I see, hear, or read this phrase nearly every day. It’s in most motivational speeches, it’s all over LinkedIn via “sales gurus,” and it’s used in almost every book about sales, sales leadership, or sales management.
But even though “adding value” is not a new concept, I recently came across a LinkedIn post that made me reexamine what I did as a sales rep to add value to prospects, partners, and our customers.
What Does It Mean to Add Value?
As Jack points out, it’s easier to talk about “adding value” than explain it -- and perhaps even do it. “Value” is abstract. It’s subjective. There’s no universal definition of “adding value” in the sales world.
I believe “value” should mean: “The information, insights, and actions you bring to your buyer that they cannot find on their own.”
Why do I like this definition? Not only is it simple, but if you’re not practicing this, your prospects will have no reason to talk to you.
6 Ways to Add Value to Your Customers
Here are the ways I try to add value on a regular (i.e. weekly) basis.
1. Read about the industry and trends impacting buyers
As a rep, I often asked myself if I could easily answer this question (without going to Google or my company’s homepage):
“What are the top three things my prospective customers are concerned about today, and what are the best companies doing to fix it?”
Being able to answer this question was often be the sole factor distinguishing me from other salespeople. If I couldn’t answer it, I knew I wasn’t reading enough.
I subscribed to industry blogs and my customers’ blogs, set up Google alerts and RSS feeds, dedicated 20-30 minutes each day to browsing LinkedIn, and listened to a variety of podcasts.
This information always surprised my prospects, probably because few reps took the time to read, listen, and educate themselves on what their customers actually cared about.
2. Try to directly experience customers’ pain
There are two general approaches in the sales world -- pain-based selling and opportunity-based selling. You’re either finding the nerve and pressing your thumb down on it, or you’re painting a picture filled with unicorns, rainbows, and treasure chests for your prospects. In my own opinion, pain-based selling is far more effective than the alternative. But to know pain, you must experience pain.
I learned this quickly myself when I started at HubSpot. I had to build and launch my own website in the first 30 days on the job as if I were a marketer -- the persona we were selling to. If I hadn’t had this experience, I would’ve been far less effective selling to our prospective customers.
And the “pain” didn’t end there. To this day I still write blog posts, co-host a podcast, and maintain a website of my own. I do this partially because it’s beneficial to me, but I also do it to constantly remind myself of how hard it is to be a marketer (which is one portion of the audience that my company sells to).
3. Ask open-ended questions
I was sitting in Mark Roberge’s Harvard Business School class (no, I’m not an HBS grad) not long ago when he recapped the current state of the sales environment. He pointed out few sales reps understand the value of asking their prospects questions, and that sadly there are still many reps out there practicing “Alligator Selling” (big mouth, small ears). This is only reinforced by HubSpot Research showing buyers still think most sellers are pushy.
Roberge first teaches his students that questions are a valuable way of selling. Then, he explains asking closed-ended questions (yes/no questions) is better than asking none.
But to understand what truly matters to your prospect, they must explain it to you in their own words -- which brings him to open-ended questions. These start with phrases like, “What’s your opinion on …”, “To what extent …”, “How do you think …”, “What led up to …”, etc.
Using open-ended lines of questioning to get prospects to open up to you -- which was the backbone of my entire sales strategy -- matters for the simple reason that most people are resistant to what they hear, but believe what they say. When you get them to say they need to change, there is no selling involved. They’ve sold themselves for you.
4. Be an expert on your company’s products and services
Nothing replaces superior product knowledge. At the end of the day, knowing my company’s products or services better than anyone else was a key factor in winning deals.
If your customer sees you repeatedly have to ask someone else questions or bring them in for product demos, they’ll wonder why they’re dealing with you versus these other more knowledgeable people.
If, on the other hand, you demonstrate deep knowledge of your products and services, you’ll position yourself as a valuable resource now and after they’ve become a customer.
To build this muscle, I spent a lot of time tinkering with our software. I also participated in all of our beta releases and specifically asked my engineering team to push those updates to my own employee portal so that I could see how they worked before they were released to customers. I subscribed to our company’s customer product blog so I would be alerted of any product changes as they came live. Finally, I spent a lot of time with sales engineers who knew the technical aspects of our product from top to bottom.
5. Prep for, research, and personalize every sales call
When I became a sales manager, the first time I showed my team members how I prepared for calls they looked at me like I had six heads. I explained I took at least 30 minutes to prepare for every discovery call (call #1), 30-60 minutes preparing for a goal setting call (call #3), another 60-90 minutes preparing for a demo (call #4), and another 30-60 minutes preparing for a closing call or pricing call.
Why did I spend between 2.5 and 4 hours prepping in total for each opportunity?
Because information is power, and personalization is everything. Carefully reviewing my notes from every call and looking for updates on my prospect’s company allowed me to make every single prospect feel like I’d built a solution just for them. And frankly, I did. To this day I still attribute my success as a sales rep and a sales manager to this research and preparation.
6. Tell prospects they should NOT buy from your company (again and again and again)
One of the most bizarre things that happened to me when I started at HubSpot was getting congratulatory emails from our VP of Sales at the time, Pete Caputa, for having the most “closed lost opportunities” in a month. What!? Isn’t sales supposed to be about bringing in as much revenue as possible for a business?
At the time, this practice made no sense to me. But the way he looked at it was two-fold. First, by doing this I wasn’t spending my time with people who weren’t committed to changing their business. This made me more efficient and ultimately led to higher wins rates, more accurate forecasts, and so on. Second, and I would argue more importantly, this meant I would not sell to anyone with a pulse and a credit card.
While sales teams may be (strongly) encouraged to bring in as much revenue possible, the quality of that revenue mattered to me and to my company. If I signed a customer up who shouldn’t have ever become a customer in the first place, it would wreak havoc on so many parts of my book as a sales rep, but also on the broader business. Bad revenue creates unpredictable, unsustainable growth.
Even if your company doesn’t have mechanisms in place to prevent, or penalize you for selling bad revenue (they should; mine does), I would encourage you to hold yourself to a higher standard. You’ll ultimately win more deals, increase your personal customer retention rate, and win referrals from great fits.
While it should go without saying, I’ll say it anyway: simply existing doesn’t make you worthy of your role in sales. I hope these examples help you rethink the way you sell. If you have ways that you try to add concrete value to buyers, I’d love for you to share those in the comments. And if you really like what I wrote and want to learn more, I have a book coming out in April 2018 that’s available to pre-order here: Inbound Selling: How to Change the Way You Sell to Match How People Buy.
Originally published Mar 7, 2018 8:30:00 AM, updated July 10 2020