Ever since 1896, when John Patterson, founder and CEO of NCR, held the first training class on how to sell cash registers, the best salespeople have always focused on selling solutions and communicating value from the customer’s perspective.
So why is it – more than a century later and after billions have been spent on solution-centric sales training, solution messaging consultants and sales-enablement systems – that 75 percent of all solutions sales initiatives fail to deliver any ROI? And why does the biggest area of conflict between marketing and sales organizations continue to be the development and delivery of solution-centric value propositions?
As managers, we only need to look in the mirror to see the problem. With all the time pressures on marketing and sales executives today, it’s all too easy to look for quick fixes and view the transition from products to solutions as a series of disconnected events (e.g., holding a sales training class, hiring a messaging consultant, implementing a sales-enablement system, etc.).
Instead, we need to view this as a fundamental transformation in the way the entire marketing and sales organization thinks about value and differentiation. It’s a culture-level change from the inside-out or product-centric view of the world, to more of an outside-in or problem-centric view.
Gerhard Gschwandtner, founder of Selling Power Magazine, says it best: “Companies that are successful at selling solutions are passionate about clearly defining and communicating their value, and more importantly, their differentiation, from the customer’s perspective, and in the context of the specific customer problems they solve … not just the products they sell.”
While this transition from an inside-out to outside-in thinking and messaging model seems intuitive and obvious, it’s not easy, as the statistics above show. It takes management vision and sustained commitment, and it requires the adoption of a systematic process that drives and aligns the three fundamental marketing and selling activities:
- Branding and positioning
- Marketing messaging and sales support
- Sales conversations
PRODUCT VS. SOLUTION MESSAGING
The product-centric messaging model is designed for the latter stages of the customer’s problem-solving process – when they’ve already decided to buy something and need to compare alternatives. It assumes that the customer is smart enough to perceive the value of a product’s features and differentiation, so the overriding principle is to give the customer more and more detailed information on features and functions and then let them do the value translation.
Solutions messaging, however, is more complex and nuanced, and that’s why it needs a systematic process. Effective solution messaging supports communications and conversations early in the customer problem-solving process. It focuses on establishing credibility by demonstrating an understanding of the problem and communicating two kinds of relevant customer value:
- Generic value – which shows how your product solves a specific customer problem in a similar fashion to alternative solutions
- Differentiated value – the more important of the two, which shows how your product solves a specific customer problem better than other alternatives
It’s this ability to frame your company’s generic value and its differentiated value in the context of specific customer problems that makes up your company’s “Value DNA.”
Every company has a unique Value DNA (see Figure 1). It’s the collective wisdom of your best people in three critical areas:
- How to discuss the specific customer problems you solve at both a high level and a detail level. This requires that you break down the customer’s overriding problem into its key underlying issues and components (e.g., symptoms, pains and causes). This explicit definition of the customer need lies at the heart of effective solutions messaging. The ability to frame the high-level problem and then drill down to the underlying issues from the customer’s perspective helps your best sales and sales support people build credibility, especially at the executive level.
- How your solutions actually solve the customer’s specific high-level problems, as well as the underlying issues.
- And, most importantly, how your solutions solve those specific problems and underlying issues better than your competition.
In summary, your Value DNA is why people buy from you. As such, it needs to be the raw materials for your positioning and branding strategy, your marketing messages and communications and, ultimately, your solution-centric selling conversations.
The problem is that until now, there hasn’t been a simple, repeatable process that helped marketing and sales organizations define, agree on and institutionalize their Value DNA. If you’re like most companies, this knowledge is scattered in the minds of your best people and buried in documents, Web pages, Emails and presentations. It’s constantly evolving. So, without a systematic, repeatable way to capture, share, institutionalize and continually improve this critical knowledge, it’s nearly impossible to make the transition to a solutions model. It’s like building a car without any quality control of the steel, and it’s why your investments in sales training, messaging and sales-enablement fail to deliver the results you expected.
It’s also why most salespeople struggle with the five key activities of a solution sale:
- Identifying valid opportunities
- Building credibility, especially at the executive level
- Assessing and increasing buyer urgency
- Clearly communicating business value
- Most importantly, describing how their company’s solution solves the customer’s problem better than the competition
Ultimately, when companies try to sell products in a solutions-centric world, revenue targets are missed, time and money is wasted during the front half of the sales cycle and salespeople run into roadblocks.
