Why A Personal Value Proposition Is YOUR HUGE ADVANTAGE

Mark Holmes is an expert at generating new sales with large and strategically important accounts – and is the author of “The 5 Rules of Megavalue Selling”.

On this episode of The Salesman Podcast, Mark shares why we need to create a strong value proposition and how to create one in a few simple steps.

If you're looking at using a unique selling proposition/unique selling point to pull on customer pain you might be better off watching this episode to understand the power of proper value proposition design.

You'll learn:

Sponsored by:

Featured on this episode:

Host - Will Barron
Founder of Salesman.org
Guest - Mark Holmes
Value Selling Expert

Resources:

Transcript

Mark Holmes:

A value proposition is simply those compelling reasons, maybe two or three main reasons why someone ought to buy from me, my product, my service, versus the options, versus their competitors. So, it's really important that we're able to do that because if we don't, then we risk being one of those me, too.

 

Will Barron:

Hello, sales agent. I'm Will Barron, host of the Salesman Podcast, world's biggest B2B sales show where we help you not just take your target, but really thrive in sales. If you haven't already, make sure you click subscribe. And with that said, let's meet today's guest.

 

Mark Holmes:

Well, I'm Mark Holmes and I have a company called Consultant Board. My specialty really is working with salespeople and in training and in a coaching format.

 

Will Barron:

On this episode, Mark will be diving into value propositions, what they are, the rules of building them, it's actually quite simple when you know what you're doing, how to strengthen them, and then how to ask really good questions to amp up the pain that someone has with their current provider so you can jump right in and close the business. And so, let's jump right in.

 

What is a Value Proposition? · [01:00]

 

Will Barron:

So, what is a value proposition? And then we'll dissect it perhaps away from what marketing do and then what we need to do to communicate to our buyers.

 

“A value proposition is simply those compelling reasons, maybe two or three main reasons why someone ought to buy from me, my product, my service, versus the options, versus their competitors.” – Mark Holmes · [01:11] 

 

Mark Holmes:

Yeah. It's a great place to start. A value proposition is simply those compelling reasons, maybe two or three main reasons why someone ought to buy from me, my product, my service, versus the options, versus their competitors. And that's what it is in its most simple form.

 

If You Don’t Defend the Value of Your Product, Nobody Will · [01:30] 

 

Will Barron:

And is this always a comparison between us and them? Is that what we need to do to position things here, and I'm saying this thinking I know where you'll go with this, but is our product that incredible that we don't need to mention anyone else and we can just talk about our products, features, benefits, and value, just because it's so incredible we don't need to align it against the market?

 

Mark Holmes:

Well, if we don't defend our value, nobody will. If we don't promote our value, no one will. If we don't put our value in the context of the customer, the prospect's world, they may have trouble doing that in a way that truly separates our product, our service value from all the other options that they have out there. So, it's really important that we're able to do that because if we don't, then we risk being one of those me, too. There's no question. Today, parity is a major challenge for being able to differentiate virtually any product. I've got clients that have been specialty producers or specialty manufacturers who enjoyed a niche that was really difficult for competitors to duplicate. Today, that's just not the case with technology, with cost coming down. It's easier for companies to come along and enter into a marketplace and suddenly now these specialty companies are finding that their value's not so esteemed or not so special, not so differentiated. They've got to go out there and differentiate, make that message crystal clear to the customer, to the prospect.

 

Mark’s Structure to Building a Unique Value Proposition · [03:06] 

 

Will Barron:

The reason I asked that specifically, and I was hoping you'd say that because that mirrors my thoughts on this is I'm looking for a new email provider at the moment of someone to send the mass emails to our email list because it's got to about a hundred thousand people on there now, and it's getting really expensive with MailChimp I use currently. And I went through this process of emailing, asking questions, going on websites. And that market in particular, everyone just says, “Well, we're the best. Why wouldn't you come with us?” Because there's no data on it. There's no comparison. There's very little … And maybe it's just the product itself of if it delivers emails and you can use the user interface reasonably well, then it wins kind of thing. But it was very difficult for me to start to differentiate between them all. And then it came down to price, which is obviously the last thing that we want to be competing on.

