The Ultimate Guide to Value Selling 2023
Is your B2B sales team struggling to differentiate? Are you regularly losing out to competitors? Spending too long on deals? Are you forced to cut prices to win deals? Implementing or improving your value selling could be the answer.
Today’s B2B software-as-a-service (SaaS) buyers have more choice, smaller budgets and less patience with sales reps. This is hurting even the best B2B sales teams.
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff stated in his January 2023 all-hands that 50% of his sales team brought in less than 5% of ACV (annual contract value). “They are struggling… they don’t know how,” he said. And it’s not just Salesforce. In fact, on average 57% of B2B sales reps will miss quota. Now that’s a problem!
So how do successful reps hit their quota?
The best B2B sales reps don’t sell products or features; they sell value. They instinctively connect with the buyer’s problems and needs, and talk about the business outcomes they can generate with their solution’s unique capabilities. And in doing so they become more relevant to buyers by increasing win rates, selling larger deals, and speeding up sales cycles.
Gartner’s research demonstrates that getting value right doubles win rates and grows existing accounts by as much as 5x.
Whether you’re a sales leader who relies on top performers, or you want to be a top-performing rep yourself, you need to consider value selling.
Either way, this guide is for you. It explains everything you need to know about value selling, including what it is, how to do it right, and how to scale it across a B2B sales team.
In this guide:
- The B2B Selling Challenge
- What Is Value Selling?
- The Five Principles of Value Selling
- Why Adopt Value Selling in Your Sales Team?
- Implementing Value Selling: The 9-Step Framework
- Scaling Value Selling
- Using technology to Nail and Scale Value Selling
The B2B Selling Challenge
Before we explain what value selling is, let’s look at why it has risen to prominence in recent years.
Today, buyers are inundated with hundreds of sales pitches from solutions providers, each claiming to have the answer to their problems.
The issue is that all of these solutions are so varied that the customer can’t tell which is best for them. They become confused and frustrated, and it’s often easier for them to do nothing than go through an arduous buying process that will likely lead to few improvements. That’s why around 50% of deals are lost because of no decision.
Even if the customer does buy, the business challenges they face may not have been properly understood, and therefore the likelihood of them being solved is low. This means that Customer Success teams can’t deliver and reinforce value, leading to low satisfaction and high churn.
B2B tech companies will only achieve long-term growth if they discover and deliver value from the customer’s perspective. They need to take a discovery-centric approach where value is defined by business stakeholders, and where the focus is on jointly defining success outcomes vs. on calculating value.
What Is Value Selling?
Value selling is a sales strategy that involves a customer buying a business impact or outcome, rather than a set of features or a product. It involves understanding the customer’s business challenges, aligning on and quantifying the KPIs that will enable them to solve those challenges, and then linking that to the unique value of a solution. It is also called value-based selling.
To sell value, salespeople need to take a discovery-centric approach where value is discovered and defined in relation to the specific company and its buyers’ challenges/goals.
The benefits of value selling include:
Value selling is not…
1 … The benefits your product offers a customer
In product selling, value is seen as what your solution offers the customer. Salespeople using this method usually:
2 … An ROI calculation
Today, some view value selling as purely based on ROI (which is wrong!). Here’s what that looks like:
True value selling = discovering and selling success outcomes
An effective value selling strategy involves:
The Five Principles of Selling Value
There are five principles you need to apply to sell value:
- Earn the right to do discovery by first providing value.
- Uncover the customer’s specific business problems.
- Ask and align on the key performance indicators (KPIs) or outcomes the customer is looking to achieve.
- Link achieving those outcomes and KPIs to the unique aspects of your solution.
- Monitor ongoing success realization.
To illustrate how this differs from the traditional feature and function selling, let’s compare them side by side:
Let’s dive into these five principles and explain them in a bit more detail:
1 - Earn the right to do discovery
Discovery itself is a transaction; prospects have to give up their time to answer questions. They won’t do so unless they get some value from it. And they definitely won’t do it unless they think the rep is credible (i.e., knows enough about their business and problem to engage in a meaningful discussion). Just ask yourself, what prospect wants to spend their precious time educating the many sales reps who want to sell to them? The answer is none. Well, none we have met anyway!
