There is not much difference between tossing a catalogue on your prospective client’s desk and pointing them to the product that you believe they need to buy and the idea that the greatest level of value you can offer your client is to advise your contacts to buy what you sell. If that is the sum total of the recommendation you provide, you already find B2B sales to be incredibly challenging.

The modern day catalog is the internet. The internet has all but decimated the need for a salesperson for transactional sales. Not only can the client find out most of what they need to know, but the addition of video can provide additional information. Some companies have built websites with enough insights about how to choose and use a product that it would difficult for a salesperson to match, if the only recommendation is to buy their product.

What is important to note here is that when the only advice you can provide your client is the recommendation they buy your product, you are not creating any real or differentiated value. The recognition that this is your only real recommendation suggests you need to move up to recommending something more.

A woman climbs the steps towards a solution

Recommending Your Solution

The ability to provide your clients and prospects with advice about how to solve the problem that has captured their attention because it is harming their results is a higher level of recommendation. Providing recommendations about “how” to solve the problem your client is struggling with requires a different level of value. Instead of telling them by this product, your advise is around designing something that is going to help them eliminate their existing problem and produce better results.

When you compare the two recommendations, recommending the product requires that you know what product to suggest, something that, while important, isn’t as difficult or valuable as helping your clients solve a problem that is preventing them from generating the results they need. Generally, you need to know more to be able to advise your client on how to improve their results.

In Eat Their Lunch, this I selling at the third level of value. This level is the floor when it comes to professional B2B sales. You have to sell at this level to be relevant at all, but it isn’t going to differentiate you from your many competitors, and if it doesn’t already have your clients treating you like a commodity, it soon will.

Win customers away from your competition. Check out Eat Their LunchEat Their Lunch

A Short Diversion: A few years ago, I met a salesperson who had decided to quit selling because his clients treated him as if he and what he sold was nothing more than a commodity. He believed himself to be an excellent salesperson, but concluded that because he was struggling to sell, the future would be one without salespeople. He figured that if the client knew as much or more as he did, he was irrelevant. His mistake was believing that no other salesperson could create a higher level of value than he was capable of himself. He was—and is—wrong in his assessment.

Differentiation in B2B sales has moved up a level, and one that is requires new competencies and demands much more of the salesperson.

Two hands play chess

Your Strategic Advice

The advice that rises to the fourth level of value, strategic, creates greater value for your client and it (as of the time of this post) almost certain to differentiate you as a salesperson. You need to differentiate yourself if you hope to create a preference to buy from you. When there is no difference between you and your competitors in the sales conversation, your client can’t distinguish one from the other and has nothing to prefer (the root cause of the hapless salesperson above, who quit the game because he believed he could no longer win).

To make this point, we have to eliminate the idea that recommending that the client buy our product is enough, nor is our ability to provide advice on how to solve a problem, even though both are still incredibly important, but not when it comes to your recommendation.

The highest level of value is strategic. Instead of recommending your client buys your product or your solution, you recommend that they take a course of action that will improve their business and their results. Much of the time, the advice you provide means the client has to change something they do, requiring them to give up the assumptions that cause them to struggle to produce results. Consultative sales means you provide advice around the decisions your clients make, not that you recommend your product or solution. Your product and your solutions may be how you help them execute your advice.

Here is a test you can use that might help you see the higher level of value, and it may remind you of a deal where you provided a strategic level of value through your recommendation:

Make a recommendation as to what your client needs to do to improve their result, without them having to buy your product or your solution, without saying your company’s name, and without having to buy from you. If this advice would be right for your client even if they executed it with your competitor, you are on the right track.

One thing that seems to be true about the strategic level of value you might create for your client is that it invariably requires that you help them learn something about themselves, their business, and the decision you are helping them to make. It also almost always requires that they change.

Do Good Work:

  • At what level are the recommendations you provide your clients?
  • What advantage does your advice provide over your competitor’s advice and recommendations?
  • What would you have to learn to to be able to provide strategic advice?
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Tags:
Sales, 2021
Anthony Iannarino
Post by Anthony Iannarino
February 16, 2021
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