 

Will Barron:

So, is there a structure to building a value proposition? Are there any rules that we need to follow to start kind of piecing together the pieces of it before we can perhaps move on to some examples of what it actually is?

 

“A value proposition in its purest form is all about your customer. It's not about you. It's not about your product. It's not about your service. Because let's face it. If somebody walked in a room and just said, “Me, me, me, me, me,” that's a horrible way to develop a relationship and have anybody have an affinity for you.” – Mark Holmes · [04:23] 

 

Mark Holmes:

Yeah. It's perfect. There is. Yes. The answer to that question, there really are. And let me just hit three or four of those. I think the most important is that you start with a value message or a value proposition that's all about the customer. Really, a value proposition in its purest form when it's highly effective, it's about your customer. It's not about you. It's not about your product. It's not about your service. And that I believe is one of the biggest mistakes that we make when we go out there, get on the phone, try to communicate through an email, getting a live call with a customer, we try to make it about us. Let's face it. If somebody walked in a room and just said, “Me, me, me, me, me,” that's a horrible way to develop a relationship and have anybody have an affinity for you.

 

Mark Holmes:

Same thing with selling. If we go in and say, “It's about me, me, me, me, me,” the customer just tunes that out. And I'll hit those other points as well, but I had a client that was really struggling with getting their message through to an existing customer of theirs, actually already loyal, doing business, but they just weren't really open to giving them more business. And so, the VP of sales came to me and said, “We don't know what to do. We can't get them interested in a meeting. We've tried for a year and a half.” I said, “Well, let me see your emails and kind of clue me in what you've been doing.”

 

Mark Holmes:

So, you can imagine. The appeal was we'd like to meet with you because we'd like to tell you about, we'd like to explore with you. It was all about them. And I said to him, I said, “Dave, you got to reverse that. Let's look at their issues.”

 

Mark Holmes:

So, to fast-forward, not go through all the detail, the end of that story is that once we were able to identify what are your customer's issues? What are they struggling with? What are they interested in? Why would they even want you to potentially provide more business? And so when we began to get at some of those issues, like protect their brand, extend their brand image, enter into markets, increased market share. And then we began to ask, “Okay, how do we put the correct evidence or proof to that?” And they fortunately had a few studies and they put that data together. And we changed that entire appeal or approach. And in a short email, less than a hundred, 110 words with two or three bullet points, which I had instructed them to do, he completely changed the appeal and had a follow-up call.

 

Mark Holmes:

Long story made even shorter, they eventually got the business in about six to nine months or so, and landed a huge multimillion dollar contract. And so, that potential was always there. But the mistake they made was that first mistake they were making about them, not the customer.

 

“Instead of selling differences, it's really important that you sell the difference. The more we emphasise our differences, the more the customer tunes us out. They're not interested in differences. But that's what almost every salesperson does. “I'm different than them. I've got this, they don't. Ours are blue, theirs are red.” What they really want to know and what they want your help doing is being able to understand the difference that your product or service will make.” – Mark Holmes · [06:44]

 

Mark Holmes:

The second thing that you really want to do is you want to emphasise instead of selling differences. “Well, I think today it's really important that you sell the difference.” Here's what I found. I found the more we emphasise our differences, the more the customer tunes us out. They're not interested in differences. That's what almost every salesperson does. “I'm different than them. I've got this, they don't, we've got this. Ours are blue, theirs are red.” What they really want to know and what they want your help and my help doing is being able to understand the difference that that product or that service will make. And that's where we have to get in there and really know the customer prospect's issues. We've got to know them better to be able to do that. So, that's the second. The third … I'm [inaudible 00:07:28].

 

How to Sell “The Difference” Instead of Selling “The Differences” · [07:30]

 

Will Barron:

Just to talk to you, Mark? What would be an example of that? I guess an example of the differences versus the difference?