To earn the right to ask questions, sales reps need to provide some value upfront. The benefit a rep has is that they are likely to have spoken to several companies and people who all have similar problems to the prospect. In doing so, they can create a hypothesis of what that new prospect will care about based on previous conversations.
This is called a value hypothesis. Coming to each meeting with a value hypothesis is the most effective way to earn the right to discovery. This only needs to be a few slides, and it should say something like: “These are the typical business challenges and Success Outcomes for companies like yours. Do you see this in your organization?” Read more about creating a value hypothesis.
2 - Discover the customer’s specific business problems
This means understanding the prospect’s specific challenges at a business, function, and personal level. It does not mean assuming problems/challenges based on high-level marketing material, or assuming it’s the same as the last prospect you spoke to. The rep should always dig deeper to understand the root causes of those problems. This enables them to really diagnose the problem, and gives them a better way of framing their solution as the best option. Read more about how to do good discovery.
3 - Ask and align on business outcomes
Value selling doesn’t equate to financial ROI. Treating value selling as a financial quantification can lead to objections like:
- “Those numbers don’t sound credible.”
- “Your ROI number is too high-level.”
- “I don’t see how you solve the problem I care about.”
These objections can be avoided by framing the discussion around aligning on Success Outcomes. A Success Outcome is the impact on the business if the problem is solved. This does not have to be financial, but ideally it is measurable so that you can track against it. For example, improving employee satisfaction is a Success Outcome that is not financial. You can measure it through employee surveys and track improvements over time.
These Success Outcomes should be:
- Specific and measurable.
- Defined using KPIs that will measure your solution’s success.
- Tracked against once the solution has been implemented.
4 - Link outcomes to unique aspects of your solution
When introducing your solution, never (and we stress) ever give a tour of all the features and functionality available. Always personalize based on discovery and your unique strengths. How do you do this?
Uncovering business problems and outcomes may not automatically lead to your solution; it could lead to a competitor. Therefore, it’s essential to connect achieving the outcomes identified in discovery with the unique strengths of your solution. You can do this through framing and laying competitive traps.
For example, if a customer has a problem with efficiency and you have the best data quality processes in your solution, then reps need to link solving your prospect’s problem (and creating meaningful impacts on their business) with having the most accurate data.
5 - Monitor ongoing success realization
Don’t forget value as soon as the customer signs a contract. Create a digital record of the customer’s discovery, KPIs, and Success Outcomes, and make these available to both the customer and your Customer Success teams.
This ensures that the value conversation continues throughout the customer lifecycle. It also allows Customer Success to begin having conversations around delivering value from day one. And because they not only know what the customer bought, but also why they bought it, it allows them to reinforce value—making upselling or cross-selling much easier.
Why Adopt Value Selling in Your Sales Team?
Value selling helps improve all aspects of your sales process and creates the foundations for an excellent customer experience and relationship.
For those who don’t know (or want a recap), here are the benefits of selling value, and the dangerous impact of product selling.
(Pssst… If you’re already Value Selling using a methodology like MEDDPICC, you can find out more about how Cuvama drives this here.)
1. Avoiding no decision: Creating a compelling reason to change now
40-60% of deals are lost to no decision (a customer deciding to stay with what they have), while 67% of companies say they struggle to get executive-level prospects to buy now rather than later. Essentially, prospect indecision is a big problem in B2B sales.
A delayed or no decision happens when you haven’t created a strong reason for the customer to change, or given them enough urgency. And this is usually when a product (rather than value) is being sold.
Product sellers show up talking about features, functions, and generic benefits. The prospect is presented with an overwhelming amount of options and information. They can’t see any that really speak to their needs, so they choose to stick with the status quo. Better the devil you know, right?
In big-ticket sales, this is even worse. The level of change required to implement a new enterprise solution may seem so great, and the benefits so distant, that prospects decide it’s not worth it. Because of this, the decision-making process is often protracted or abandoned altogether.
