B2B Sales Mentors: 20 Stories from 20 Top 1% Sales Professionals. Learn more: http://top1.fm/b2b
In between the regular interview episodes, we’ll continue to release sample stories from the book like this one. You can either listen to the episode and hear Jack read his story, or read the full text below.
The Real Value Add in Sales
By: Jack Wilson
Value-add. In my opinion, this is one of the most misused terms in sales. With the explosion of the inside sales role over the past few years, the term has become a battle cry for those who adopt a regular cadence or pattern of outreach. Never “touch base” or “check-in”; always ensure that you’re providing “value-added contacts”. While the former is great advice, the latter is often applied with reckless abandon in regards to what “Value” really means or, more importantly, who perceives that value.
So what is value?
Val-ue: noun: The regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something.
That’s what the dictionary says value means, but it’s easy to forget that much like beauty, value is in the eye of the beholder. In sales, the beholder is our prospect. You’re probably thinking“no kidding”. Nonetheless, if it’s that obvious, why do most salespeople fail to consider this when preparing their so-called value-added contacts?
As a leader in Business Development, I receive countless e-mails from sales reps that want to sell me lead generation tools. It’s not uncommon for those e-mails to include facts about why lead generation is so critical to a business or to contain links to industry articles that highlight the use case for similar tools. To those, I return the favor and say “kidding!” If I’m in a sales leadership position and I don’t understand why generating new leads is important,then I have bigger issues that need to be addressed. Although that information is important, which is a key component to the definition of value, is it useful? I would argue that important information is fairly well known and if, as the prospect, I already know then how is it useful to me. What value are you adding?
Sun Tzu once said, “To hear the sound of Thunder is no sign of a quick ear”. In other words, don’t be captain obvious. If something is important then a business leader should and most likely will be well aware of it. The REAL value comes into play when something you share, do, or recommend is USEFUL. Something has value when it’s useful in a way that someone can adopt it, learn it, or use it to have an impact on their goals.
My story is one about adding tangible value to a prospect in order to win their business. The year was 2014 and I was the better part of a year into my career as a Business Banking Relationship Manager. That’s a fancy title for someone who brings in new business customers to the bank. I had recently notched a few good wins with businesses in the plastics distribution industry. Through my experiences with these clients, I became somewhat of an authority in their line of business. I used this expertise to hyper-focus myself on prospecting into that vertical. I was able to land appointments with relative ease by developing an understanding of the one or two biggest pains they experience and tailoring my message to those specific points.
The very first prospect I called using this approach gave me the typical “I’m all set” when I first called, but that’s when I said very deliberately “I’m not calling you out of happenstance; I’m calling because every time I’ve worked with a polymer distributor they’ve struggled to have the means necessary to purchase bulk loads of unique materials because they lack the available capital… does that happen to you often?” To this, the prospect responded: “Now you’re speaking my language, as a matter of fact, it does. There’s not much we can do about it though” he said. “That’s just the nature of our business”.
Insert value here!
This is the point when I delivered real value. I explained to the prospect a real-world example of how I solved that problem for a client of mine and reinforced it by letting him know it wasn’t a onetime gig and that I have several examples available as a reference if he would like to discuss it further. Needless to say, I booked the appointment.
What happened over the next TWO YEARS was one of the most rewarding and eye-opening experiences of my career. You read it right – I said two years. Obviously, you never want your sales cycle to be this long but far too often sales professionals will cut and run if they can’t see the finish line.
This prospect was different. Upon initial discovery, the business fit all the criteria of an ideal client. They were the right revenue size. They were in the right industry. They already utilized many of the services we were proposing to them. So what was the hold-up? Working for a bank is different than most types of sales in that the opportunity doesn’t close with a signature. A business can open an account with you any time, but what happens if they need a loan or a line of credit and their application gets declined? Well, that’s the situation we found ourselves in, and it was a deal breaker.
In most situations, I would have looked at this scenario like any other rejection. I would have chalked it up as one in the loss column and kept moving on, yet I developed a bond with this prospect. I had invested so much of my time learning about the industry and targeting my prospecting efforts. Even more so, I had truly gained a deeper understanding of this particular business and I understood overwhelmingly how my solution would impact them in a positive manner. So I went all in. I asked myself: “how I can help steer their business in the right direction?”
Instead of walking away from the opportunity with a simple“I’m sorry”, I sat with them at a follow-up meeting and explained in as detailed a manner as I could why they were not eligible for the loan. I then took it one step further. I highlighted a few key areas in their financials that If improved would most likely result in an approval. Before the meeting ended, we not only established several metrics to improve, but we also outlined actual strategies that they could employ in order to reach their goals. Lastly, I made a commitment to follow up with them regularly, acting as an accountability partner of sorts.
1 month later, I made my first follow-up call. I think I was as surprised by their reaction to my call, as they were at the fact that I had actually followed through and called. Being used to every other vendor, banker, and salesperson, they made the assumption that they would likely never hear from me again. I didn’t call to “check in” or “touch base”; instead I called with a purpose. I asked about the milestones we had set and how they were making progress toward them. Over the next several months, I scheduled regular follow-ups. Finally, a little under a year later, they called me. “We’ve got great news, I think we’re ready,” they told me. We scheduled a meeting to collect all the documents and although they hadn’t quite achieved all of their milestones, it was close. So we gave it another shot.
I thought that was it – the trust would be broken. The faith they had in my advice and guidance was lost. Still, I was wrong again. Three weeks later, I received a called from the prospect’s bookkeeper. She told me that she knew I was due to call them in another week’s time, but they really needed my advice. Sadly, I didn’t have a scheduled follow-up this time. I had given up. I thought to myself, why I have wasted so much time for one opportunity. The prospect had become so accustomed to my follow-ups though, that they beat me to it. It was then that I realized I had earned the trusted advisor status sales professionals seek with all of their prospects and clients. I didn’t schedule another follow-up call with this prospect, but like clockwork, they would reach out every month or so to ask me how certain decisions might impact their goal of becoming a lendable business.
Then one day I received a call from the prospect asking for a meeting. The date was almost two years to the day from when I had first prospected them. When I arrived at their office, they had compiled a complete package for another attempt at a loan application. I had to do almost nothing; it was the most complete package I had received in a while. Even more impressive were their metrics. The business had essentially transformed itself into a leaner meaner more efficient operation. We submitted the application and the loan was approved.
The transformation that followed was incredible. The business has since doubled its annual revenue, they’ve expanded into a larger facility and have even hired over a dozen new employees. The most incredible part is that none of that is because of the loan. It took some real deep reflection to understand that the advice and guidance I had given them originated from the desire to earn their business, but beyond earning their business I had provided real value. It’s not the kind of value you send in an e-mail or post in an article. I had provided them with actionable ideas that helped to transform their business forever. There isn’t much more rewarding of a feeling. The five additional clients they referred me to that would become customers certainly felt good nonetheless.
• When making “value-added contacts”, don’t be captain obvious
• Use your experiences to become an expert in an industry
• Use your expert status to speak deliberately to your prospects in order to get their attention
• Have skin in the game and take pride in bringing your solution to a prospect or client
• Develop a systematic method for follow-up and stick to it
• Provide real, tangible value that a prospect can use to impact their business at every opportunity
Want more from Jack Wilson? He was the star of episode 57: Jack Wilson of Cinch IT – Selling More While Working Less and Being Happier