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Managing Do you know the value of what you're selling? Many sales reps don't

Delivering value is core to success in sales. Whether in winning new clients, or retaining or expanding accounts, value is central. Customers expect it, and sales and marketing people must employ it to win customers – usually from another company that is using value to keep them.

Given all the talk about value and its importance, you would think that sales and marketing people would have a good understanding of the value they deliver to clients, and are able to communicate that value in a way that will resonate.

The sad reality is that many don't, and have great difficulty articulating the value they can bring to potential buyers in a clear or specific way. Existing clients are left to figure out what value they are truly getting from your product or your company – a situation that explains why loyalty is so fleeting, and why many are so surprised when their clients bolt for reasons they don't understand.

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This may sound harsh, and many sales and marketing leaders may dismiss it, but from where I sit, it is confirmed on almost a weekly basis.

There are two questions I ask of sales people that confirm this. The first is "Why do people buy from you and your company?" The answers I get are not only underwhelming, but often indistinguishable from other companies in their sectors. The answers are generic and usually communicate the vendors' own view of themselves, rather than that of the market. In most instances, if I took out the name of the company I am with, and put in the name of their least worthy competitor, the effect and accuracy of the statement changes little, if any. Which means that unworthy competitor can compete with you and deliver the same underwhelming experience at a lower cost.

This is even more pronounced when I ask: "Give me three specific value or positive business impacts you have delivered to your clients." Instead of talking about how they were able to reduce delivery time by X, leading to a gain in revenue of Y, and reducing the cash sitting in inventory by Z, I hear a stream of beige, empty-calorie words. Many tell me that they are reliable and/or dependable. Really, is that the value, the big differentiator, that you want to impress buyers with?

I rarely get people talking about quantifiable difference they have made for their clients. Don't get me wrong, I am not saying that your clients don't realize value in dealing with you. I am saying that your sales and marketing organizations either can't articulate it in a meaningful way to potential new buyers, don't understand the value they deliver, or both. Most of the responses are very inward looking even though they claim to be customer-centric.

This shouldn't be news to anyone in sales or marketing, but reliability, dependability, or ISO certification, are features, not values. They are all important features, ones that you may do better than others, but they are not values. Worse, they're often features that your least worthy competitor can also boast. It's what your buyers can achieve with them in their business that translates those features to real, measurable and differentiating value. The fact that your car has wheels is not a value – all cars have wheels, but not all deliver the same value to owners.

It is clear that the reason many sales and marketing organizations do not know what value they actually deliver is that they simply don't ask. So if you want to truly articulate value to your customers, do two things now. First ask your sales team "what is the value our customers get from buying from us?" Then go ask you customers the same thing.

Tibor Shanto is a principal at Renbor Sales Solutions Inc. He can be reached at tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca. His column appears once a month on the Report on Small Business website.

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