Competitive Superiority

Execute Competitive Moves and Countermoves to Win the Business

By David Yesford, Michael Leimbach, PhD

Salespeople are often told to “sell the value,” but what does that mean?

Precious little—especially when ceaseless technological advances and rapid marketing shifts drive customers to rethink their priorities and what will help them drive their business forward.

Consider the following scenario:

A salesperson had worked with her customer contact for several years, helping him leverage her leading-edge technology to deliver on key business goals. She built a solid working relationship and became her customer’s resource for insights—and relied on her customer for new opportunities.

When the customer put a new project out for bid, the salesperson wasn’t concerned; she was certain that he did so only to satisfy procurement’s requirements. She presented her proposal with anticipation, satisfied that her solution was on target and her pricing was competitive.

A week later, she received a call from her customer. She picked up his call with enthusiastic confidence, sure that he would ask her team to start implementation soon. Instead, he said they’d chosen a vendor that offered “better value.”

The salesperson was stunned. Her customer always told her how much he prized her company’s quality, reliability, and service.

What she didn’t know—but her competitor did—was that the buying committee was led by a finance director, who was concerned about capital expenditures, and the COO, who was concerned about minimizing operational disruptions. When balanced against these overriding interests, the salesperson’s high service levels, while nice, were irrelevant.

In short, she lost because she didn’t understand what the customer organization as a whole valued most.

When has this happened to one of your salespeople?

We say when—not if—because all salespeople get blindsided at least once in their career. That’s hardly surprising. Data shows that when customers tell salespeople they appreciate their work, they mean it. In a study conducted by the Peppers & Rogers Group, 80 percent of customers described themselves as “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their current vendor—just before they switched to a new one.1

What gives? And—more importantly—how can you make sure this doesn’t happen to your team?

Salespeople often believe they know what the customer wants and needs, based on their own company’s value proposition and one or two discovery conversations with trusted contacts.

Salespeople Know What Customers Value . . . Don’t They?

Some salespeople rely on information in an RFP to align their offering with the customer’s defined requirements, but the RFP includes only selective chapters of the overall story. To learn the whole story and find out what really matters, salespeople have to acquire the perspectives of multiple stakeholders, not just one or two call points.

Finally, salespeople have gathered the information they need, but they view what they’ve learned through the prism of their own company’s offerings and value proposition. Their view of value is colored by what they think is important, not key stakeholders’ perspectives. Consequently, they tend to present “speeds and feeds”—the technical aspects of their offering—and fail to connect the dots between the customer’s business issues and their solution.

This failure leads to lost sales. In 2017, SiriusDecisions reported that sales leaders’ top challenge was their sales teams’ “inability to communicate value differentiation.”

Getting over this hurdle requires salespeople to understand:

  • The customer’s view of value
  • How to ensure they are more closely aligned with the customer than their competitors
To find out what really matters, salespeople have to acquire the perspectives of multiple stakeholders, not just one or two call points.

David Yesford

David Yesford, Senior Vice President of Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc. and Managing Director of Wilson Learning APAC, has more than 30 years of experience developing and implementing human performance improvement solutions around the world. He brings valuable experience, strategic direction, and global perspective to his work with clients. Mr. Yesford is an active member of the Wilson Learning Global Executive Board, with current responsibility at a global level. Over the years, he has held strategic roles in our core content areas of sales and leadership, as well as e-learning and strategic consulting. He has also held managing director positions in both China and India.

Mr. Yesford is the contributing author of several books, including Win-Win Selling, Versatile Selling, The Social Styles Handbook, and The Sales Training Book 2. He has also been published in numerous business publications throughout the United States, Europe, Latin America, and Asia Pacific. Mr. Yesford frequently speaks at international conferences and summits, focusing on issues such as sales and sales strategy, leadership, employee and customer engagement, brand, and strategy implementation.

Michael Leimbach, PhD

Michael Leimbach, PhD, is a globally recognized expert in instructional design and leadership development. As Vice President of Global Research and Development for Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc., he has worked with numerous Global 1000 organizations in Australia, England, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and throughout the United States. Over more than 30 years, Dr. Leimbach had developed Wilson Learning’s diagnostic, learning, and performance improvement capabilities, published over 100 professional articles, coauthored four books, been Editor-in-Chief for the highly acclaimed ADHR research journal, and is a frequent speaker at national and global conferences. He also serves on the ISO Technical Committee (TC232) on Quality Standards for Learning Service Providers and on the University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development Dean’s Advisory Board.