I am tempted to tell a long story about a comment on LinkedIn asking this question, but I am afraid I won't create enough value for you, Dear Reader. Instead, I am diving right into the answer without delay.
The only vehicle we have for creating value for our clients and prospective clients is a conversation, so it's important to recognize that the conversation is the primary variable when it comes to who wins and loses a client's business. Most salespeople are unaware of this because they have been trained to believe that their "solution" is what creates value for the client. They’ve also been taught that their company is a variable that influences the client to buy from the salesperson. While these things may be considerations later in the conversation, only that they don't create any value early on.
Where We Find Our Clients and Value Creation
We tend to find our prospective clients struggling to get the results they need. One reason a decision-maker accepts a meeting is to begin the process of improving those results. When something has worked for a long time, the decision-maker and their team may not understand why it no longer works, especially if the root cause is external forces. Even in many successful companies, it is common for decision-makers to miss the inflection point, the moment when things changed. The same client may have internal factors that are causing them to produce results that are less than they should be.
The salesperson who starts a conversation using a legacy approach is almost certain to have a difficult time creating value for their prospective client. The topics are not only uninteresting, but unhelpful. No information about your company, your clients, or your products addresses the client’s need to identify and understand the root causes of their poor results. Asking the client about their "problem" provides the client no value.
Value creation often takes the form of explaining what has changed and how it impacts the client's results. There are many ways to educate the client about the forces that harm their results. Doing so can help replace the client's assumptions with a clearer lens to view their business and their challenges. Some variation of an executive briefing often works well to create a paradigm shift, which creates value. While clients don't love hearing about your company in early conversations, they do like learning something that will help them improve their results.
Value Creation from the Client’s Perspective
Let us agree that a decision-maker is charged with deciding, hence the title. Let's also assume the decision-maker is an intelligent person who happens to lack the knowledge and experience to make a decision they are rarely required to make. The decision-maker has the intellectual humility to know that they don’t know everything they need to. This leader cannot afford to get the decision wrong without it harming their business, and thus they hope to find someone who can cover the gaps in their knowledge and experience.
This should make it clear why a conversation about your company is impotent when it comes to value creation. Before deciding what to buy and who to buy from, other decisions must be made. You and the client must be looking at the company through the same lens. To get to that point, you need to give the decision-maker the information they are missing. This is also why talking about a “solution” should only come later in the sales conversation.
Creating value in the sales conversation comes from talking about things that help clients understand the decision they are required to make. A good consultant would provide their client with a list of factors to consider when making the best decision to improve their results. That consultant would have nothing to sell except their advice and their recommendations. The ability to recognize these factors, how each should be weighted, and what will work best based on what the client needs and what is possible, are topics that enable the client to make the right decision. Helping the client understand how different companies create value, what they do well, and where they are challenged provides for an educated decision, one that may prevent failure in the future.
Creating Value by Helping the Client Pursue Change
It is important to recognize that your opportunity is your client's change initiative. The sooner you recognize this fact, the more you understand that you and your client are engaged in change management. For example, helping the client identify the stakeholders who will be allowed to weigh in on any decision and start building consensus creates value. Having the advice of someone who helps companies improve their results is helpful for leaders who don’t often make these sorts of changes.
Asking the client about their problem and pitching them your company, products, and services isn't creating the kind of value that scores points for the salesperson facilitating the conversation.
There may be no better way to understand value creation than acting as if you are a highly paid consultant who is being hired to help the client improve their results solely through your counsel, advice, and recommendations. One of the most powerful ways to increase the value you create in the sales conversation is to remove anything that doesn't create value for the client.
Value creation comes from educating your client on the current environment, the forces that cause challenges, their outdated internal processes, and the root cause of their problems, and by providing information and insights that allow the client to make changes and improve their results.