The secret schism in B2B selling

It’s the ideological split that has divided the sales profession for over 50 years, yet barely ever gets a mention. In the first of two articles, we take an overdue look at the two sides of this ‘secret’ schism, starting with the one based on the single most important ingredient in B2B selling today … Value.

imageBusiness technology is expanding at such a rate these days that even keeping track can seem like Mission Impossible. Here at Thesis, we maintain a database of business-related software that, while not by any means exhaustive, lists in excess of 2000 active apps and programs. Unsurprisingly, a considerable number, relating to automation, lead gen, CRM and so on, are aimed squarely at those of us whose job it is to sell. Indeed, it’s really quite enlightening to view the sales profession effectively through this lens of technology.

Yet the fact is that no matter how much professional selling appears to change or evolve, in one respect at least, it always stays the same. Individual experts and methodologies may come and go but selling value remains the undisputed king.

And why shouldn’t it? Isn’t that what people and businesses want? Come to think of it, isn’t it the very reason that businesses exist – to create value? As described in published works now regarded as foundational*, a business is the union of a value chain that first makes the stuff and a value delivery system that then disperses it. As for selling, from SPIN® to the Challenger™ and every scheme in between, adding to or enhancing that value is the name of the game. The only thing that varies is how.

All of which is great, except for one thing. In practice, selling value simply fails to live up to expectation.

It isn’t that seeking to maximise it can’t or shouldn’t be a major part of sales, rather that sometimes – and in our experience, far more often than is commonly admitted – value just isn’t the magic key it’s made out to be.
Why? Well check out these killers …


♦️   A distinct lack of wow. Selling value is nothing new and more than likely, the people sitting across the table have seen it all before. As an essentially formulaic approach anyway, the risk is that it leads to presentations that are stilted and just downright ineffective. We’ve certainly seen a fair few of those!


♦️   It crowds out rapport. We’re fully aware that focusing on value-based presentations doesn’t preclude the possibility of developing rapport, but in our view, when the seller goes into a meeting thinking primarily of the value prop, great rapport most likely isn’t uppermost in his or her thoughts. Even in complex transactions, business people are people first – don’t neglect growing the relationship in the dash to selling the solution.


♦️   It’s a distraction. Maybe sometimes when there’s a deal to be done, it’s just a whole lot easier to talk about value than to have the direct discussion the situation really deserves. If the deal fails, then lo and behold it’s because the value wasn’t recognised, not because someone said no. Value becomes a sort of faux currency in a game of verbal ping pong when what’s actually needed is straight conversation. We’ve seen it happen. When value threatens to be a diversion, we suggest you apply the KISS principle and keep it simple, stupid. Or as we say, KIRI: keep it real, idiot.

image♦️   What is value anyway? It’s an unfortunate fact of selling value that the essence of it still makes good fuel for a decent philosophical debate. Businesses create it but buyers dictate it. So where does it reside? And what exactly is it? Benefits less cost is the usual working formula, but then how genuinely quantifiable are either benefits or cost? It’s very easy to talk about value as real stuff yet that appearance of solidity can begin to vanish the moment you start drilling down. On that basis, just maybe it isn’t the ideal stuff to have at the heart of your sales process anyway?

Weight Scale. 3D Balance Concept.

♦️   It lacks an inherent close. Because in practice selling value essentially does come down to maximising benefits less cost – and sales people are taught early on to build benefits rather than reduce cost (ie, price) – what this is apt to turn into is loading up one side of an imaginary set of scales. The seller finally plonks the kitchen sink on, looks expectantly at the prospect, and .. “I’ll think about it” comes the reply. Now it doesn’t have to be like this and in the hands of an experienced seller, maybe it isn’t. But the problem with building value is that sometimes you just never quite reach that step change moment when a ‘no’ or a ‘maybe’ flips all the way over to ‘yes’.

Ultimately, it’s not that we at Thesis are not fans of selling value, rather that as a methodology it’s often over-emphasised and, as a magic ingredient, decidedly over-rated. Plus, it most definitely is not the only game in Salestown. In Part 2 of The secret schism in B2B selling, we reveal and discuss what, in our view, not only rivals but beats value as the key to truly great selling. Stay tuned …

* Porter, Michael E. (1985) Competitive Advantage: Creating and Sustaining Superior Performance – Simon and Schuster // Lanning, Michael J. (1998) Delivering profitable value: A revolutionary framework to accelerate growth, generate wealth, and rediscover the heart of business – Da Capo Press.

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