Charles Fifield, MBA
The strength of the buying proposition for any customer is a function of its value to that customer. In other words, it is determined by the perceived benefits that the customer will realize once the product or service is purchased (and installed) minus the price. Therefore, the creation of net or surplus value has many benefit-driven components that impact the buyer’s ultimate value assessment. Since a benefit for the buyer is created whenever the seller successfully matches a buyer’s need, or more importantly, a buyer’s want, to a seller’s capability, the salesperson must be willing to adapt to changing circumstances as the buyer or the situation presents them.
This process can be thought of as a game, the Value Game. This game is not just your normal game encounter, but rather a real-life experience in which sellers and their supporting teammates, the sponsoring company and the products/services being offered, engage with prospective buyers. The process consists of a series of progressive steps or interactive exchanges, with the salesperson-player’s goal being a hard fought and unusual win-win game outcome. A win-win outcome should not be thought of as a tie, but rather a growth-minded victory for both players. Through this game, both the buyer and seller will achieve incremental value-added through the game’s interaction, relative to what both players had at the beginning or if they had never played the game at all. In other words, the outcome has produced a synergistic effect.
The incremental value assessment gained by a buyer is not just another step in a sequence of sales steps designed toward a close, but rather an ongoing cumulative process that begins with the first buyer-seller encounter, the first impression, and continues throughout the relationship. On the other hand, if the salesperson fails to achieve a win-win outcome at the beginning of a relationship, then the longer-term value game often will never materialize. Therefore, it is imperative that the salesperson be consistently ready to produce a positive value outcome from start to finish, whenever that may occur. To do so, the salesperson needs to have the right mindset and a consistent strategy. Taking a value game approach not only produces results, but it makes the normal buyer-seller interaction more interesting.
The Right Mindset and the Salesperson’s Dilemma
During any buyer-seller interaction, the seller has to come prepared to guide the buyer to a win-win outcome with a buyer-focused attitude. The salesperson must transition from natural win-lose mentality to win-win mentality, or from a competitive mindset to a cooperative/collaborative mindset, a.k.a. the salesperson’s dilemma.
This mindset transition is very similar to Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, in which Covey emphasizes a person’s effectiveness is largely dependent on their ability to transition from independent thinking to interdependent thinking. To do so requires progressing through the seven habits:
- Be proactive
- Begin with the end in mind
- Put first things first
- Think win-win
- Seek first to understand, then to be understood
- Sharpen the saw
For the delivery of ongoing value to others through an interactive selling process, these seven habits, from top to bottom, represent a recipe for value-building success.
What’s the Recommended Consistent Strategy?
First, there are two key buyer decision factors that must be developed: facts/financials and feelings. Targeting the emotional motivation of the buyer is the majority of the challenge to achieving the goal in mind, i.e., a win-win success story. J. P. Morgan once said, “A man always has two reasons for doing anything: A good reason and the real reason.” What the salesperson needs to find is the real reason, and that component will usually lie in the emotions or feelings of the buyer.
Second, the recommended method to uncover the real reason is a five-step sequential selling process:
- Gain the buyer’s attention and establish a theme.
- Through active listening tools, assess the buyer’s interests and wants.
- Find the real reason behind a purchase decision based on a problem and pain awareness discussion with the buyer.
- Through a presentation, show and convince the buyer that a change decision will overcome the sighted challenges or shortcomings and deliver a value-adding opportunity.
- Close the purchase decision.
Playing the Value Game
The game has four basic phases or quarters of interaction commencing with the first quarter (The Preliminaries) in which the salesperson must navigate through considerable relationship-oriented challenges. These include the first impression, basic likeability, rapport building with emphasis on the salesperson gaining perceived competency, credibility, commonality and some modicum of buyer comfort and trust. The beginning of the game is often filled with fairly challenging buyer-seller resistance, or “skirmishes.” Almost all buyer-players have the initial advantage and hate the feeling of being sold, and few enter the game seeking to change from the status quo, even if it’s not working that well or meeting performance expectations. In order to progress further in the Value Game with the buyer, the salesperson needs to establish the game’s time limit, the buyer-seller purpose for interacting (why am I here and what’s in it for the buyer) and, at a minimum, accomplish some neutral ground, including obtaining the buyer’s permission to enter phase two. That permission is earned by ending the first quarter with at least a nominal net positive value gain score for the buyer.
The second quarter (Developing Interest and a Desire to Change) of the Value Game is about developing three critical value contributors:
- The seller determines some key influences on the buyer’s decision-making process through a buying center confirmation and budget/risk discussion.
- The seller develops a clear understanding via active listening techniques of what desired state the buyer is seeking and why.