MAPPING YOUR VALUE DNA
The value-mapping process solves these problems. It’s a new solution-messaging best practice that can be implemented in a matter of days or, at most, a couple of weeks, depending on the size of your company. Value mapping is so innovative that it’s one of the only generic marketing and sales processes that’s ever been awarded a U.S. patent.
The value-mapping process helps marketing and sales organizations execute the two most fundamental and strategic activities of a successful solution strategy:
- Clearly defining the company’s value and, more importantly, differentiating that from the outside-in perspective of customers in the context of specific problems solved by the company’s products
- Effectively transferring that knowledge and outside-in perspective to the sales organization to facilitate more relevant sales conversations
Value mapping is based on the 80/20 principle. It helps marketing and sales identify, codify and continually improve the 20 percent of your Value DNA that drives 80 percent of your most important messages and selling conversations. The heart of the process is a simple relational model (see Figure 2) that helps companies break down customer problems they solve into key components. This enables them to create a repeatable and easy-to-understand solutions messaging framework that aligns the three dimensions of their Value DNA.
This intersection of your customers’ problems, your solution’s capabilities and your competitor’s offerings is the key to identifying your most important Value DNA. It’s the only way to capture the nuances of your generic and differentiated value to the various markets and stakeholders you sell to.
The value-mapping process produces a structured knowledge base that can easily be plugged into any sales-enablement infrastructure as a smart front-end to other content and provide a simple quick reference and coaching resource for salespeople as they prepare for solution-centric sales calls. This knowledge base also lets you dynamically generate multiple views of a company’s Value DNA through a new visualization paradigm called “visual value maps.”
Visual value maps can be built with standard visualization or graphical software. They display the Value DNA for an entire company or a specific solution by market, stakeholder or competitor or any combination thereof. Figure 3 is an example of a value map created for a company that sells sales effectiveness software. It took only a few hours using free software from the Value Mapping Consortium (www.valuemapping.net).
The map shows the linkages among the four key Value DNA elements of the example company’s solution.
- The blue rectangles identify the high-level customer problems and needs that company’s solution solves.
- The yellow rectangles identify the underlying issues or pains that drive each high-level need.
- The purple ovals are the generic value scenarios that describe how specific product capabilities solve specific underlying issues.
- The orange ovals are the differentiated value scenarios that describe how certain capabilities solve specific underlying issues better than the competition.
This ability to actually visualize a company’s value and differentiation from multiple perspectives has significant strategic implications for the entire enterprise. First, it provides your marketing and sales teams with a clear road map for their collateral, sales tools and selling conversations. Second, it gets everybody from the CEO to the salesperson on the same page and helps employees at all levels understand your company’s value from the customer’s perspective.
Finally, visual value maps can also help your product-planning and development process and ensure your company develops new offerings that truly provide customer-relevant value.
And since these maps represent the index for a knowledge base, salespeople can drill down on any element to get detailed knowledge about its Value DNA. This knowledge can contain short descriptions along with best sales practices, such as important questions to ask during sales calls, as well as hot links to more detailed information and presentations. Value maps provide a better way for salespeople to find and access existing sales support content.
A well-constructed value map accelerates the transition from a product mentality to a solutions-centric perspective and creates sustainable competitive advantage. It ensures that your messaging will be more sales-ready and customer-relevant, thereby increasing revenues while reducing the time, cost and waste during the front half of the sales cycle.
And, because it’s collaborative, everybody wins.
VALUE MAPPING ISN’T FOR EVERYBODY
Your company’s value map needs to be regarded as a continuous improvement initiative. It requires management commitment and vision, a strong owner and evangelist, and an organization that’s not averse to process. It won’t work if it’s treated like a one-time event.
Well-constructed value maps require some concentrated thinking and collaboration, especially when it comes to defining and agreeing upon the important customer needs and underlying issues that your solutions address. This can represent a new approach for some and may push them out of their comfort zone a bit.
Lastly, the value-mapping process requires a culture that’s not afraid of controversy or the truth. The rigorous value-definition process often causes heated debates and can expose product shortcomings. But controversy usually results in improved clarity and that’s a must in today’s marketplace.