I don’t believe in “silver bullets” in sales, but the ability to create value when selling is as close as we may come to a silver bullet for our profession.
Mack Hanan first published his landmark work, Consultative Selling, in 1970. While this is greatly oversimplified, the essence of Mack's book is that selling is transferring value to customers, and that you improve your own profits through improving your customers’ profits.
I mention that, because here we are, more than forty years later, and research shows that the inability to communicate value is one of the greatest inhibitors to sales growth. From my seat on the bus, I worry that the inability to communicate value isn’t the root issue. I believe a deeper challenge is the inability to create value.
The Four Pillars of Sales Value Creation
In order to create value, consider these four pillars:
- Financial Acumen
- Operational Acumen
- Customer Acumen
- Solution Acumen
Financial Acumen to Create Sales Value
Most times referred to as “business acumen,” financial acumen is a combination of understanding of financial concepts and business models, specifically how companies provide value in the marketplace and generate revenue, make money (profit), reduce costs, manage risk, and generally achieve their objectives, mission and vision.
There are a lot of great resources for developing financial acumen from an accounting and conceptual perspective. What is often lacking is an ability to translate that knowledge into value, or communicate how a solution to a specific business issue will impact the KPIs and metrics that matter to senior decision makers.
Operational Acumen to Create Sales Value
Operational acumen is simply how things get done. This starts as high as strategic thinking and planning, runs through the tactical and action planning stages, and ends with the ability to execute and make things happen. It also includes the white space in the organization charts, so it’s not only which roles do what, but the players, their influence, politics, culture, and how things “really get done around here.”
The Interplay of Customer Acumen and Solution Acumen
Customer acumen is critical, but sales research often indicates it's missing. Customer acumen is a deep understanding of the customer, their business, their issues, KPIs, risks, goals and more. Some marketing departments and reps do a great job with market conditions and customer issues, and most reps are very good at “uncovering needs” that they can solve, but the issues often aren't segmented by personas, and the real implications are often skipped or assumed. Needs are also usually narrowly stated and focused on only what the sales rep can address. All of this makes it difficult to tie to financial acumen, and understand and articulate the true risks or opportunities that the customer is facing.
Solution Acumen to Create Sales Value
Most sales reps are well grounded in their own solutions, or at least the features and benefits of them. Research does show gaps, though, not just in their understanding of their solutions, but especially how they specifically address customer issues. (It stands to reason that the less well-defined the issues are, the weaker the connection to the solution.)
Unfortunately, the nuance of messaging by buyer personas is often missing, as is the ability to communicate capabilities and true differentiators (as opposed to just features/benefits). As with the implications, the outcomes are frequently less well-defined, which again lessens the ability to tie to KPIs, financial metrics. risks or opportunities. This leaves much opportunity for improvement, in the average sales organization.
Solution Acumen includes:
Sales Solution Architecture (with messaging by Buyer Persona)
- Solutions / Recommendations
- Capabilities / Differentiators
- Products / Services
- Negative Consequences Avoided
- Positive Outcomes Gained
- How This Ties to KPIs, Organization Performance and Metrics
Most sales training focuses heavily on understanding and gaining alignment around the customer needs, and the how the seller’s products and services will meet those needs. Most sales people work hard to make these connections. This is part of the story, but it’s not enough.
The “magic” or dot-connections and real influence occurs through the explicit understanding and connection between the implications and the outcomes. Think of them as a mirror image. It’s where financial acumen comes into play, and allows reps to demonstrate the very real risks and the true value offered by their solution.
Of course, the level of interest and motivation to act also depends on the “weight” of the issues uncovered. Just because there is an issue and you as a seller can solve it, doesn’t mean it’s motivational to the buyer. The implications need to be weighty enough and the outcomes compelling enough, to spur action.
Want to learn more? Check out:
- Sales Enablement for Dummies
- Upgrade Your Mindset & Methodology to Drive Sales Results
- Value Messaging and the Sales Enablement Process: Q&A with Tamara Schenk
Mike Kunkle originally published this blog post on LinkedIn in June 2014.