 

Mark Holmes:

Yeah. The differences would be to emphasise, well, we've got a faster product or our product's going to provide more assurance, but it's never really put it in that customer's perspective. Let's, for example, go back to the previous example I was giving.

 

Mark Holmes:

For them, they wanted to emphasise how they had this additional product that they believe could provide more sales. Well, everybody who approaches them believes that, and they really thought they had all that corner pretty much carved out. What they hadn't really is the customer hadn't really understood because the sales force or the sales manager really had failed at that messaging is they hadn't understood how this additional product that they would provide would yield more market share, get them into more space, protect their brand, extend their brand. And so, when they were able to present the case for that, the difference that it would make and the results that it would have for the marketing department, for the sales department, for the sales force that went out, then that message began to be clear. That's when it becomes alive to the customer.

 

How to Demonstrate to Your Buyers How Your Product or Service is Going to Make a Difference to Their Business · [08:43]

 

Will Barron:

So, we've got to paint a picture in the customer's minds of what it's going to be like six months down the line, versus what you'll do on day one is press this red button and at some point, magic will happen.

 

Mark Holmes:

Yeah, at least in most of my client's world, it's really about the immediate value in some cases, but about the longer term value that they can expect. You know what that really spells. It spells we need to do more preparation as salespeople today. As professional salespeople, we must prepare more thoroughly, have more data put together, think it through, again, from the customer's perspective.

 

Mark Holmes:

When I'm in a live audience, a large audience, I like to go out in the audience and say, “Look. It's just like this. You've got a certain perspective of me of where you're sitting, but I bet the people in the front row have a different perspective than the people in the back row or at a stadium where you've got front row seats versus being up in the eagle's nest. It's a very different perspective.” And that's what I'm trying to explain is that you want to come around to the customer side of the desk, look at their world, ask yourself, “What are they struggling with?”

“You want to know the dirty little secret that most customers are never going to tell us? They realise that they don't have the expertise nor do they have the time to fully, accurately determine who's got the best value for them. They need a professional salesperson's help. They need a salesperson who's knowledgeable, who will be a partner, who will guide them, who will quantify the value.” – Mark Holmes · [09:49]

 

Mark Holmes:

Because here's the dirty little secret. You want to know the dirty little secret that most customers are never going to tell us?

 

Will Barron:

Yeah.

 

Mark Holmes:

Here's the dirty little secret. They realise that they don't have the expertise nor do they have the time to fully accurately determine who's got the best value for them. They need a professional salesperson's help. They need a salesperson who's knowledgeable, who will be a partner, who will guide them, who will quantify the value. And that's one of the other elements of a great value proposition. You've got to do the homework. You need to quantify the difference that you will make. That's how you make it specific and not general. And that's an important element of a value proposition. You want to make it as specific to their value drivers as possible. All customers essentially going to want to know some pretty common things.

 

Mark Holmes:

I mean, we can pretty much across all industries say most people are going to want to either save money, make money, solve problems, head off problems, reduce headaches, reduce their risk. They're going to want more assurance, greater peace of mind. A lot of people, a lot of companies have the same kinds of reasoning for why they make decisions, but they're not motivated necessarily in the same way. In other words, everybody buys quality, but people buy quality for different reasons. And as a salesperson, I've got to understand and take apart what those are through careful questioning, understanding them, understanding their industry so that I can build a more solid case for my value of greater, more effective value proposition.

 

A Real, Concrete Example of a Value Proposition · [11:30] 

 

Will Barron:

So, what would be, and I know I've taken you slightly off track of your kind of three or four rules here, so we'll come back to that in a second, but just on this point, Mark, for context, what would be a real concrete example of a value proposition either perhaps the service that you offer your clients or that a client has put together? Whether you want to name names or not is fine.

 

“I believe that for an effective value proposition, you need to make it general enough that it will appeal to your widest market, your widest scale of potential customers, but specific enough that it's compelling or convincing.” – Mark Holmes · [11:47] 

 

Mark Holmes:

Yeah. Great question. I'll give you mine. And here's what I advocate. Let me give you the principle and then I'll unpack it and give you a specific example. I believe that for an effective value proposition, you need to make it general enough that it will appeal to your widest market, your widest scale of potential customers, but specific enough that it's compelling or convincing.

