Adding Value: The 75 Million Dollar Difference


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'Worth' highlighted, under 'Value'

At a recent industry event I ran into two friends I had not seen since the height of the recession in 2010. After joking with each other about hairlines receding and waistlines expanding as well as catching up on the growth of our respective children, we did what sales people do and started saber-rattling about our business progress.

In the first decade of the 21st century, both friends were part of very similar and respectable small businesses. Both had similar routes to market, customer segments, and distribution channels – resulting in around $25 million in annual revenue. I asked friend A how things were going and he was excited that they were finally growing again. During the recession they had to lay off around 20% of their staff, including some of their sales force and he was happy to have made the cut. They had a few loyal customers that kept the lights on and while they dipped to under $20M in 2011/12 they were finally back on track to pre-recession growth. After telling the story my friend let out a sigh of relief and feigned a smile. The last 5 years had been tough on him.

Friend B, however, was beaming and I had never seen him happier. His company was opening their third regional office in the US and had just launched an international sales office as well. His company had been hiring more technical and sales professionals and just celebrated breaking the $100M mark in 2014. Things couldn’t be better.

After picking friend A’s jaw up off the floor, I inquired about how they were able to accomplish such growth in the midst of a down economy. He said they made a conscious decision to add value beyond just the product and services they offered. At a 2009 management meeting, their leadership decided that selling quality products at a fair price was not enough. They needed to focus on adding value and rapidly went to work defining what that meant for their customers.

The company hired strategically, increasing their technical staff and pairing them with an editorial team who were able to distill complex technical concepts into blog posts and white papers that could connect with both engineers and the C-Suite readers—a difficult feat for any company. Rather than giving out more tchotchkes at trade shows, they focused on being keynote speakers, breakout panelists, and sponsoring key technical sessions. They took a camera with them on every trip to the factories, walking their customers through key production elements, quality control, and even produced a “how to” series on how best to use the products, all of which was posted on the company YouTube channel. They developed a social media strategy to help amplify the brand and connect with a broader range of customers.

The results were not immediate, my friend continued, as customers initially though “what is the catch?” No catch. The company was genuinely interested in provided elements of value associated with their products and the response has been phenomenal. The primary area they have seen growth in has been in referral business as customers share with peers and industry colleagues. “It is as if we have a volunteer army of marketers out there working on our behalf”, he said. In fact they have reduced the amount they spend on traditional marketing like brochures and trade show booth space and have continued to see growth through it.

Value and Competitive Advantage

I recently read a great book by James McQuivey about Digital Disruption. He outlines the rapid changes in the business landscape made possible by the internet. One of the most sobering lines was about competitive advantage. He writes that “the only source of competitive advantage now is a focus on KNOWLEDGE OF and ENGAGEMENT WITH customers.

Every company has their “speeds and feeds” reports, their unique feature sets or service offering. But today’s customer has a limitless supply of options and while your game-changing product is great, it may not quite resonate with customers.

Pre-Sales Value

Adding value before the sale goes beyond just a data sheet or product demo. There are several ways a company can provide value for the customer such as:

Blog posts – providing a regular look behind the scenes and encouraging customer engagement. Adding in guest posts from key executives adds even more to the conversation and allows your company to share the vision and get feedback from customers
Case Studies – leverage the power of social proof to help potential customers they are not breaking new ground and customers like them have used your product or service to solve for problem “X”.
“How To” Videos – the production cost for video has come down to almost nothing. Share videos of how best to use your product, share stories from customers, or do interviews with production staff or R&D members—their passion for your products can be contagious through video and engage or delight your prospects.
Engage Socially – Customers are flocking to social media to research and inform their purchasing decisions. Make certain you have a useful presence in these channels including Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Quora.

Post-Sales Value

The cardinal sin in sales is getting the PO and then walking away. Customer retention is vital for your success and setting your customer up with contact information for support or a usability checklist speaks volumes for the care of your install base. A few ideas for post-sales value are:

On-Demand training – leverage some of the how to videos you produced and develop a training course for your customers to follow.
User Groups – Create a user group on LinkedIn where your users can share success stories and unique use cases. Make certain you have members of your team participating in the conversation. You may learn new insights on how best to help your customers in the future.

Cutting Through The Noise

We live in a noisy world with every company and industry clamoring for customer attention and wallet share. Having a quality product or service in a connected world has become table stakes—if what you are selling is difficult to implement, of poor quality, or not useful the world will know about it in a matter of minutes via social media.

I am certainly not so naive in business to think that there weren’t market conditions, leadership experience, or other factors involved that contributed to friend B’s growth but when faced with two (or more) options for dinner do customers choose the one with just dinner or the one with appetizers, dinner and dessert for the same price. The choice is obvious and value is the cherry on top.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

Scott Spiker
I'm a sales coach and Social Selling evangelist for Symantec. I have spent the last 15 years carrying an individual quota and am now in the process of building out our social sales practice.


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