Value selling, on the other hand, solves this by:
- Starting by gaining credibility to earn the right to ask questions. This process means you immediately stand out from the army of reps adding no value by flogging products.
- Discovering the customer’s specific problems in their business, and becoming relevant by immediately personalizing your solution to the prospect’s pressing challenges.
- Highlighting the impact of staying the same and demonstrating the impact of changing. This creates the urgency or burning platform to change.
Value selling, in short, is the process of creating a reason to change now by talking about business outcomes. And the result? Less deals are lost to no decision.
2. Differentiating and not becoming commoditized
Most salespeople don’t do good discovery—they’re too keen to discuss their solution. So they don’t understand the customer’s business challenges, and instead focus on features and functions (aka product selling).
As already mentioned, one of the biggest challenges for B2B SaaS buyers is choosing between multiple solutions with similar features, functions, and generic benefits.
This creates a big problem: it leads prospects to focus on price as the main differentiator.
As a result, many salespeople are forced to cut prices to get a deal through, limiting their revenue.
Value selling involves earning the right to ask questions, and then performing a deep and collaborative discovery with the prospect to understand their needs. As we explained above, this allows a salesperson to differentiate by:
- Providing value to a prospect from the start.
- Really personalizing the business case to that prospect’s needs.
- Framing the conversation around why your solution is uniquely placed to help them.
In essence, selling value solves the differentiation problem that the many product sellers have created.
3. Higher deal size: Gaining opportunities to sell more
With a product sales approach, the most reps can sell is a product—because that’s all they talk about. This limits deal sizes and leaves revenue opportunities on the table.
Customer business challenges rarely come down to just one problem. In fact, they are often wide-ranging and complex. But in value selling, this is used as a strength. The more you understand about the customer’s problems, the more solutions you can create (and include in the deal).
We’ve seen this evidenced with our customers, who increase their average deal size by 43% through selling value.
4. Better retention: when customers cut costs, they rarely want to strip back value
If you just sell features and functions then your prospects will view you as a supplier and a cost. Your Customer Success teams will struggle to change this no matter how many strategic conversations they try to have—they just won’t get the attention of decision makers.
Why? Because you can’t measure and reinforce the success you’ve delivered if you’ve sold a product rather than value. By definition, if you’ve sold a product, you have not discovered and aligned your offering to the business outcomes your customers care about.
Therefore, Customer Success can’t talk about how you’re delivering these outcomes and demonstrating value.
So when customers need to cut costs, they first look at providers that don’t demonstrate value. Even if you are delivering value, it’s nearly impossible to prove it if you have sold a product but have not equipped Customer Success to track and measure it. So guess what? You’re in the firing line.
The reverse situation is that you have a team of reps selling value. When a deal is done, the value case is passed to Customer Success and they track and measure how it’s being delivered. This allows them to reinforce your value in their business reviews—and you can bet that the decision maker will want to turn up to those reviews if their key KPI is being improved by a third-party solution.
Implementing Value Selling: The 9-Step Framework
So you want to implement and scale value selling across your sales organization? This value selling framework explains how to sell value at different stages of the sales cycle.
This is not theory; this is a practical framework to apply value selling that we know works. We use it in our own sales process and have applied it across all of our customers.
Three points of note before we get started:
- We recommend that you tweak this framework to fit with your current sales process.
- Some steps can be combined in a single sales conversation or swapped around in order—but all steps are recommended.
We also recommend getting started with one step in a particularly painful or important area of the sales cycle, and then expand to other team members
1. Prospect engagement
When prospecting, it’s important to add value through personalization or sharing insights. Create sales and marketing messaging around a targeted and personalized value hypothesis or story to drive engagement. This needs to be hyper-personalized and specifically explain how your solution will impact a specific business goal that a prospect cares about. This approach is often used in account-based marketing (ABM) approaches.
2. Lead qualification and conversion
Qualify the prospect against your ideal customer profile (ICP) by asking business outcome-related questions about:
- The need and fit.
