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Driven newsletter archive

Issue 22. March 14, 2020

A sales method for uncertain times | COVID-19 resources

John, 

A year’s worth of news has slammed us since last Saturday’s issue of Driven. Or so it feels.

Only last week, I was concerned that too many of us were ignoring a problem that was easy not to see.

Now the virus is here in force. Some of its hazards are obvious, and many are still unknown.

It’s clear now the coronavirus is causing both an economic disaster and a global health crisis.

Today I’m more concerned that obsession with the virus will distract us from the focus we must maintain to get through this.

The most burning questions now are…

  • How bad will things get?
  • How long it will last?
  • What should we do, and how can we lead amid the uncertainty?

Our top priorities must be…

  • The health and safety of our dependents, employees, and ourselves
  • Our cash flow
  • Our revenue
  • Our customers

Customers come last for a simple reason. We have little to offer them if we haven’t first ensured our own wellbeing.

This isn’t a deep insight, but I hope it’s a useful reminder.

Let’s not waste time and energy worrying about the many things we don’t know and can’t control.

Let’s focus instead on positive things we can do.

Covid-19 was Driven‘s lead story last week, but it’s at the bottom of today’s short lineup.

Your first article is about something you can do to protect your revenue in the coming months.

It’s not a fast remedy or a panacea. It’s a positive step for every revenue team that sells high-ticket B2B SaaS.

In this issue…

  • Value-based selling for uncertain times: 20 best books
  • 7 helpful coronavirus resources you may have missed

Reading time

This week’s issue should take about 10 minutes to read at a rate of 200 words per minute.

SALES | EXECUTION | METHODOLOGY | SKILLS | MANAGEMENT | 
COACHING | QUOTAS

Value-based selling helps win big deals amid uncertainty. These 20 resources tell you how.

In times of high economic uncertainty, your sales prospects are preoccupied with risk. More than ever, they’re looking for ways to avoid or reduce it.

Some will shut down their buying process for high-ticket purchases. They’ll delay further consideration until they see a clearer path forward.

Others will slow their buying process and proceed with hazard lights blinking.

Those who move forward with a decision may try to take advantage of any decline in your business. They may demand price concessions to help reduce their costs and mitigate their risks.

This article suggests 20 top resources to help you overcome these new challenges.

As with most Driven articles, the focus here is on companies that sell high-value SaaS to mid-sized and big companies.

Why it matters now

Economic downturns drive weak players out of overcrowded markets.

The SaaS industry is overdue for thinning.

Headwinds offer opportunities for smart and agile sailors to break away.

And value-based selling offers a good way for B2B SaaS companies to do so.

What happened to the golden era of value selling?

Value-based selling has been around for a long time. Its heyday was in the late 1980s through the mid-2000s.

That’s when most books on the topic first appeared.

About a dozen training companies promoted their own flavor of value-selling methodologies.

Tech companies regularly hired such firms to train their sales teams.

Now fewer companies offer their sales teams good training in value selling. Or training in anything, it seems.

Until recently, SaaS companies that sell to enterprises could hire experienced reps who were already trained.

But now thousands of reps with those skills are aging out of enterprise sales.

Why don’t more companies train their sales reps to sell value?

It’s not because value selling doesn’t work.

It still works great—with adjustments for changes in buyer behavior and expectations.

These 5 reasons have contributed to the decline in value selling:

  • Classroom training is expensive. Until recently, trainers haven’t offered effective remote-learning alternatives.
  • The benefits of sales training don’t last long unless companies build the method into systems and ongoing coaching. Most companies offer poor sales coaching. (More on this next week.) And many can’t or won’t change their CRM system.
  • Average sales turnover is high. It makes smaller companies less willing to invest in training their reps.
  • Many SaaS founders and board members have never sold. If they’ve had no sales training or experience, they may not know what they don’t know.
  • Many of the companies that used to teach value selling have merged, or they’ve closed as their owners retired.

It’s not a cool new thing

Here’s another important factor. Sales trainers and consultants are always looking for the next new thing.

