There is an incredible amount of focus placed on having a great value proposition.  Sales and marketing professionals spend countless hours and dollars developing ways to articulate what their firm does in ways that are unique, succinct and compelling.  Infographics, videos, case studies, power point presentations, webinars and blogs are all used to try to clearly communicate value into a world of constant noise.  Even if there are other firms touting the same value, organizations are constantly striving to articulate their value better than their competition.

This makes tons of sense, right?   Nothing could be more important to increasing sales than more effectively and efficiently communicating the value your firm provides, right?  While I will not be so bold as to suggest that the ability to communicate that your firm provides a high level of value is unimportant, I will let you in on something that is often overlooked.  (Shhhh.  Let’s keep this between just the two of us.)  It’s only half of the equation.

I learned this in a sales training about 15 years ago.  I often lose sight of it myself because I don’t think I’ve heard it a single time since.  In order for someone to buy your products and services, you have to not only have high perceived value by the client, but your business has to be compatible with theirs.  That sounds simple.  Unfortunately, many companies never consider this aspect of their business.  They assume that any underperformance by sales is due to their inability to articulate the value proposition effectively.  Many never consider the possibility that the prospective customer sees enormous value, but that they believe that doing business with your company may be too difficult and that the pain that accompanies working with you is greater than the value.  I know what you’re thinking.  Enough generalities!  What is this guy talking about!?

There are a myriad of things that make up business compatibility, during the sales process.  If we speak about business compatibility at all, we typically only discuss things like “alignment of culture” and “similar values”.  However there are some very concrete things that can make your company either very easy or difficult to buy from.  Some of the more notable items include:

  • Terms and conditions in your agreements   
  • The process you require a prospect to participate in to obtain a quote or an estimate
  • Amount of client resources you require during the sales process (this includes the amount of time and the number of people you engage)
  • Structure of your contracts
  • Pricing
  • The number of people in your firm that the client has to speak to (this is especially challenging to the client who has to explain the same thing to multiple individuals at different times)

Companies do all sorts of things that are not compatible with the way their clients and prospects would prefer to purchase.

 I personally witnessed the following scenario as it played out.  A Fortune 100 company told a software vendor that they wanted to purchase a “perpetual license” for their product instead of paying a monthly fee, which was the standard for the vendor.  The vendor never once asked why this was important, but continued to tell the prospective client how it would be “better for them” to pay the monthly fee.  Due to accounting policies and the structure of the prospects budget, they could not purchase the monthly subscription.  They did however, have hundreds of thousands of dollars set aside to pay a lump sum for the use of the product, which was much more than the sum of the monthly payments the vendor was requesting over the duration of the contract.  In the end, no sale was made, and to this day I think the vendor thinks the client was dumb.  I can almost hear the conversations that I’m sure took place in the next weeks sales meeting.  “We have to find a better way to get prospects to understand our value!”.  WRONG!

Every day sales departments are developing new “engagement processes” to improve the close rate or the size of the deals.  Is anyone even considering that customers may buy more if it was easier for them to purchase?  Rarely do  discussions center around understanding what the customers’ current buying process is and how to match a sales process to that.  The typical sales process discussions focus on how to minimize risk for the vendor , how to get more senior executives from the prospect engaged in the process and how to reduce the number of small “let’s get used to working together deals”, while ensuring that all the deals proposed are are comprehensive and long in duration.  Sales executives and consultants shout from the mountaintop, “Avoid working with procurement!”,  “Don’t ever use the clients terms and conditions!” and “I don’t care how they work with our competitors”.  From the client’s perspective, the majority of these sales process “improvements” result in:

  • Greater risk
  • Involving people that aren’t used to and don’t have time to be involved in the sales process
  • A need to make exception to existing policies and procedures and most importantly
  • A desire to locate a vendor partner that is easier to work with

Whether it is true or not (and it often isn’t), clients assume that how difficult your firm is to work with during the buying process is a reflection of how difficult you will be to work with during the provision of your products and services.

Some of this may seem quite extreme.  To be honest, most companies COULD stand to improve their ability to articulate their value to their prospects.  But it is vital that you also consider that your clients’ perceived value of your offerings only has to be high enough to overcome how big of a pain you are to buy from.  At least consider the fact that being a little more flexible to adapt to your clients’ buying processes could potentially pay bigger dividends than creating another new complex offer or process that makes them break every rule in their own company, in order to work with yours.

The next time you lose a deal to a competitor, don’t just assume that the other team’s sales rep did a better job of articulating value.  Could it be that they presented a proposal that was 96 pages shorter than yours?