- The prospect’s commitment to engage on value.
The aim is to qualify out those who are unlikely to buy. This is usually done by a business development rep. You can use MEDDICC or MEDDPICC methodologies to qualify prospects. BANT is also an option—although this is often very basic.
Value selling helps here because performing good discovery enables you to understand what is driving the need for change, including the red flags that qualify a prospect out. These red flags could be missed if you jump straight to discussing products.
3. Initiate outcome-centric sales cycle
The first meeting with the main stakeholder(s) is critical to set up your path to successful value engagement. Sales reps need to:
- “Earn the right” to further discovery by adding value through further insights (see above).
- Lead with a hypothesis of the typical challenges, KPI impacts, and outcomes to drive engagement.
Explain the importance of your value based selling framework and aligning on success outcomes, so you’re seen as a strategic partner.
4. Uncover Business Challenges
Establish the most important problems the prospect’s business needs to solve, and identify the underlying reasons. Here are the things your reps should be doing:
- Lead with your hypothesis, guiding and teaching, but make sure it’s the prospect’s value story.
- Ensure you have a conversation—don’t simply run through a questionnaire.
- Explore the root causes of problems.
- Highlight case studies to build credibility, but don’t jump to your solution too early.
- Send a summary after the conversation to validate and reinforce your findings.
5. Align on KPI impacts and outcomes
Discover and align on the most important KPIs your prospect needs to improve. Your sales reps need to:
- Ask about negative “cost” impact OR positive success outcomes.
- Lead with a hypothesis based on previous similar-profile customers, guiding the prospect but always personalizing questions.
- Establish what the KPIs are, then explore quantification—in other words, the expected KPI change and financial impact (if applicable).
- Send a summary to validate and reinforce your findings.
6. Link their value story to your solution
Prove that your solution solves the prospect’s challenges and improves their KPIs. Your reps need to:
- Make sure it’s clear how each element of the demo links to the prospect’s value needs.
- Demonstrate use cases in the product(s), not features.
- Highlight competitive differentiators that uniquely enable the customer’s value story.
7. Co-create a business case
Refine your assumptions to create a financial justification. Your sales reps need to:
- Use your prospect’s numbers to ensure it is their business case, not yours.
- Add investment and consider adoption timelines to evaluate the ROI and payback.
8. Empower Your Champion
Arm your champion with the assets needed to drive consensus across other stakeholders in their business. Your sales reps need to:
- Enable them to edit and refine the value discovery/business case for maximum credibility.
- Send a summary email of the value discovery for the champion to confirm and share.
9. Negotiate, Win and Close
Align the prospect’s value story to your commercial proposal. Always talk about delivering value before talking about price. You reps need to:
- Use the value story to build a clear case for:
- Why change?
- Why now?
- Why you?
- Support the negotiation with the link you established from the prospect’s value story to your solution.
- Use your previous discovery methodology and sales process as a differentiator—show just how much you understand about the prospect.
Post-sale Value Delivery (Value Realization)
In the world of B2B subscription-based SaaS, value-based selling doesn’t end once you’ve signed a deal. Every time your customer engages with your people or uses your solution, their experience contributes towards whether or not they will renew.
It’s therefore vital to ensure that the challenges and KPI outcomes gained during the sales process are used to help customer success deliver and reinforce value.
This process of using success outcomes to drive the business relationship is called Value Delivery or Value Realization. Connecting Value Delivery to Value Selling, forms part of the wider organisation strategy many B2B companies are following called Customer Value Management – i.e. aligning
There are two stages to Value Delivery:
1. Create a customer success plan
- Use the challenges and KPI outcomes you established (i.e., the value case sold) to create a customer success plan.
- Refine to incorporate latest needs.
- Identify additional actions and owners to deliver success.
- Put in place a monitoring and review cadence.
2. Track and evolve the customer’s success plan
- Monitor the customer account against the success plan to ensure value is realized.
- Uncover and address bottlenecks.
- Celebrate successes and reinforce the customer’s value story.
