“Adding value” is an abused term in sales, nearing commodity status.
It means everything and, consequently, it means nothing. It’s like the check engine light in your car. It might be something important, but then it might not. At some point you just ignore it.
Unfortunately, it’s the promise many sales people make to clients.
CEB, the respected company many of you know as The Executive Board, recently interviewed 687 business-to-business sales people and asked them how they prefer to use unexpected, additional time with clients:
- 49% would better assess clients’ needs.
- 24% would discuss how to customize their offerings to fit clients’ needs.
- 21% would educate clients about their offerings.
- 6% would teach the client something new about their business.
Let’s do some armchair analysis on those numbers: 49% would ask more questions and 24% would keep pushing products, which means 73% would NOT add value!
CEB’s conclusion was simple: what reps say they would do the least—educate and teach—are the two things they should be doing most.
I see a couple of explanations for the 73%. First, many sales people simply won’t venture much outside their comfort zone, which is product. It’s the crutch they turn to first. Second, adding real value is hard. It takes time and preparation; curiosity and creativity. There are no shortcuts.
Unfortunately, this data says only 6% of sales people are up to the task, which means the vast majority of clients appear to be getting the short straw.
Clients want sustainable value, not stop-gap, short term answers. They want to deal with people who have their best interests in mind. The numbers above paint a grim picture for those wishes.
We had the opportunity a few days ago to practice what we preach.
We were referred to an agent in Florida who is the life specialist for a medium size P & C agency. She was hired last year to shock the agency’s life business back to life. The agency has been around more than 30 years and has more than 6,000 clients. It’s a trusted partner to many of those clients, yet in a brief discussion it was clear she wasn’t taking advantage of that trust.
We suggested she step back in time and draw on a time-tested tactic: the personal business letter. It’s a simple one page, hand-signed letter from the agency owner introducing the agent and asking the client if they would, as a favor to him, take a few minutes to talk with his agent about some exciting new things the agency is doing. Icing on the cake: the letter goes out with a stamp.
It’s an important message from a trusted source calling in a favor. It’s using some of that precious brand equity the agency has built over three decades. It’s a door opener that no email can match.
The letter isn’t the story here… it is just one way to skin the cat. The sustainable value is to build a program that leans hard into the brand’s trust and engage those inside the business in the journey, starting with the agency owner. Define the high potential clients to attack. Spend time talking about each client’s situation and, for those special clients, create a plan just for them. And then communicate that value over and over.
This approach will help the agent connect the dots between the agency and its clients.
Not once in the discussion did we mention products.
The flip side of the disappointing findings from this research is an opportunity the size of Texas for sales people willing to step away from the pack. So, let’s talk how a sales person might start the process using a seemingly simple three-step process. Set aside a few hours next week for this exercise:
- Identify 5-10 hot prospects that you have talked with but haven’t been able to close; business or consumer, doesn’t matter.
- Answer these questions about each:
- What are their financial goals?
- What keeps them up at night regarding money and protecting their family and/or business?
- What are their opportunities and threats?
- Develop 2-3 strategies (not products) to potentially solve their issues.
- Send each a hand-signed business letter telling them you’ve thought about their situation and have a few options to discuss. Tell them just enough to get their attention and follow up with a call.
They will have to meet with you to find out the rest of your story!
A word of caution: Don’t short change question 3. It’s the special sauce that will reveal how far away from the pack you’ve started to move.
Let me know how it goes. Call or email any time.
Thanks for reading.
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