At the MHI Research Institute, we have asked this question in each of the past three years: What are the biggest inhibitors to sales success?
Our 2014 data delivers a consistent message: The “inability to communicate value messages” is again the biggest inhibitor to sales success, as it was in 2013 (22%) and in 2012 (23%). The second biggest inhibitor is the “inability to attract new clients” (16%) followed by “more complex buying requirements” (15%).
Value messaging needs a clear design point – the customer
Before the Internet existed, a salesperson could create value for customers by presenting functions, features and benefits. But now buyers can find all this information online, and value messaging has to change. Executive buyers in particular are not interested in what a product is and what it does; they need to know what it means for their business and their desired outcomes. This evolution in the buyer’s world changes the design point for value messaging. It’s no longer the product; it’s the customer. The customer’s journey and the different buyer roles along the entire customer’s journey are the main design point for value messaging.
Value messaging needs to be dynamic
The times when static value propositions were successful are gone. Value messaging has to be dynamic to address the customer’s different focal points along their customer’s journey. In the beginning of the customer’s journey, value messaging has to focus on the customer’s context and the stakeholders’ different concepts regarding how to fix a problem, how to avoid a risk or how to accomplish a goal. Salespeople can create significant value if they help customers to better understand their challenges, the root causes and the real business impact, and if they can provide tailored perspectives on how to approach the challenge in different ways to achieve the desired results. In these stages, there is no room for product-focused messages.
This changes in the actual buying phase. Here, the decision dynamics have to be orchestrated. Value messaging often has to address additional stakeholders with very purchase-focused concepts. Competitive and product-oriented messages are now more important, but must always be mapped to the customers’ desired results and wins. The goal in this phase is to be perceived as the buyer’s best option against all competitors to achieve their desired results and wins.
It changes again in the implementation and adoption phase. That’s right: value messaging doesn’t end when a deal is closed. Now, it is important that the value gets delivered as promised. Owning the customer’s outcome means making sure that they can achieve their desired results and wins. Furthermore, it’s important to orchestrate the value dynamics during this important phase. Different stakeholders will perceive value differently, based on their different roles and concepts. And often, projects are delegated for execution. So, it’s even more important to make sure that the stakeholders and the initial executive buyers know how the value was delivered and which customer results were achieved. Following these steps can easily open a window for new opportunities within this account.
Value messaging and creating new business
The inability to communicate value messages is not only the single most important challenge year after year; it’s also the underlying cause of at least two other inhibitors. Those are the inability to attract new clients, (reported by 16% or our survey respondents) and the inability to expand in existing accounts (7%). Taken together, these three factors comprise 48% of the inhibitors to sales success. This makes value messaging a top priority for every sales leader to care about.
Value messaging, sales enablement and homework
As described above, the secret to successful value messaging lies in a dynamic customer core approach. It is sales enablement’s responsibility to provide messaging frameworks that are easy to access and to customize. Sales enablement and sales training have to make sure that salespeople know how to use the messages effectively, and that they are trained to present messaging that’s focused on business issues rather than on product. Messaging training has a lot to do with role plays and simulations, ideally based on real opportunities. As in sports, it takes a while to get familiar with the basics of a new sport. It’s the same with new value messaging that’s focused on business issues. It requires a different language that addresses different patterns. New skills have to be learned to achieve a certain level of proficiency.
Furthermore, creating new business begins very early along the customer’s journey. First, your strategic account planning must lead to a solid account growth strategy. And the customer has strategic initiatives of their own; it’s essential to understand these and to connect the dots to your own capabilities. Identifying the right buyer roles within new accounts and also within existing accounts is critical to success. Then homework and research has to be done to identify a valid business reason for the first conversation, and all conversations must be prepared for in advance. At that point, value messaging can work successfully—if all other selling competencies are in place.
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