Why Industrial Salespeople Struggle To Sell Value

Paul Reilly highlights the three greatest hurdles industrial salespeople face when attempting to sell value, and how to conquer them.

In a recent study, Reilly Sales Training discovered the three greatest hurdles industrial salespeople face when attempting to sell value. The survey revealed that salespeople are not:

  • Meeting with the right decision makers
  • Differentiating their solution
  • Creating enough value for customers

Here is how salespeople can combat these three challenges.

Getting In Front Of The Ultimate Decision Maker

The number one challenge industrial salespeople face is meeting with the ultimate decision maker. Industrial salespeople spend 34 percent of their face-to-face selling time with procurement departments. They are attempting to sell value to the most price-sensitive decision maker.

When pursuing a new opportunity, start with high-level decision makers (HLDMs). HLDMs are upper management. They include business owners, executives and directors. Industrial salespeople spend less than 7 percent of their selling time in front of these decision makers.

These decision makers think differently and buy differently. HLDMs have five areas of concern: profitability, cash flow, competitive posture, deployment of resources and customer satisfaction. Demonstrate how a partnership with your company will help them improve in these key areas.

Getting an initial meeting with an HLDM is challenging. HLDMs are busy, but they will make time for people that can help them achieve their business objectives. Here are some tips when pursuing HLDMs:

  • The most effective way to initiate contact with an HLDM is to get a referral from someone. A referral gives you instant credibility and they are more effective than a simple cold call. In fact, the Journal of Marketing Research claims that one referral can be as effective as twelve cold calls.
  • Create value in your communication. Tell the HLDM something they don’t already know. Provide them with a new idea or insight. Be persistent in your communication and use multiple sources: phone, e-mails, letters, etc.
  • Arrange a meeting between your high-level managers and your prospect’s HLDM. This is called a high-level schmooze. This shows the prospect that you will support their business at the highest levels within your organization.

Differentiating Your Solution

What makes you different than your competition? This is one of the most difficult questions for industrial salespeople to answer. To answer this question, consider your total solution. Ask yourself three fundamental sales questions:

  • Why should the customer buy our products?
  • Why should they buy from our company?
  • Why should they buy from me, their salesperson?

Most salespeople answer the first question with product, features and benefits (PFBs). A generic PFB presentation blends in with the competition, especially if you are selling the same products. Rather than focusing on features and benefits, consider how you service the products you sell. Do you package it differently? Do you offer extended service? Do you offer better delivery?

Customers want to buy from companies that are easy to do business with. Be able to explain or demonstrate the value your company adds to the overall solution. This includes number of locations, inventory levels, reputation, post-sale support, etc.

According to our internal research, the salesperson represents 25 percent of the total value of the solution. Demonstrate the personal value you bring. Your personal value includes integrity, follow-up, personal service and ability to solve problems. You represent a unique dimension of value. There is only one you.

However, when you are presenting your personal value, it’s not enough to claim you have integrity or problem-solving skills. You have to prove it. When presenting your personal value, share a story or a specific example. Better yet, provide the customer with a testimonial supporting your claims.

Finding Ways To Create More Value

Andy Grove, the Intel founder, famously said, “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.”

Too often, salespeople become complacent with their top customers. A complacent salesperson works just hard enough to merely satisfy the customer. Creating more value begins with embracing the right attitude.

A little paranoia can do some good. What if your best customer was really your best prospect? Would you treat the customer differently? Chances are you would try a little harder and think a little deeper. You would obsess over new ideas or new ways to create value for that prospect. Remember, your best customer is a prospect…for the competition. Right now, there is another salesperson competing just as hard — maybe even harder — for that opportunity.

Look for ways to reinvent yourself to relevance and create more value for your customers. Ask yourself these three questions to get started:

  • What does my customer hate doing that I can do for them?
  • How can I improve our end-to-end customer experience?
  • What can I do to make it easier to do business with our company?

Selling value is one of the greatest challenges salespeople face. Depending on your attitude, these three challenges represent either a hurdle or an opportunity.

Start with the right person. Identify and pursue the high-level decision maker from the very beginning. Demonstrate how a partnership with your company will help the HLDM achieve their business objectives. Be prepared to answer the question, “What makes you different from the competition?” Finally, never stop looking for ways to create value for your best customers. Remember, your best customer is the competition’s best prospect.

Paul Reilly is president of Reilly Sales Training, a St. Louis-based, privately-owned company that specializes in training sales professionals, sales managers and service professionals. Call Paul at 636-778-0175 or email [email protected].

This article appears in Industrial Distribution's September/October print and digital editions.

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