The role of sales professionals is to sell products. Wrong. The role of sales professionals is to improve the performance of each and every customer (if they can).
Once you believe that mindset you need to translate that thinking into action. It’s such a simple concept – improving the lives and performance of our customers. However, like all great strategies, it’s worth nothing without impeccable execution. For that to occur requires remarkable preparation! Improving the lives of your customers is trapped in your competitive value propositions.
Deploying your competitive value proposition requires significant homework to be done by the sales, marketing, and product management teams. It also requires a Sales Process that gives value propositions a key role in customer relationship management.
Recent work we completed in the Capital Equipment sector will serve as a useful case study. Let me list that preparation and then discuss how to deploy value propositions in the field (absolutely translatable to any sector):
- Discover the future product plans and strategies of your customers.
- Discover what defines your contact’s success, all of them, not just the engineers recommending the machine to purchase.
- As a sales professional, ensure you have deep knowledge of all your own products including derivatives that apply to very specific applications.
- Work out if your product family can support your customer’s product plans by improving the customer’s probability of success. How does your solution seamlessly fit into their world? Let’s take an example. Your main contact at the customer is the production manager at their facility in Atlanta. She is charged with transforming the units per hour through the factory at a specific quality threshold to meet yield requirements. So how does your system impact that objective?
- Using all internal resources with their company (engineers, product management, service staff) sales professionals should prepare insightful questions that get to the truth of their customer’s environment. The quality of these questions defines sales professionals in today’s marketplace. 100% knowledge of your own product is assumed.
- Working alongside your product management team and product marketing team, sales professionals need to build specific value propositions that are quantified in terms of metrics the customer understands and measures.
- Next and possibly the most difficult. The sales, product management, and marketing teams need to research the value propositions of all major competitors. The more specific the application assumptions the better. We now have competitive value propositions for you and your competitors.
- Create a Return on Investment (ROI) model which demonstrates to the customer using a range of production volume assumptions why you deliver the best investment returns in the industry.
Execution in the field
This demands a sales process that places diagnostic questions at the top of the agenda. Think of an investigative journalist who is digging for the truth. How can you hope to help someone if you don’t understand their objectives, their plans, how they are measured?
In the capital equipment world, you are looking for applications challenges you know you can solve and you’re looking for symptoms of issues that may have costly consequences. You are opening up the prospect with smart, insightful questions. You will explore the causes of problems. This will lead to a realization by the client that there may be a better way. A way that prevents these causes from happening.
Most prospects are naïve to the true consequences of symptoms that are present. Take the automotive sector. There is huge demand for systems that automate the production line. Robots, assembly solutions, parts manufacturing, etc. One client, the market leader, builds Camera Assembly and Test machines (CMAT) selling to the automotive sector. These are amazingly precise systems that generate fully aligned cameras for Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). They are not the cheapest. However its really important for customers to realize the true cost of buying a cheap machine. If the quality of the output misses the mark, then down the line, the consequential costs on a $50m production line could be significant. This is where competitive value propositions can very powerful. They help customers see the total cost of ownership of an investment decision which always involves more than just the check being written for the machine.
Deploying value propositions demands that sales professionals have clarity over the customer’s plans and are able to articulate the value their products bring to that specific environment. And not just value in a vacuum, but value that is better than the competitors.
This is why selling is not just about sales professionals anymore. Today we need to work as a team across all of our disciplines to bring to market a set of products that solves customer’s real problems, not those imagined in an R&D lab. We are selling improvements, a value that makes a difference and it comes in many forms from hardware to software to services to often all three.
The author can be reached at Ian@TPPBoston.com