Books: Value Selling

No, this isn’t about books that tell you how to maximize “value” on your next trip to Costco or on-line purchase at Amazon.  This is what some of my favorite books taught me about value based selling:

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – There’s so much in this book I love, it’s hard to focus on any one thing, but Covey’s Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, then to Be Understood is the key to the most important part of value based selling.  His point about a doctor diagnosing before prescribing is the ideal analogy for an effective seller of complex and/or expensive solutions.  He also advocates understanding both the logic and emotion of a situation.   Listen with empathy.

SPIN Selling – Neil Rackham’s seminal work is my favorite book for complex sales.  Not only do his ideas resonate, but he shares his science, from real research watching 1000’s of sales people, for why features and functions - or demo - selling just doesn’t work in complex sales.  Ask questions that eventually demonstrate a need and payoff, hopefully with the prospect telling you in their own words.   The idea of growing the pain (or cost, using an ROI) of a situation that your solution will positively impact is a beautiful one.  Arm your champion with things that matter to management because many times you’re not there and management doesn’t care about features.  My own personal interpretation of SPIN Selling led me to build a set of learning objectives, and a ROI, for each company I work with.  These act as guides for what I need to learn to qualify, build value, and close business more effectively.

The Challenger Sale – It’s been a while since a book about selling came out backed by real research and data to support its positions.  The Challenger Sale joins SPIN Selling in that regard.  The big, provocative, claim: Relationship based sales people are by far the least effective kind of sellers in complex sales.  Those who challenge, and “teach,” are by far the most productive.  The data also said that knowing how to get to and understand economic and value drivers, and being comfortable talking about money, were some of the few attributes that distinguished superior salespeople.  Being able to create an environment of constructive tension, and pressure, were also key traits.

Selling to VITO – More old school and tactical, Tony Parinello focuses mainly on how to get in the door.  While I believe that value selling is mostly about what happens after you’re “in the door,” being able to get a meeting with someone important is still an essential skill.  Bottom line: Senior executives care about:  1. Value (not features)  2. Proof and  3. References.  If you and your company focus on having and articulating those three things, you’ll be wildly more effective at getting to important people.  A ROI is a great way to help build and tell a value story early in a discussion.

First Break All the Rules – Again, Buckingham uses real science and data to show us conventional wisdom is wrong.   The most important idea this book has to share is you can’t teach talent, so you need to focus on finding and cultivating it, not “teaching” it.  While I believe much of value based selling is a skill that can be learned, with tools like ROIs helping, there is no denying some people have a special talent for it.  A certain incurable and tenacious curiosity is one sign they “got it.”  Although this book is more about managing, it’s a great book for any salesperson to read.

The Four Steps to the Epiphany – This isn’t a book about selling, but it could very well be, especially if you work for a young company, like a technology start-up.  Here too the author, Steven Blank, throws conventional wisdom under the bus.  His book is about how to start a company, but the parallels to effective selling are eerily familiar:  Ask.  Listen.  Learn.  Before you build a product, certainly before you “go to market,” you better go ask your prospective customers about their problems and what they’re willing to pay for.  Sounds a lot like value based selling, huh?