 

Mark Holmes:

So, I start when I walk into a new potential client or communicate by phone, which sometimes I do, obviously, because they're wherever, not where I'm located. My general value proposition is very short and it goes something like this unpacked in different industries in different ways, but essentially I help companies increase sales, the customer's experience, and employee performance. So, I may change a word or two in there and talk about strategy or just depending on the language of the customer themselves.

 

Mark Holmes:

But that generally is my overall or general value proposition. It's easy to communicate. It's done quickly. But then I need to be more specific. They generally want to know, so what does that mean to us? And that's where I begin to transition to questions that I have prepared. Those questions are specifically thoroughly prepared in advance. And I start with a blueprint and that allows me to go in and then begin to guide the dialogue and that information that I pull together then makes it more specific to them.

 

Mark Holmes:

So, how would I transition then from that to specific drivers for them? I use what I call verbal bridging and verbal bridging is where you go from a general value proposition X, here's what we do essentially. Here's the value we provide in a general sense, but the verbal bridge is to move from that with language like this. “There are three advantages that I'm going to be able to provide you if you make an investment in training or what this means to you, Mr. Customer, is it means two distinct advantages based upon those issues that we've been talking about.”

 

Mark Holmes:

So, a verbal bridge moves from my blah, blah, blah, blah, blah general, all that BS stuff, to the specific hardcore fact based on your issues, based on what you've told me, based on what we've discussed. There are really three benefits that I'm confident we're going to be able to provide you that are going to wipe out those issues or concerns or address those issues or concerns. And that's when you then begin to specifically talk about and unpack how your value meets those value drivers that they've been talking about through those questions, that dialogue that you've carefully prepared for by thinking through the questions in advance.

 

“If you ask status quo questions, you're going to get status quo answers. You're going to get the customer to just give you back what they tell every salesperson. But if you ask penetrating, strategic, or well-purposed questions that truly make them think, then they're going to yield you more information.” – Mark Holmes · [14:45] 

 

Mark Holmes:

If you ask status quo questions, you're going to get status quo answers. You're going to get the customer to just give you back what they tell every salesperson. But if you ask penetrating, strategic, or well-purposed questions that truly make them think, then they're going to yield you more information. I like to say it like this. Customers must think before they buy and questions make them think. And so, you're probably never going to get somebody to think much or very deeply if you're just going, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. You need to yield into questions that literally make them stop.

 

“Customers must think before they buy, and questions make them think. And so, you need to yield into questions that literally make them stop.” – Mark Holmes · [15:03] 

 

Mark Holmes:

I'll give you an a specific example. So, I landed this large … It was Tracker Marine. They've changed now. They're under the Bass Pro whole umbrella, but years ago, when I was presenting a training proposal, I had a new customer service manager and sales and customer service. And the question that I had prepared in advance based upon the previous history with that customer as a client of mine, I asked the question, it just rocked this guy's [inaudible 00:15:49].

 

Mark Holmes:

I don't know. I guess he'd never been asked. Here was my question. It was a simple question, but it made me stop and think. And the question was, “How long do you want the training to last?” And he just looked at me like, “Well …” He was expecting me to say, “Well, I'll do 10 programmes. We're going to have 14 hours and you're going to need 30 people and it's going to cost X dollars.” That's what he was prepared to. I mean, he was getting ready to write it all down and that just froze him in his tracks. And so, I unpacked that for him and said, “Mike, I can walk in here and I could put together a training programme and you can hand out evaluations and you're going to get back 90, 95, 98%. They're going to say, ‘That was excellent. This was great. We really enjoyed it.'” Blah, blah, blah.

 

Mark Holmes:

But I said, “Mike, that you know and I know that they can go right back out there in their work world and never apply a thing. Now, is that what you want?” “Well, of course I don't.” I said, “Well, I wouldn't think you would. That would be a horrible investment. So, let's talk about how we can approach this so that your people make change in their behaviour.”

