You’ve heard it a million times: Sell solutions, not features. It’s at the core of consultative selling, value selling, and spin selling. There is no shortage of experts, books and classes professing its importance.
So why are so many companies still terrible at it?
In my experience, when a company is having trouble selling value, I see one of two things. In some cases, the company has a training problem. Most founders I meet have no difficulty expressing the passion and vision of their company. They understand the value of their service—that’s why they started the company—and they know exactly how their product or service can help businesses.
Yet, when they hire a sales team either they don’t take the time, or they aren’t sure how to communicate that passion and knowledge during the onboarding process. In return, that set of employees can’t capture the same passion the founders have and end up parroting back features.
In other cases, the sales team believes they are selling value when they are actually selling features. It sounds like a paradox, but when you get lost in the weeds of a particular problem, you start selling features instead of value.
Don’t like the user experience of this product? Well, ours is blue. Your current system doesn’t integrate? Well, ours does. Yes, those are solutions to problems, but they miss the heart of the matter.
One of our clients came to us because they were having trouble getting qualified leads into the top of their sales funnel. After learning more about their sales process, we discovered the problem: They required too much preliminary work. In turn, their sales team pitched technical capabilities and features rather than business value.
They asked new sales hires to have years of experience selling to engineering organizations. For each target prospect, they would compile a list of information—such as the engineering platform, business process, and existing tools—and assume that checking the right boxes would lead to success, all without talking to people.
What’s the problem with that?
For starters, it’s way too granular. They were in the thick of it, trying to solve small problems. Say you’re talking to an engineer about the problems he’s having using one piece of software. You are likely to get vastly different answers when talking with another engineer using that same software.
The fact is, when you narrow in on the lowest level, there are a hundred million types of problems to get lost in. But those are just aspects of a problem, not the true problem itself.
Secondly, by not actually speaking with prospects, they didn’t really know what their pain points were. All the problems were assumed, which led to a very awkward and presumptive conversation. They were pitching instead of listening and responding.
Value is not about small problems. It’s about the big picture. All those smaller issues are really just symptoms of a larger problem. At the highest-level, most problems can be thrown into a few buckets. To discover those problems, you have to engage your prospect in an open dialogue and not be afraid to quickly disqualify those that simply don’t get it.
To prove it, we put this company through our sales acceleration program. We gave our team two weeks of training with the company and then set them off hunting. We scrapped the hours of preliminary research and engineering experience requirements. Within a week, our team had seven qualified leads, many of which have since gone directly into the pipeline. How? We listened to pain points, we focused on the vision of the company, and we were passionate about their service.
Sounds easy, but to paraphrase a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, it’s not as simple as using a list of leading, presumptive questions. You have to listen.
For most people, they either want to boost revenue, reduce expenses, increase efficiency, or mitigate a risk. They want to be better at their job and they want to simplify and streamline any up-front work. That’s what your business offers and selling the solutions to those problems, that’s what it means to sell value.
The key to selling value is to start early in the interview process. Hire only those candidates that are genuinely excited about the vision and purpose of your company. Make sure they are prepared and informed and spend time understanding why they want to work for your company. Your BUSINESS value to other companies and their employees should be at the heart of all your communications. It’s the Simon Sinek stuff: Start with WHY?
The way you train and enable your sales team is critical. If you start with the history and try to replicate the passion and excitement that your founding team had at the beginning BEFORE you start doing product training, you will create and enable a team that has long-term success truly selling value.