By Gillian Arthur, Consultant and Strategic Writer, Mainstay
Value selling is not just for sellers anymore. With more team members getting trained on the sales mindset, the definition of “seller” is expanding to include non-traditional skills and tools. Working as a team, today’s sales “ninjas” are made up of account executives, industry experts, solution experts, value management consultants, value engineers and enterprise IT architects. But how can all roles sell with credibility, clarity, and compelling value propositions? In other words, how do you build a team of value selling ‘ninjas’? It’s an important question, and one that most companies don’t ask often enough.
That’s the premise for a recent webinar hosted by Craig LeGrande, CEO of Mainstay, Venkat Lakshiminarayanan, former Global Head of Value Programs at ServiceNow, and Greg Brown, Managing Partner of Value Selling Associates. This webinar titled, “How to become a value selling ninja,” was focused on best practices for value sellers on how to solve for business value and financial impact.
There is a lot of data out there about the merits of why you need to be a “good” value seller. But there’s a surprising lack of information readily available on exactly how to do it, which is what initially inspired this webinar. “We wanted to discuss more than just the why and what to do, we wanted to have a deeper discussion around how to do it,” says Greg Brown. The panelists led the webinar audience through tips on how to respond to the common issues confronting value sellers and their teams. In this blog, we’ll discuss a few key takeaways and insights from the webinar — but we encourage everyone to access the full webinar recording here.
The idea for this webinar came about while discussing what, or rather who, best represents the necessary skills, tools, and discipline required to address tough challenges. Our panelists felt that a “ninja” was a great analogy for someone who has these characteristics, making it a “spot-on” theme for what value sellers need to become in order to execute at the highest possible level.
Challenge #1: Does the sales team have the right value selling skills?
In the mind of the buyer, so many products begin to sound the same with little to no differentiation. “That’s what we need to fix,” says Brown. “Typically, when reps enter a meeting with a client, the general plan is to use a loosely defined set of objectives. But this can get derailed really quickly. They need the skills, more importantly the methods-based tools, to prepare for these value and outcome-based discussions.” Brown stresses that it’s not just having talking points about what your product does, but rather the ability to drive a meaningful executive-level discussion. Not everyone has that, and for those that don’t possess this ability, it’s jeopardizing their success.
The buyer-seller relationship has been changing for many years; and if you understand this and use this to your advantage, “you can really differentiate yourself as a seller,” says Brown. In fact, according to a recent report from Gartner, 72% of buyers prefer a rep-free buying experience. “You don’t want to be in that group,” Brown stresses. “You want to be the person who shows up with real value and real value understanding to execute that.”
On the topic of foundational skills, Venkat Lakshiminarayanan shared six steps in what he says is a “paradigm to evaluate your readiness and capability to be successful in value selling.”
- Ask yourself, how well do you know your industry, market, and customer?
- Ask yourself, how well do you know your product?
- Ask yourself, how good of a business case can you make?
- Making the case against competition.
- Ask yourself, how well can you connect, communicate and close? The value selling skillset that extends our of it is asking, how well can you tell the value selling story?
- Ask how well do you know the sales processes and tools and how well do you use them?
“We need the skills for the seller to go in and understand that yes, they may have an agenda, but let’s redirect that agenda to more of a business-outcome related discussion,” says Brown.
Challenge #2: Does sales understand the customer business challenges? Can sales demonstrate solution value?
Next up, the panelists discussed what are the tools necessary to becoming a value selling ninja? “Ninjas have the skills and the discipline to bring the right tools; and for our sales ninjas, (the) tools are our content,” says LeGrande. “We need to have the right narrative to resonate with the business buyer. The bar just keeps getting raised because if you think about the differences across industries, the executives that you want to call on (they) want to see that you understand their specific challenges.”
Often, you only have one opportunity to sell to an executive. But with dozens of vendors calling on the same executives, how can you differentiate yourself? How are you going to make the most of your opportunity? LeGrande says you have to ensure that the conversation you’re having with them really addresses the fact that you understand their industry. “It’s all about showing that you understand their problems and you are able to demonstrate how your solution is going to not only address their specific needs but achieve results. That’s going to get you that second meeting.”
The first hump, LeGrande says, is having the right content, “You don’t have to be the value engineer, you don’t have to be the thought leader, but you need to have the right message. That doesn’t mean you can’t bring supplemental resources in to help guide that conversation, but the bottom line is that the first conversation with the sales executive is paramount.”
Let’s say you get through that first conversation. You’ve resonated with the executives that you’re selling into. The very next question you’re going to hear from your customer is, can you prove (that) your solution will deliver the value that you’re promising me? “This is where we see a lot of companies and sales teams fall short,” says LeGrande. “Companies will say they have few success stories to share, but what they’re really sending over is a lot of fluff.” A good success story doesn’t present a full financial business case, it focuses on the top economic drivers for that particular customer situation detailing how that customer moved KPIs from A to B and their quantified business value. It’s important to note that value can come in different elements. Value can be strategic, operational, or financial. The bottom line is, “you want to paint that full mosaic for buyers on how you’re going to be able to move the needle,” says LeGrande.
Challenge #3: Does the content help sales understand customer business challenges and can sales demonstrate solution value?
“It’s a combination of skills and tools. Tools can help influence what the perceived value or direction of your solution will be. They set up the conversation, which I think is an important aspect of the journey that your customer is on to find the right partner in their success,” says LeGrande.
Having the right skills and tools will help you to become a successful sales ninja, but how do they apply and scale business case development to customers? According to our panelists, there are two areas that are incredibly important in enabling enterprise sales organizations to scale business case development: programs and platforms.
- Programs: A lot of value engineers are already proficient sales ninjas, but how do you scale those skills and tools out to the sales teams effectively and replicate it for the customer? The biggest issue to solve for is making everything digestible for the hundreds or thousands of sellers and selling partners.
- Platforms: Typically, people are using what the panelists call “the horse and buggy” (e.g., Excel & PowerPoint) for their business cases. It’s the bane of everybody’s existence because they’re clunky, they take a lot of time, prone to errors, and you spend hours just doing administration work. Sales teams can modernize their approach to business cases with a modern SaaS platform (e.g., Mainstay’s Advisor Cloud Business Value Platform), or the “smart car”. These platforms reduce the admin time by 80-90%, provide an error proof model, integrate with existing sales workflows and sales enablement platforms (e.g., Salesforce, Oracle, SAP).
When asked, “have you looked at the financial implications of solving for this problem, or not solving for it?” or in other words, “do you know what’s at stake when solving for this problem?” majority of companies will answer no. According to Brown, it’s essential to ask companies this question because as a value selling ninja, you can help them understand what’s at stake. “When I ask this question, I tell companies, ‘we have modeling capabilities. We understand the business outcomes across a broad range of customer types that may be very similar to yours and we can help you put together a frame of reference around what’s at stake for this.’”
These, and many more ‘Ninja’ selling insights are available by viewing our webinar, How to Become a Value Selling Ninja. Learn more and watch the webinar featuring industry leaders from Value Selling Associates, Mainstay, and ServiceNow today!