 

Mark Holmes:

So, anyway, that's in my world. That's how I have to sell my value for my clients and teaching them how to do that. Those kinds of questions like how long do you want it to last? I have a number of clients, salespeople who have taken that question and they've changed it, pardon me, around to fit their world.

 

Mark Holmes:

And that's the thing about great questions. I have about 150 questions now that I've collected from close to 20 different industries and salespeople that have done it really well. We've latched onto a great question that unlocked the door to a huge mega account that they'd never been able to penetrate before. And now they were able to.

 

Mark Holmes:

But, Will, in every one of those situations, it was a question or a series of questions that unlocked the door, not in one, and I mean, not one single solitary example can I give you if somebody who had that magical phrase, that schlocked-out spiel, that special one, that wonderful way to say it that just knocked the customer over like, “Oh, man!” None. I don't have any examples of that.

 

Mark Holmes:

I've had a lot of salespeople try that course and then they came back around to say, “Look. Okay. I can't get in the door. What do I do?” And we reversed that and began to ask customers questions that got them in the door or move the ball. And it really caused the customer to have to stop and think. That's the key. I mean, that's really one of the most important keys to a value proposition. So, let's just kind of reframe that real quick, because I may have gotten people lost in the dialogue.

 

Mark Holmes:

So, number one, you've got to look at it from the customer's world, not yours. It's all about the customer, not you. Number two, make it general enough to appeal to the widest point of your audience, but make it specific enough to them that it's really compelling. It's really convincing. And you've got to emphasise the difference that you make, not the differences. If you do those three things and then you tailor it back to that customer's value drivers, your value message, value proposition, tailored fit to their value drivers, you will have a highly effective value proposition. You just can't go out there and prepackage it and expect one size fits all because it doesn't. And even if it did fit, people don't want to consider their situations general. They want to consider them unique and they want to know that your situation, your value fits their unique situation needs issues.

 

Penetrating Questions That Will Get Prospects Talking to You · [19:15] 

 

Will Barron:

We've got, Mark, to, I think used the word a penetrating question, because it seems like a lot of, after you get past the initial value proposition, which perhaps is a hypothesis, then you work your way to not convinced to engineer evidence, to show the customer with a series of bullet points that is appropriate for them later on. Seems like asking these provocative questions, these penetrating questions is a big part of this. Is there a structure to uncovering or building a question that gets a response, which is hopefully they look back and they sit back and they put their eyes up in the air and they go, “Huh.” And it's a question that they've never been asked before and there's some in the audience can't see this, but I'm scratching the top of my head like a cartoon character would when someone asks a really profound question. Is there a structure of doing it? And it seemed from your example that perhaps one way of doing it is to ask a question about something that people assumed is standardised, is already going to happen. Is that perhaps one way to uncover this?

 

Mark Holmes:

Yeah, there is a structure. There's a structure that I teach and I'll tell you, it has taken me years to finally kind of unpack this in my mind. Because I find that some salespeople for some weird reason, I'm one of those because I grew up as a salesperson. I went out there and hit the streets for Dow Chemical Company and then in the oil field with TETRA Technologies and then in the nonprofit world, international fundraising and working Fortune 500 CEOs. And that's really who I cut my teeth on initially years and years ago. And I don't know why, but my wife, I can just drive her insane with questions because that tends to be my … It comes easier for me. Well, it just doesn't come as easy for maybe the majority of people.

 

Mark Holmes:

So, that's a great question because there is a structure and here is the structure that I teach. Number one and then I'll give you at least a couple of examples that I think would help make sense. Specific examples that actually I call million dollar questions because they've yielded a number of clients million dollar plus sales.

 

Mark Holmes:

But here's first of all the structure. Number one, you got to start with the end goal. In other words, ask yourself, what is my end goal? What do I want the customer to think about? What do I want them to consider? What conclusion do I want them to reach? What feelings do I want them to have? What threats or risks do I want them to think about? What advantages do I want them to stop and consider?

