As sellers, we're continually told to sell value and to let our prospects know about all of our value-added services. After all, that's how we're going to win the sales. Right?
Not necessarily. Value is relative. It's in the eye of the beholder. So much depends on how the decision makers you're dealing with perceive "value." And even then, selling "value" may be totally ineffective - or not enough to make the difference.
To be successful in today's business environment, you may need
to become invaluable to your customers.
Basically customers can be segmented into three different types based on their perceptions of value and what you can do to increase your sales effectiveness when working with them.
These buyers know exactly what they want and how to use it. They don't need sellers to explain the details. Commodity buyers typically value:
- Low costs. They don't want to pay any more than necessary. To be successful with these buyers, companies need to pull as many costs as they can out of their supply chain.
- No hassles. Make it simple, simple, simple to do business with your company. Give them an 800 number, send quick quotes, or allow easy online ordering and they're happy.
We're all commodity buyers at times. When I order things like contact lenses and office supplies, I just want good pricing and fast service. As a seller, there's little you can do to create value or sell "value add." I really don't care. It's up to your company to make it cheaper, simpler to order, delivered to my door and with easy returns if I need to send it back.
These people are looking far beyond the scope of your products or services. They want a strategic partnership. They're looking at how to best leverage their organization's core competencies in combination with another company's core competencies. These buyers value:
- Intimate and strategic relationships between multiple levels within both organizations.
- Mutual investments in joint projects.
- Merging of systems to accomplish more than either organization could do alone.
Working with Strategic Partner buyers requires a major corporate commitment and is far beyond the scope of any one seller. If your company isn't capable or willing to do this, these buyers aren't interested in working with you.
By yourself, you can't create the value they need. But if your company chooses to do this, you and your firm will become absolutely invaluable.
"I Need to Make a Sound Decision" Buyer
These buyers are either spending a lot of money on a decision or they don't know everything there is to know about what they're buying. Typically their decision process is complex, involves multiple people and takes place over an extended period of time.
If corporate decision makers are seriously considering your product or service, they assume it meets their basic requirements and that your organization is reputable. Having a decent offering gets you in the game, but does not typically provide enough value to win the business.
In fact, with these these buyers, the seller creates the value by what they personally bring to the relationship. These buyers value sellers who:
- Help them understand their problems in greater depth.
- Add additional insights into the challenges they face.
- Share relevant information regarding "best practices."
- Develop unique, innovative approaches to resolving their business issues.
- Keep them up-to-date on trends in the industry and how others are addressing them.
- Help them find ways around the obstacles they're encountering, and
- Propose new ways to do more with the same investment.
Becoming an Invaluable Resource
What makes a seller invaluable? The ability to contribute so much more with each and every customer interaction - so much so that they can't imagine doing business without you.
Let me give you an example. Say your company handles direct mailing programs, a fairly non-differentiated service offering.
Here are some ways that you, as the seller could become invaluable to your customers. You could:
- Share ideas about other company's direct mail programs - what works, what doesn't.
- Help them find ways to increase the results of their existing direct mail programs.
- Show them how to reduce the overall costs of the program while maintaining its effectiveness and integrity.
- Let them know what their competitors are doing.
- Develop ways to increase the quality of their database.
If you keep thinking, you can come up with even more ways to become invaluable such as:
- Working collaboratively with related vendors (i.e. agencies, telemarketing firms) to smooth out the hand-offs.
- Helping them establish important criteria for their vendor selection process that they currently may not be aware of.
- Proposing ideas for new programs to help them achieve their desired marketing results.
- Acting as an advocate within your own organization on issues impacting the customer.
- Suggesting ways to improve the work flow between all companies and internal departments working on the project.
To become invaluable, you must bring more to the relationship than just your standard product or service. What you want to create is a situation where corporate decision makers can't live without your ideas, insights, and knowledge.
Becoming invaluable doesn't just "happen." You need to invest in yourself. Learn more about your customer's business. Figure out how to help them improve it. Be an idea generator. Become an expert in your field. It takes a real commitment on your part.
Only the best make that commitment. But it truly sets them apart from everyone else and literally makes them invaluable.
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Jill Konrath, author of Selling to Big Companies, helps sellers crack into corporate accounts, shorten sales cycles and win big contracts. She is a frequent speaker at national sales meetings and association events. For more articles like this, visit http://www.SellingtoBigCompanies.com . Get a BONUS Sales Call Planning Guide ($19.95 value) when you sign up for the Selling to Big Companies e-newsletter.