Adding Value to Client Relationships

by Eric Baron

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It’s terribly obvious. It’s a very difficult marketplace. With very few exceptions, people in the selling role are finding it harder and harder to generate revenue. We’re living with it every day.

But there is business out there. Maybe not as much as in the past. But it’s there. And every time an opportunity presents itself, somebody will win the business. It might as well be you.

In times like this it’s all about differentiating yourself. You must add value to your relationships. It’s easy to say and hard to do. But if you don’t do this it will be harder to succeed. 

When we conduct sales training programs for our clients, we introduce them to the concept of the Value Pyramid. (See figure). It speaks to the value we bring to our client relationships.

The lowest level is Execution. At this level all we do is execute-that is, we do what the client asks us to do. We do it well and we take pride in what we do. But it’s a reactive approach. We do pretty much what any reputable supplier would do. We certainly don’t differentiate ourselves. At this level most decisions are based on price.

The next level is Solutions Provider. There is lots of talk about solution selling and it has its value. But we think of this level as responding to needs that the client already knows he or she has. We provide solutions, we bring creativity to the table, but surprisingly, this is still a reactive approach and we don’t add that much value. Our competitors can probably offer equally impressive solutions. It’s still not where we want to be.

When we get to level three, Needs Developer, we start to differentiate ourselves. Clients don’t always know their needs. As we heard a buyer say in a focus group: “I want my salespeople to bring be solutions to problems I don’t even know I have,” That’s what the Needs Developer does. By asking big picture questions, listening at 112%, hearing what the client doesn’t say, as well as what he or she does say, picking up on the implied needs as well as the obvious needs, and focusing on the client, not yourself, you truly can understand their needs. That clearly makes you different then your competitors, allows you to make better recommendations, and enables you to add value to the relationship.

The highest level is the Strategic Advisor. You don’t get there with many accounts, but when you do, your position is rock solid. Strategic Advisors become members of the client’s team. They offer insight, perspectives and ideas. They are available to help when called upon. They are genuine value added resources for their clients. And they are clearly different than their competitors.

So when you think about your clients and plan your approach, ask yourself how you will uncover those needs that nobody else will know.

  • What questions will you ask?
  • How will you get the client to share important information?
  • Who in their organization can help you in your efforts?
  • What ideas can you offer your clients?
  • What research can you do for them?
  • What articles may be in their interest?
  • What potential customer’s can you introduce to them?
  • How can you help make their life easier?

Nobody gets to level three or four of the Pyramid without lots of effort. But if you do these things you will get there. And when you do, you will be the one to win the business that is out there. And that is what selling is all about.

The Value Pyramid

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