A long time ago, I noticed that the contacts I called on were not always interested in the meeting they had accepted. The first signs showed up in 2001 when I noticed that there were more stakeholders in meetings. Not too much later, I noticed that contacts sat silently while I walked them through the traditional legacy approach. Eventually, I ran into contacts who asked me not to use a slide deck. Instead, they wanted a conversation.
When you’ve successfully used an approach for years or decades, it can be difficult to believe it no longer works. It’s easier to accept that something else has started causing contacts to avoid a second meeting. If you haven't made any changes to how you sell in the last couple of decades, you and your team are facing more challenges, and it's only going to grow more difficult from here.
It's an odd thing that salespeople who help others change might resist doing so themselves. But without making the changes necessary to succeed, those who cling to the past are going to continue losing to competitors who have already made significant changes.
The Primary Variable Is Value Creation
It's easy to believe that the contest for a client’s business is between a number of companies or their “solutions.” However, the competition isn't between companies or products. It is between salespeople.
The primary variable in the contest between competing salespeople is the value they create in the sales conversation.
There is a certain advantage that accrues to the salesperson who can create value for their clients. Most of that advantage comes from information disparity. The salesperson who has helped dozens or hundreds of companies improve their results has a large set of experiences that helps them understand what the client needs to know and what they should do. We describe this as being One-Up. It’s impossible for your client to know everything that you do because they lack your experience. Working over and over to help your clients make the changes they need, and having the business acumen to understand and communicate the reasons for their challenges, allows you to create value for your contacts and an advantage over your rivals.
Value Creation or Die
Recently, a person criticized the concept of being One-Up by describing it as "arrogant." (I’m skeptical that they actually read my book.) What is truly arrogant is walking into a room without creating value and instead offering contacts a conversation about how your company and solution are better than what your competitors offer—and expecting to win the client’s business. This approach creates "anti-value." Anti-value can be most easily defined as wasting the client's time by not providing anything relevant or helpful in the sales conversation.
Your role as a salesperson is to create value for your contacts. You create value when you help your client understand how best to make the decision to change and how to go about improving their results. You create value when you facilitate and guide their buyer's journey. You create value when you help them understand the external forces that cause their poor performance and drive the need to change. You also create value when you illuminate the internal forces and decisions that are, in part or in whole, responsible for poor outcomes.
Without creating differentiated value in the sales conversation, you have a low probability of winning the client's business. It’s arrogant to believe otherwise.
Evidence that You Create No Value
Here are a few indicators that your sales approach creates too little value:
- Inability to convert a first meeting to a second meeting: The inability to convert a first meeting to a second meeting is hard evidence that the contacts in that meeting didn't find your conversation valuable enough to want to hear more. Most busy people don't like to waste their time.
- Not being able to meet with other contacts or senior leadership in a second meeting: The first meeting is a tryout. Your contact is assessing how much value you create. When you create too little value, they aren’t going to embarrass themselves by inviting their leadership into a meeting with an unimpressive salesperson.
- Contacts in a first meeting don't attend additional meetings: When a contact attends a meeting and misses the next couple meetings, this is a hint that this person may have seen and heard all they need to know that there in nothing to gain in another meeting.
- An increase in lost deals: An increase in lost deals isn't evidence that the client doesn't believe your company isn't a good company. Nor does it mean your solution isn't capable of helping them improve their results. Instead, it means the salesperson hasn't provided enough help enabling the decision the contacts are trying to get right on the first try. If you believe the salesperson isn’t responsible for a lost deal, then you must also consent that they shouldn’t get credit for deals they won.
- A pipeline of stalled deals: I know you want to believe the deals in your pipeline are real. I know you need some of them to cross the line and help you retire your quota for the year. Sadly, the longer a deal stays dormant in your CRM's opportunity reports, the more certain you can be that it died a long time ago.
It's a new world in sales. Those who wish to live, survive, and thrive are going to need to recognize value creation as the currency of the realm. Those who can't—or won't—create value for their clients are going to continue to lose those who understand what their contacts need and how to deliver it—those who are One-Up.
Recently, a person encouraged me to “keep disrupting the industry.” I am not disrupting the industry. The external environment is disrupting sales. I am simply documenting the strategies, tactics, and mindset you need to succeed in sales now. It will continue to change, but for now, it's value creation or die.