Sales methodologies go in and out of fashion.

Most are rebranded versions of older approaches.

One group of trainers declared in 2011 that value selling is dead.

That’s become a tired gimmick, declaring things dead to make room for your new thing.

They were right that value selling needed an update. But they overstated its demise.

Displaced by the Challenger Sale

They called their alternative the Challenger Sale.

Many sales managers, eager to gain an edge by trying something new, embraced it.

Sales teams that did it right achieved real benefits.

But the training was expensive, and the number of trainers was limited.

Instead of paying for the training, plenty of sales leaders just read the book and winged it. Many got it wrong and failed.

Eventually, too many sellers were trying to do it. Customers tired of every seller challenging their thinking with provocative statements and “insights” that were half-baked.

Now the Challenger Sale is going the way of value selling.

It offered a great run for its trainers while it lasted.

The result?

A generation of sales people came into enterprise SaaS sales without having learned how to sell value.

You find some exceptions. They are the relatively few sellers who were lucky to have worked for companies that invest in good sales training.

Common principles of value selling

Value-selling methods have many variants. But these principles are common to most:

  • The seller works with the prospect to establish quantifiable economic value. That’s the only way you’ll win big deals on terms favorable to your company. All “soft” (non-quantifiable) benefits are frosting on the cake. They won’t close deals.
  • You don’t sell your product. Instead, you sell the economic value of the business results your product will deliver.
  • The economic value of your solution has a clear and simple definition. Here it is:

Value = (The sum of benefits your prospect can measure) minus (Your prospect’s costs of buying, licensing, implementing, and maintaining your solution).

  • As the definition suggests, each prospect will measure value differently. Each is likely to care about different sources of value. What’s most valuable to one prospect is likely to be less so to the next.
  • As a vendor, you can’t define value for your customers. You can help and guide them. But they must define and substantiate it for themselves.

Is value selling passé?

By selling value instead of products, you differentiate your solution from your competitors, and you can get higher prices.

That hasn’t changed since value selling was in its prime.

But what if an account doesn’t want to work with you in that way?

If that happens, you’re likely to lose the sale anyway.

You’ll go through the effort of trying to close a big deal, and you won’t get it on terms you want.

You’ll have to buy the business by dropping your prices.

You’re better off not wasting your time and resources on such accounts.

Move on.

What if there aren’t enough other deals to move to?

That’s a different problem.

Maybe…

  • Your addressable market is too small.
  • You don’t have enough solutions to offer.
  • You need better prospecting.

The bad news: Value selling is work, and it takes skill

Value selling requires more time and effort than many reps are used to committing.

They’d rather look for deals that look easier to close.

But when opportunities are evaporating right and left, the remaining ones require more work than they used to.

There’s a bright side to doing the work.

If value selling were too easy, all your competitors would be doing it. You’d have no advantage in making the extra effort.

Done well, value selling can deliver more revenue, higher commissions, and more job security and satisfaction.

But it will do so only for people who are willing to learn the skills and do the work.

Suggested resources on selling value

The list below includes titles of 20 books that provide great insights on how to do value selling.

I can almost hear you saying, “But I’m not much of a reader.” Or “Who has time to read?”

If that’s what you’re thinking, don’t worry. Most of the titles are available as audiobooks.

You can listen to them while you’re driving or exercising. It’s better than obsessing about bad news.

You’ll feel energized and empowered. You’ll have a new direction.

Familiar titles

For sellers with long experience in B2B enterprise sales, many of the following titles are likely to be familiar.

Even so, I hope the list will refresh your memory and prompt you to reread some.

Maybe it will help you spot titles you’ve overlooked.

For less experienced sellers, you may wonder why I’m unashamed to suggest such old books.

It would be a mistake to judge these books by their age.

I read every book I can find out about enterprise sales. These are among the best I’ve found over decades.

Disclosure: The links below are to Amazon. If you buy through them, Amazon pays me a small commission. The commission doesn’t affect the price you pay.

