Selling to the CxO: Building a Rock Solid, Irresistible, Powerful Proposition

By Daniel J. Adams

Selling to senior executives is a terrific challenge. Most often you are facing barriers to entry before you can even think about deploying appropriate sales strategies. Gaining access to a CxO mandates that you tackle the anticipated question,: “Why should I talk to you, much less buy from you?”  Answering this question effectively requires thoughtfulness and advance preparation. You need something in your sales arsenal called a Value Proposition.

Value Proposition: A value proposition is not a thing, like a product or a service. It’s a sales message that shows that you thoroughly understand the following:

  • Who the customer is and the exact nature of his or her headaches

  • How your product or solution can eliminate or prevent those headaches and provide desired benefits

  • The ways in which you are uniquely qualified to do this

  • Specifically why a customer would want to spend more for this uniqueness

  • Solid credible proof that you can do it

Preparing and internalizing an effective value proposition is one of the very first things a rep should do upon joining a company. Preferably, the value proposition is developed in conjunction with senior executives and corporate marketing. It should take into account the overall corporate strategic direction. Everyone from the person who answers the phones to the CxO to the janitorial staff should know the company’s value proposition. Although you must memorize it, you will never use your value proposition in its entire memorized form with a customer. Rather, you customize it to each customer based on his or her specific needs and role.. A powerful value proposition has five components:

  • The Promise

  • The Enablers

  • The Unfair Advantage

  • The Justification Of  Value (“Show Me The Money”)

  • The Proof.

The Promise: This first value proposition component answers the customer question, “How can you help me?” The promise is your high-level commitment to an account to help it succeed. Typically, your commitment will be to help the customer increase profits, reduce costs, increase revenue, increase efficiency, improve quality, or strengthen its market position. Promises are not the same as benefits. If you were selling refrigerators, your promise would not be to keep a family’s food at a consistent forty degrees Fahrenheit; your promise would be to help maintain everyone’s good health and improve the quality of the family’s life. If you were selling medical billing software, your promise would not be the software’s ability to print labels at top speed; it would be to reduce billing costs and improve the hospital’s bottom line.

The Enablers: The second component of your value proposition answers the customer question, “What services, products, and solutions allow you to make the promise to me?” The enablers are what you offer to fulfill the promise.

For example, if your promise to the customer is, “I can help you increase revenue,” the enablers explain the tools, solutions, and services you offer that will permit you to fulfill that promise. If your promise is related to how you will help an organization increase its revenue and reduce its costs, the logical question is, how and with what? The enabler may be a software program, service, or a suite of widgets. It could also be technology, consulting, implementation and maintenance services, financial services, and so on.

The Unfair Advantage: This third component of your value proposition answers the customer question, “What makes you different from your competition?” Your unfair advantages are the capabilities, services, and offerings unique to you or your company that your competitors consider a threat to their success. An unfair advantage — such as having the largest market share, the best product, the best reputation among buyers, or the longest experience in the field — alters the playing field and gives you a distinct advantage. If you think long and hard, you will uncover several advantages you can capitalize on.

Once you determine your unfair advantage, you need to elevate it as a key buying criterion for all of your customers. If it’s not a key buying criterion now, you need a strategy to convince the customer that this should be a key buying criterion. For instance, let’s say you are an insurance agent and your unfair advantage is the financial reputation of your company. You might say, “Mr. Customer, whether or not you buy from my company is irrelevant. As you analyze the different offerings, you need to consider the long-term viability and reputation of the companies. Are they going to be there in the future to take care of you?”

The Justification of Value:   Show Me The Money!  Having one or more unfair advantages is not enough. In an advanced value proposition each unfair advantage also includes a justification as to why the customer should invest more in the selling price (initial investment) than that of your competition.

A true superstar assumes that the initial investment for her solution will be significantly higher that that of her competitor. She is armed with the sales tools and knowledge to specifically justify that difference. In fact, the true superstar wants her initial investment to be higher than her competition because it speaks to value. Most customers associate quality with cost. Let’s say, for example, that you sell cars and one of your unfair advantages is that your cars have a higher trade-in value, on average, than your competition. You would want to walk your customer through the business case for investing more upfront than he would spend for another auto. This is called selling value!

The Proof: The proof is the fifth component of a value proposition. It provides a response to the customer statement, “I don’t believe you — prove it!” The proof attests to the fact that you can do what you just said you would do. You may prove your case to the customer using industry ratings or by demonstrating market share.

Without question, the very best proof comes in the form of referrals from satisfied customers, quotations in the press, or case studies showing how you improved quality or increased revenue for another account similar to your target account.

Constructing a rock-solid value proposition is not that difficult. Your efforts will be rewarded with easier access to CxOs and greater success selling to them. Just remember the five components and corresponding questions summarized below, and you’ll be well on your way.

 The Value Proposition Components

Component

Definition

The Promise: 

“How Can You Help Me?”

The Enablers:

“What Are The Arsenal Of Services, Technologies, Products And Solutions That Allow You To Make The Commitment To Me”

The Unfair Advantage: 

“What Makes You Different Than Your Competition?”

The Justification of Value:

“Specifically Why Should I Invest More For Your Offering Than The Competition?”

The Proof: 

“I Do Not Believe You, Prove It”

Good Luck, and Close ‘Em!

Read other articles and learn more about Daniel J. Adams.

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