In complex B2B sales environments – particularly ones that involve multiple stakeholders and lengthy and often complicated buying journeys – it’s unwise to rush to propose your solution the moment a prospective customer acknowledges or implies that they may have a need that you might be able to solve.
This tendency towards “premature elaboration” has been the ruin of many apparently promising sales opportunities. If it is a significant purchase, and if your customer takes their decision-making seriously, they are going to take their time. rather than racing ahead of their buying journey, you would be far better advised to first establish your distinctive value.
But before you can position the distinctive value of implementing your solution, you first need to position the value of addressing your customer’s issues …
It’s vital that you establish the full cost of their problem before you promote the value of our approach. Kahneman’s research into buying behaviour concluded that decision-makers were 2-3 times more likely to take action because of the threat of loss as opposed to the opportunity for gain. Other studies have concluded that a decision to do nothing and stick with the status quo is the most common outcome for complex B2B buying journeys.
It should be obvious that before you attempt to persuade your customer of the distinctive value of your solution, you first need to build the case for change. And that requires a different sort of conversation from the need > solution track that might work in simple transactional sales. It requires a progressive, intentional and thoughtful approach – one that spans the following phases:
 Key trends
First, you need to become familiar with the most important industry and market trends that are affecting your target customers. You need to offer fresh perspectives on these trends that will be both interesting to your customers and allow you to progressively develop the conversation towards the recognition that they need your help – but at this stage it is vital that you resist the “itch to pitch” and be very careful not to rush into presenting your solution prematurely, before they have even acknowledged they have a problem.
 Key issues
Then, you need to identify the key issues that these trends are likely to be creating for their organisation. These are likely to include threats that if ignored are likely to have negative effect their business performance, as well as opportunities that – if implemented – could have a significant positive impact on their business. Once again, you need to focus our attention on threats and opportunities that – if recognised – you have proven answers to but you need to continue to lead towards rather than with your solution.
 Potential obstacles
Having identified some significant threats or opportunities that you are well-positioned to help them to address, it’s now worth exploring the existing and potential obstacles that could be preventing them from achieving their goals. Perhaps they have already tried to deal with the issue, but have not been happy with the outcome? If so, you need to understand why. Alternatively, they may want to deal with the issue, but feel that current circumstances are holding them back. Once again, you need to understand why.
All of the above is a prelude to identifying the consequences of their current situation. If they feel that there are few negative consequences associated with sticking with the status quo, they are unlikely to see the need for change. And even if they do recognise some important consequences, they may feel that they are insufficient to justify action. You need to amplify the perceived pain of staying as they are by introducing previously unrecognised implications and consequences and in doing so making a compelling case for change.
 The need for change
By now, you should have persuaded your customer – if persuasion was necessary – of the need to take action. You now need to help them to think through the changes they will have to make to their business in order to address the issues, threats and opportunities they have acknowledged. These changes may involve their people, their organisation, their behaviours or their systems. Any change is always seen as carrying potential risk – so you must reassure them that the benefits of change will more than justify any short-term disruption.
 Potential options
Your customer will always have options, and these options will not necessarily be restricted to merely other vendors or suppliers that might at face value look similar to you. They will often include alternative approaches to achieving the goals your customer has established. They may believe that developing an “in house” solution is a credible option – or they could choose a completely different path. You need to understand what your customer regards as their credible options, and to help them weigh up the pros and cons of each approach.
 Critical capabilities
You’ve now laid the foundation for introducing your key capabilities as “must have” minimum requirements for addressing their issues, threats and opportunities, eliminating their obstacles and avoiding negative consequences. And because your capabilities can now be positioned within a clear business context, your recommendations will have far more power and credibility than if you jumped the gun and attempted to propose your solution the moment that your prospective customer acknowledged a potential need.
 Business value
And because your unique capabilities now have a clear business context, you can associate them with a clear business value. Because you have helped your customer to acknowledge the significant costs, risks and consequences of their current situation, you can establish a powerful contrast with the significant business benefits of adopting your approach and implementing your solution. And because you have highlighted the full potential value of the project, you can help your champion to justify its approval.
Contrast drives change
I’m not suggesting that the sales conversation needs to be perfectly linear in following these phases, or that all of these steps can or should be completed within a single conversation. But this progressive framework encourages and equips your sales people to invest their time in truly understanding the nature of their customer’s challenges – and allows you to establish the maximum contrast between the customer’s current situation and what they could aspire to if they decided to adopt your approach.
If you buy into these principles and want to learn more about the implications of adopting value selling in your organisation, I recommend that you download our step-by-step guide to implementing an effective value selling strategy.