For good books about complex sales in general, these 6 are among my favorites:

All are worth reading. Just pick one.

For books about selling value, you won’t go wrong with these:

What good titles have I left out? Please share your thoughts and preferences.

Start anywhere. You can’t lose.

Where should you start with this list?

Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by indecision. Begin wherever you like.

Go to Amazon. Read the reviews. Choose one that looks like a good fit for you.

I’ve gotten big value from all of them.

My favorites are the books by Neil Rackham, Jeff Thull, Mahan Khalsa, Mike Bosworth, and Jim Keenan.

If you prefer recent books, start with Keenan. His book (Gap Selling, 2019) is the latest on the list.

Do something now. Get ideas.

You and I both know you don’t have time to read more than a few of these.

That’s OK.

With only 2 or 3 under your belt, you can still improve the likelihood of closing more deals this year.

Tell me if you want more on value selling

Are you interested in other resources on selling value?

I’m working on a PDF document about 5 specific ways to sell value.

If you tell me you’re interested, I’ll move this project to the front burner.

Would you like to be on the wait list for an original PDF about selling value? 

You’ll be among the first to hear when it’s ready. 

When you hit the button, you’ll go briefly to a web page. 

Then you can come right back.

CORONAVIRUS  | COVID-19 | CRISIS | MANAGEMENT 

7 coronavirus resources you may have missed

In the tsunami of media coverage about the coronavirus, it may be hard to find information that helps you make better decisions.

The following list offers some of the best I’ve seen.

Why 2 articles about the effects of Covid-19 on retailing?

Three reasons:

  • Several Driven readers work for SaaS companies that serve the retail industry.
  • The availability of consumer goods is important to all of us.
  • With social distancing, most retailers (other than grocers and pharmacies) are likely to see much lighter store traffic. They’ll be among the first to experience layoffs resulting from the virus. So they’re a bellwether for what to expect in other affected industries.

Dig deeper

“COVID-19: Implications for Business.” Matt Craven. Linda Liu. Matt Wilson. McKinsey website. March 9, 2020.

“How Working Parents Can Prepare for Coranivirus Closures.” Steward D. Friedman. Alyssa F. Westring. Harvard Business Review. March 10, 2020. [Metered access. Registration required.]

“Lead Your Business Through a Coronavirus Crisis.” Martin Reeves. Nikolaus Lang. Philipp Carlsson-Szlezak. Harvard Business Review. February 27, 2020. [Metered access. Registration required.]

“Coronavirus is Changing How Consumers Shop.” Rimma Kats. eMarketer online. March 10, 2020.

“The Impact of the Coronvirus on Retail.” Ben Unglesbee. Daphne Howland. Kaarin Vembar. RetailDive. March 5, 2020.

“How Startup CEOs Should Think About the Coronavirus, Part 3–Useful Links.” David Kellogg. Kellblog. March 8, 2020. [Note: The article contains many links to other useful resources.] .

“9 Charts That Explain the Coronavirus Pandemic.” Dylan Matthews. Vox. March 12, 2020.

WRAP UP

The virus will pass. Or its effects will become part of the new normal.

Now’s a good time to build lasting strength, resilience, and advantage into your company.

In addition to building a great product, think how you can gain competitive advantage in the way you sell and go to market.

See this crisis as an opportunity.

Please share

If you find value in this week’s edition, please share it with friends and colleagues who may be interested. They can go here for their own copy of future editions.

Have a great week! 

​​Dave Vranicar

ABOUT DRIVEN

Driven is a free weekly email for time-strapped revenue leaders in business-to-business SaaS companies.

Its goal is to keep you informed about a broad range of topics related to revenue growth.

We scan the horizon for insights and ideas from sources you may otherwise miss.

You can receive your own copy of Driven at no charge by sharing your email address here.

About links, endorsements, and recommendations

When I provide links to articles from vendors, it does not imply an endorsement of their products or services. I link to them because they offer good content.

I’ll make it clear when I’m recommending a product or service. 

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