- The seller achieves desire on the part of the buyer to consider a change from the “as is,” which is failing to achieve the desired state (i.e. feeling pain), to an improved value alternative, assuming the seller, including allies, can deliver the necessary improvement.
After this quarter, the buyer must feel some desire to change as a result of perceived potential value, or the second half is usually a waste of time for all players. To avoid this, the seller must be observant of buyer non-verbal communication, and trial closing should be consistently employed.
The Value Game’s third quarter (The Presentation/Demonstration and Conviction to Change) is about the seller and buyer co-developing ideas for mutual gain and then showing and confirming how those ideas will work for the buyer. A critical value-enhancing condition achieved during this period of play is the seller correctly matching specific features or capabilities with what the buyer previously indicated was wanted and why. Statements beginning with, “What this will do for you” and “What’s in it for you” should be practiced by the seller. The buyer needs clear guidance to achieving added value versus the seller assuming that the buyer will understand what the proposal will accomplish.
The fourth quarter (The Value Discussion and Gaining Commitment) contains two important contributing elements to the seller’s ability to successfully play the Value Game. When entering this fourth quarter, the seller must first transition to more positive-minded thinking in order to effectively lead the buyer through a value discussion summarizing what a purchase decision would financially, personally, and emotionally accomplish for the buyer. The final purchase decision is often emotionally driven; therefore, the salesperson needs to be willing to not only effectively summarize the estimated value-to-be-gained in financial terms, but also engage the buyer’s emotions consistent with the proposal’s acceptance. This value discussion is often a benefit summary type close being offered as a critical game point trial close. Second, it is imperative to gain a decision to either purchase the offering (an order close) or, at a minimum, secure a decision to continue the quest to achieve a win-win outcome (a process close). To have played over three quarters of buyer-seller interaction and then fail to obtain a close is a lose-lose proposition. Furthermore, assuming the value discussion is very positive, the ideal win-win close (i.e. the buyer closing the seller) can sometimes be achieved.
Don’t Let Objections Take You Out of the Game
During any Value Game encounter, certain objections should be expected to arise. Although worded very differently, these objections generally follow five patterns: no trust, no need, no hurry, no help, and price/no money. For maximum value fulfillment, objections and the salesperson’s ability to proficiently manage them can be a significant value-building ingredient. For example, it may be productive to invite objections early during a buyer-seller engagement. As a general rule, earlier objections enable the seller to quickly demonstrate value-building capabilities, including, but not limited to:
- Communication skills
- Leadership skills
- Listening skills
- A willingness to understand the buyer
As Covey highlights in his seven habits, seek first to understand, then to be understood. This is the essence of good objection management. Objections represent fertile opportunities for sellers to clearly demonstrate these capabilities or value builders. Theodore Roosevelt is one of several people credited with coining the phrase, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
As the buyer-seller engagement progresses, objections tend to be more positive buying signals than significant causes of concern or red flags. For example, a buyer asking about terms, conditions, or even price are generally all positive inquiries. Even if a buyer poses what proves to be a deal-killing concern, it is best to learn earlier versus later so that the seller’s time and resources are not wasted on a “china egg,” a selling situation that will never hatch no matter how much time or effort is expended.
Every business is a process that transforms inputs into outputs. In so doing, the business must be adding incremental value for buyers, or it will go out of business. The sales process is no different because it should be organized to transform prospects into satisfied customers. Offered experience must consistently add value, or the targeted buyers will seek solutions elsewhere.
Rather than focusing efforts on winning or losing, sellers should focus on the necessary habits of value-building success—the right mindset and consistently working a strategy that is value driven and properly aligned to the buyer’s reasons to buy. In other words, it’s not about winning or losing; it’s how well you played the Value Game.
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Covey, Stephen R. (2004), The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, New York, NY: Free Press.
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About the Author
Charles Fifield, MBA
Senior Lecturer and Sales Coach, Baylor University’s Center for Professional Selling
Chuck Fifield is a Senior Lecturer for Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business, Marketing Department and serves as the faculty coach to several Baylor Sales teams. He joined the faculty at Baylor University in 2001, teaching in the Graduate Business School (Operations Management), the Management Department (Negotiations and Conflict Resolution), and the Economics Department (Principles of Macroeconomics). Chuck has taught or guest lectured at other Texas-based universities in the fields of sales, international business, money and banking and finance/investments. Professor Fifield has conducted sales research and training for several organizations, including most recently State Farm Insurance. Prior to joining Baylor, Chuck was a financial consultant for nearly thirty years to businesses located throughout the U.S. He owned and operated several financial service businesses in the fields of securities, real estate, oil and gas and insurance.