 

Mark Holmes:

Where do you want that question ultimately to go? It's kind of like the speaker who originates his or her speech, their presentation. You always start with the end in mind. Who's my audience? What's the one point I want them to get more than any other? You've got to know that as a speaker. Well, in any profession, you really need to know that kind of bottom line stuff. That's the bottom line to a great question. Really to unpack it, start with that end goal of mind.

 

Mark Holmes:

Second thing you do is you begin to draw or connect the dots from that question to other questions that just could kind of flow out of the dialogue. So, that question that I ask, for example, my client, “How long do you want the training to last?” Well, that got a response, as I said, and then I had some follow-up questions based upon the dialogue and you want it to flow with dialogue. It should never sound like you're a trial lawyer or you're putting them through some kind of a survey. It just comes off sleazy and … So, you want it to make it part and parcel to dialogue. So, you connect the dots.

 

Mark Holmes:

And then the third thing that you've got to do is prepare for the what ifs. So, what if they answer in this way? What are you going to do? What if they answer that way? What are you going to do? What if they turn around and ask you a question?

 

Mark Holmes:

Now, let me give you an example of a question that I worked with a client and how it yielded and how he prepared really for all three of those. So, this was in a big B2B sale and a salesperson was Terry. And he had really struck out with this one client, prospect he was trying to get into for … Well, I mean, he was like a year or something, maybe even longer than that.

 

Mark Holmes:

And he just kept getting turned down. The common turndowns, he heard every one of them. “I don't have time right now. Call me in six months. We're already happy with who we've got. I'm not really interested.” All that kind of stuff. So, he didn't know what to do. The guy wouldn't return his calls. He would hardly ever be able to get him on the phone. So, I said, “Well, Terry, we've got to put that in the form of a question. We've got to ask him a question that causes him to stop and think about something that's important to him and then use that as leverage to get in the door.”

 

Mark Holmes:

So, the question that we developed skipping through all that dialogue that quite frankly may not remember much of that specifically, but the question that we landed on that I've used with a number of clients or a number of clients have now used it in different form was a very simple question.

 

Mark Holmes:

The question was how is your current supplier measuring the performance of their X, fill in the blank, for your company, for your need? And so, that was the structure of the question. While that may seem like, “That's not a special question.”

 

Mark Holmes:

Well, you can't imagine how long it took us to land at that because once we got there, I told him, “Terry, you better be prepared to answer that question because he may turn around and ask you, ‘Well, I don't know how they're measuring the performance. How do you measure yours?'” And I said, “Terry, you better have two or three reasons how you measure yours, communicate that in less than 30 seconds and then transition to get an appointment.” And so, that's exactly what he did and that's exactly what happened.

 

Mark Holmes:

He called up, he was able to get the guy on the phone in a couple, two or three months. And he gave him the question and then the guy just like I almost predicted it. He just literally said, “I have no earthly idea what they do. What do you do?” He was kind of irritated. And he said, “Well, actually, we do three things.” Boom, boom, boom. “And so, I'd like to be able to …” And then he just transitioned to a question for an appointment, “Do you have time on Thursday at 2:00, or Monday at 1:00”, whatever his options were. And he was able to get in the door and the story is he did land a multimillion dollar contract. It took him about seven, eight months, in this particular case, to work his way all through and meet all the decision influencers, get them converted over.

 

Mark Holmes:

But that's the kind of question that it follows that structure. He began with the end in mind, what was the end goal? What do we want him to think about? What do we want him to consider in terms of risk or threats to quality or performance, connect the dots? Were you going to take that question and make it really specific to his world, be prepared for the what if and he did that and it worked. That process, if you will repeat it and you'll work your way through, it should yield a better, more effective question.

 

How to Develop a Powerful Value Proposition For Face-to-Face Meetings · [26:20]

 

Will Barron:

Mark, this makes total sense in general and it makes even more sense for an email where bullet points can obviously be powerful, can stand out and, well, people aren't going to read a 15-page long email so they can be effective there. When we're in face-to-face conversations, should we be communicating this in bullet points or do we need to story tell these bullet points and again, try and paint a picture in the prospect's mind with customer success stories or other things, or is it more efficient and effective just to smash them with these one, two, or three facts or figures?

