Most of us accept without question that in order to retain customer loyalty and be competitive in the marketplace, we’ve got to offer our product or service at the lowest possible price. But in a recent Fridays With Vistage webinar, Anthony Iannarino turned this idea on its head and said that what really commands sales is compelling, differentiated value. Iannarino is a the managing director of B2B Sales Coach and Consultancy, the president and chief sales officer of Solutions Staffing, and the author of The Sales Blog, which was named the number one sales blog in the world in 2010. Anthony’s insights come from his exceptional, decades-long career in which he’s helped sales organizations command revenues between $100 million and $1 billion.
Anthony started by defining three factors that contribute to difficulty in selling today:
- Globalization. We now compete with people in India, China and locations throughout the world where prices for labor and commodities have gone down.
- Disintermediation. Technology is eliminating the need for certain products and stores. For example, print magazines are switching to e-zines as rapidly as they can.
- Two recessions. The recessions of 2001 and 2008 have contributed to the growth in power and importance of purchasing agents and supply chain management.
As a result, we have more pressure on our margins than ever before. More people are asking for discounts. More people expect us to be Walmart and offer everything for rock bottom prices (an unreasonable expectation). It is difficult to grow wealth by chasing the bottom.
The way out, said Iannarino, is to create compelling, differentiated value. The concept is simple: If you want to increase revenue and improve margins, create so much value for your client that you’re allowed to, and deserve to, capture part of that value in the form of money.
He defined the four levels of value creation:
- Level 1: Have a good product or service. This is imperative, of course, but if this is all you have, it’s difficult to differentiate yourself. Your competitors have good products and services, too.
- Level 2: Offer an exceptional customer experience. We should be courteous, polite, and supportive—absolutely. Keep in mind, however, that all businesses have the capability to offer this.
- Level 3: Solve your clients’ business problems. At this level, you identify the tangible results that you produce. You show the client an ROI. This is a high level of selling, but it does have one weakness in that clients can be easily lost to dissatisfaction.
- Level 4: Become your client’s strategic partner. Ask yourself how you can help the client envision and create their future. Think ahead. What’s the next challenge that they’re not thinking about? Be proactive.
According to Iannarino, your business model should focus on customer intimacy, where you can customize what you do to create so much value for the customer that you actually become a partner, just as invested as they are in the future of their business.
Once you’ve mastered the four levels of value creation, Iannarino continued, you’ve got to create a “stakeholder map.” These are the people you come into contact with during the process of selling, and each one requires a different level of value creation. Make sure you pitch to each person’s unique needs and perspective.
- Gatekeepers: This person gives you access to the next higher-up. A VP of Operations can be a gatekeeper to a CEO. Make your case around value to gain passage.
- End Users: Listen to the people at the bottom of the organization who are using the products, and identify the sources of dissatisfaction. These people need a good product and support, or Levels 1 and 2.
- Economic buyers, CFOs: These people are evidence-based and numbers-focused. Their job is to reduce risk in the supply chain. Show them an ROI. Level 3.
- Management: These people need measurable business results. They need a partner to come up with ideas on how they can better achieve new revenue increases. Level 3.
- Executive management: This person needs a strategic partner who thinks about growth, market share and how they can create a better future. Level 4.
In sales, relationships are valuable, but if someone else brings in level 3 or 4 and you’re only providing level 1 or 2, you will lose your clients. It is your imperative to gain access to higher level stakeholders and sell at level 4.
Next time you walk into a client interaction:
- Make a list of the stakeholders that you encounter.
- Decide what value they need you to create.
- Define the problems you solve and how you solve them differently from your competitors.
- Figure out how to show that there is a risk of loss in not acquiring your solutions.
- Roll everything up into one master value proposition and make sure your sales team can talk about it well.
This is your plan to be compelling and differentiated in a market that wants you to be commoditized and lowest price.