- Focus on why, not what, the customer bought.
- Update the customer success plan to support smooth renewal and expansion.
Scaling Value Selling
Most B2B sales teams know that selling value is key to success. But many struggle to scale value selling across their team—usually relying on a small number of rock star reps.
~40% of all sales reps will hit quota, and only a few sellers will smash it. Those that do often perform value selling without even realizing it.
There are two main reasons for rock stars selling value (with or without realizing it) :
Salespeople who have worked in their industry for years know the common challenges facing companies and the solutions that often work. This puts them in a position to connect with the customer on value. On the other hand, new or less experienced sellers will go into sales discussions without this knowledge. This means they usually revert back to talking about products.
Most salespeople think their discovery methodology is good, but the truth is that they don’t go deep enough. They don’t ask enough good questions to get to the root of the client’s business challenges. Rockstars nail discovery. They are normally great listeners and are curious about the root causes of problems. This means they end up unearthing the real reason the prospect has a problem and should change.
The problem with value selling enablement today
Your answer to the above might be to train and enable reps. The challenge is that existing tools are flawed at scaling value selling:
- Training can go some way to bring your team up to speed. But classroom-based or self-managed learning is often forgotten and not properly implemented in the field. It lasts as long as the rep can remember it.
- Enablement such as one-pagers, pitch decks, or sales sheets don’t help unless the rep actually has a conversation. Yes, they’re great to send around after a call, but they don’t help that rep talk credibly about a customer’s business in a live prospect meeting.
- Discovery guides are often used to help guide a rep to ask certain questions. The challenge is that they are static and not personalized to that specific prospect. Just filling out a survey form simply isn’t enough to say that discovery was done effectively.
- 1:1 coaching by a manager or a star rep is often used to try to impart best practice. This can be effective if the coacher is supporting live conversations over an extended period of time. The challenge is that this is a huge investment, and a manager or star rep can’t be on every single prospect interaction for all reps. It’s just not scalable.
- Conversation intelligence has been popular over the last few years as a way to listen into what reps are saying and diagnose issues after the call. The trouble is that it is reactive rather than proactive. It doesn’t help a rep in real time, and it’s still reliant on a manager spending time doing a diagnosis some time after the call, at which point the rep has forgotten most of the details.
The solution to scaling value selling is to provide reps with tools to guide them through the value selling process—reinforcing best practice and enabling them in live conversations. And that’s what we’ll discuss in the next section.
Using Technology to Nail and Scale Value Selling
Getting your sales team to sell value rather than features and functions is a change of mindset first and foremost.
But you need to use technology to ensure that you can effectively scale your new approach across a large or growing sales team.
That’s why we created the Cuvama platform for sales teams. It guides reps through the value selling process in real-time, ensuring they have the right value conversations and making them experts in your company’s value proposition.
It makes value-based selling easy, allowing even average reps to discover, sell, and quantify value at scale—so they too can be rock star sellers.
Cuvama’s platform achieves this by:
Codifying your value proposition
Cuvama takes your value proposition and your team’s combined industry experience and knowledge and codifies it into a single sales platform. This allows even brand-new hires to navigate your value proposition and sound like experts, tailoring their message to different personas and market segments from day one.
Providing confidence and credibility
Value-based selling is hard. Salespeople can’t be experts in all customer industries, segments, and personas. Cuvama acts as live enablement to give sales confidence and credibility by dynamically linking different persona problems to business outcomes, while surfacing proof points of how you’ve added value for other customers like them.
Reinforcing best practice
Training is important to ensure that sales reps know value-based selling best practices—but that training soon fades unless it is reinforced in the field. Cuvama prompts reps to follow value-based selling processes that give them the best chance of success in live conversations.
Helping to align around customer value
Cuvama integrates into your tech stack (such as your CRM) so that you can capture and report on value. This enables you to connect the value case that Sales is selling to what Customer Success are delivering and reinforcing. This data can be used to improve your service to individual customers, improve your proposition, and sharpen your value hypothesis.
Find out more about what Cuvama does here.