Selling to Value

The Art and Science of Discovery

By Michael Leimbach, PhD, David Yesford

Pat was not happy as she left the meeting with a long-term customer—now a former customer.

“Pat, we have done business together for a long time,” her customer started, “but we have decided to go in a different direction this time.” The customer went on to say how ABC Company, one of Pat’s biggest competitors, worked with them to integrate ABC’s solution into the customer’s systems, resulting in faster inventory turns with fewer shipping errors, and they were able to demonstrate how this will increase margins and profit for the customer.

The ABC Company’s salesperson sold value.

Everything Has Changed, Yet Nothing Has Changed

Salespeople and sales managers are struggling.

Some have been rendered almost frozen, under the false belief that everything has changed about selling and they don’t know what to do. What had brought them confidence is now a source of anxiety and concern.

Others seem to be operating under the false assumption that nothing has changed. They believe there is no need to change their behavior or learn new skills, but then they struggle upon discovering that many of the old ways of doing things are no longer effective and they don’t understand why.

At stressful times, salespeople, and sales managers, need to reach inside themselves and rediscover the reasons they went into sales—to connect back to the values of the profession and the rewards that come from it, and yes, it is a lot more than just the money.

Selling to Value (S2V) refers to a distinct approach to selling that focuses on aligning your offering to the business value it creates for the customer. This approach requires the sales practitioner to develop an ever-expanding mindset and skill set—and it requires a commitment to a purpose that goes beyond self-interest to include both the interest of the individual customer and the interests of that customer’s business organization.

S2V needs to be considered in all aspects of the sales process: prospecting, qualifying, contacting, proposing, and closing a sales opportunity. But Selling to Value has the greatest impact on how a salesperson discovers needs. Discovering needs is at the very heart of the selling to value relationship. When done correctly, it has a profound effect on the customer’s understanding of their business and where they can generate growth.

Traditional Discovery

In a more traditional sales process, discovery is focused on gathering information about customers’ needs. The salesperson asks good questions; the prospect/customer provides relevant answers. This inquiry proceeds until needs that can be met by the features of the products or services of the selling organization are clearly understood by the salesperson. At that point, the salesperson enters into a discussion of how the features of their products or service meet or exceed the discovered needs of the customer organization. In short, the salesperson explains to the customer how to solve a business problem.

On the surface, there is nothing wrong with this needs-based selling approach; millions of salespeople use it successfully every day. Unfortunately, since almost every salesperson follows this process, your product gets compared to competitors’ products feature by feature. This parity makes it extremely difficult for both the customer and the salesperson to distinguish amongst competing solutions and may confuse the customer into inaction. Therefore, while a traditional discovery process is necessary, it is not sufficient.

Traditional needs discovery ignores additional sources of value that can be brought into consideration. At its core, S2V is a thorough consideration of how the customer organization creates value for its customers. In the S2V approach, the salesperson brings a broader understanding of the customer’s business context into an exploration of the business impact of their decision.

Selling to Value (S2V) refers to a distinct approach to selling that focuses on aligning your offering to the business value it creates for the customer.

Discovery for Selling to Value

In a recent study of buying executives, 94% indicate that they want salespeople to engage them in a business impact discussion—but those same executives indicate that only 19% of salespeople are effective in this regard.

This gap between what buying executives want and what they get is driven by three critical elements:

  1. The Intention of the Salesperson
  2. The Science of Creating Value
  3. The Art of Asking the Next Question

Intention: Where is the Energy Focused?

Where traditional selling may focus its intent on solving the customer’s problem, S2V requires a different intent—advancing the customer’s business. S2V requires salespeople to expand their role beyond finding and solving problems to truly wanting to see their customer’s business flourish and grow.

Salespeople, by their own report, experience different levels of energy associated with their sales activities. When they are focused on solving a problem and achieving their quota, their energy is internally focused and fixed on self-protection. However, when focused on advancing the customer’s business, they report that they feel more focused and fully engaged in the moment. They are free of fear and second-guessing.

Exploring enriching ways to advance the customer’s business performance, in partnership with the customer, creates new energy for creativity and innovation.

The Science of Value Creation

With this clear mindset, moving beyond solving problems and engaging in exploration of how to advance the customer’s business requires salespeople to expand the conversations they have with their customers. These expanded conversations need to follow a discovery process that is focused on the customer as a business. That is, the conversation needs to move beyond the traditional product-centered discussion of problems and solutions. The new business-centered conversation explores how the customer organization produces value for its customers.

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.

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.