Creating value is more important than articulating it. Value needs to pervade every aspect of your engagement with the buyer and be embedded within their strong business case. This ensures the necessary funding is secured without risk of competing projects diverting money or resources. Value creation, evidenced by a compelling business case, can only be achieved with intimate understanding of the customer's business through relationships at the right level that create or uncover value through solutions to serious problems or the ability to realize potential opportunities.
The goal of a professional salesperson is therefore 'value creation' before 'value projection'. Once value is established you can then focus on communicating your value proposition which must be unique and compelling. Understand however that value differentiation is what the seller needs to achieve but rarely what the buyer wants to hear about. Differentiation is nevertheless essential because customers always have a choice of suppliers who can do the job for them. Whether you are selling soap or semiconductors, widgets or ideas, products or services, bundled value or real solutions - your value proposition must be compelling.
The solution must go beyond mere features of your product or service because the real problem is almost never uniquely solved by one particular product over another. Maybe the customer actually needs a reliable supply-chain, prompt service, effective change management or something else. The product or service you sell is not a solution until it is fully aligned with addressing the real problems and delivering genuine business value.
Every product, service or solution is only worth what the market will pay for it. Your value proposition must therefore be focused on specific and tangible benefits for the customer, and directly linked to the resolution of their specific problems or opportunities - the bigger the better. Features do not necessarily equate to benefits or represent genuine value for the customer. The most powerful differentiated value propositions usually include your people, expertise and methodologies; not just your product and service. Government buyers assess value from a blend of functionality (fit for purpose) and perceived risk; price is then included in the equation to ultimately determine value for money.
Individuals and organizations universally seek best value and lowest risk. The cheapest product or solution can be perceived as higher risk and inferior value. Value is defined by the buyer, not the seller. Comparative perceptions are determinative so when seeking to identify and leverage your unique value, ask yourself the following:
- What do we offer that is of business value to the prospective customer, aligned to their specific needs and delivering tangible benefits?
- Is our product, service or solution part of a strong business case?
- How does the buyer prioritize projects and are we aligned with the required return on investment, payback period or net present ?value calculation?
- Who and what is the competition, and what are our comparative ?strengths and weaknesses?
- What combination of the following represents a compelling overall value proposition compared with the competition?
o Product or service features enabling business benefits
o Service offerings that reduce risk and deliver business value
o Individual and team skills and proven domain expertise, industry knowledge and methodologies that assure successful delivery and cultural fit with the customer
o Business model or geographic presence enabling lower risk or providing better efficiency
A strategy is only as good as the information that leads to it and is of no use unless you can execute effectively. Much of the risk in developing strategy comes from not being aware of what you do not know. The hallmark of great strategy is the obsessive gathering of relevant information then fully considering the probable consequences of any potential action. Based upon accurate intelligence, strategy must be formulated for managing key relationships, creating unique and compelling value, and defeating the competition. When considering strategy ask yourself:
- Do I have all necessary information to create executive insight and do I truly understand the decision drivers and business case?
- What is my relationship strategy and am I personally aligned with the real power-base; those with political and economic power?
- How will I engineer the customer's focus on our unique value and ?prove capability and lowest risk?
- Where will I position price to leave room to negotiate?
- Who and what is the competition and how will I create better ?value and win?
- Does the customer have an internal option (IT Department, etc.)?
- Does the customer have other projects competing for funding?
- Which of my competitors are engaged with the customer?
- How will my competitors seek to position against us and what are ?our comparative strengths and weaknesses?
Tactical mistakes can usually be corrected but strategic errors are usually fatal. Ensure you have all the information and that you run the various scenarios through in your mind and with your team before initiating pivotal actions. What outcome do you expect? How will the customer respond? How will competitors react? Thinking, rather than talking, is the most important activity in professional selling. ?There are specific engagement options for dealing with competitive threats. Jim Holden, Art Jacobs and Keith Eades are authors who have previously linked military strategy to professional selling and here is a framework for deciding how to engage competitively.
Tony Hughes is ranked as the #1 influencer on professional selling in Asia-Pacific and is a keynote speaker and best selling author. This article was originally published in LinkedIn where you can also follow Tony's award winning blog. Also visit Tony's keynote speaker website at www.TonyHughes.com.au or his sales methodology website at http://www.rsvpselling.com/.
Main image photo by Flickr: Kevin Stanchfield
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