 

Mark Holmes:

Well, I think in his case, for example, the best thing to do was to be able to do that in bullet points because he knew he had probably 30, 45 seconds at most with this guy or this customer prospect on the phone. That's about all he's going to give him and that was if he was really highly interesting and not boring and compelling. But if you're in a live call and you have the time to be able to go into more detail, I think that's where the story makes sense. I think that's where customer value, customer satisfaction stories all make more sense to do as it fits within your industry. But I want to go back to the point that you made in that question, because I think it's a good one. And that is do you do that in specific number of bullet points or do you unpack that in a certain way?

 

“When we begin to talk about value, it helps the customer if we talk about three distinct advantages. It's the power of three. I usually say, “Four, no more.” But if you can put it down into three bullet points, for some reason, three is an easier number to remember.” – Mark Holmes · [28:12]

 

Mark Holmes:

What we know and this study's been out forever and ever, one of those that a lot of people quote and I don't know anybody knows the source of anymore, but we all know that, I think most of us are probably realise that our brains work in an outlined form. So, we like to know where are you going with this conversation? If I sit in an audience, I want to know where a speaker's going. If a salesperson comes into my office and meets with me, I want to know where are you going with this? How long is this going to take? We want to know that. And when we begin to talk about value, it helps the customer if we say there are three distinct advantages. It's the power of three. I usually say, “Four, no more,” but if you can put it down into three bullet points, for some reason, three is an easier number to remember people connect with that.

 

Mark Holmes:

Our brains work in that way. The whole dorsal lateral prefrontal association of the brain just connects with messaging that's in shorter frameworks or blocks communicated in briefer language. And the more language that's communicated in my language that I don't have to interpret the better, the clearer that message. I think it's effective, Will, to do that in a personal setting and on the phone with as much time as we're given on the phone. And some of your listeners may very well have the kind of business where they're doing a lot of it on the phone or all of it on the phone, and they've got a certain way or structure that they handle it. You can take this structure and move that within your existing structure and just repeat it several times in a longer format. So, if the call's three, four, five minutes, you can just take that and size that down and do that one or two or three times, provide your customer case stories, et cetera.

 

Will Barron:

And the reason I ask that is when I was working in medical device sales, I would have very literally the opposite problem of what you're describing here. I would have two, three, four hours in theatres with a surgeon to go through these points. And I was just trying to picture in my mind of would it be, and it's subjective clearly and it depends on the individual you're speaking to because they may have a short attention span. You have the opportunity to be there for a long time. They may prefer you not to be there a long time, but I know there was circumstances where I'd run in. Go, “This is why we should do this, this, this, this, this,” and then there'd be three hours of just talking about the football or whatever afterwards, which is greatest rapport building.

 

Will Barron:

But if you could structure that conversation and it's just in your homework clearly, and you've said this over and over, which is clearly important takeaway for the audience here of you make some kind of hypothesis, you back it up. You're asking good questions. You're asking, I love this word, penetrating questions, provocative questions. You're going through all this. And perhaps illustrate the point that it doesn't need to be bullet points. It could be a longer form conversation. I like to take surgeons out for meals and things like that when we do different training and same kind of thing again. You can perhaps trickle this in back and forth and then wrap it up at the end with a solid conclusion.

 

How to Prove That Your Value Proposition is Actually Legit · [30:45] 

 

Will Barron:

And on this point, perhaps the audience who listen to the show will project ourselves two weeks into the future here. They've had some success. They've gone through the process. They've read the book, they've got you on an email or on the phone. They've bringing you into the company. It's fantastic. Everyone's winning. Once we've got the basics of this down, how do we start then to perhaps use evidence, perhaps use case studies, perhaps use other ways to turbocharge the message and really refine it and strengthen it. Are there any rules? Are there any things we can point to there that once we've got something that works, we can do X, Y, Z to improve it further?

 

Mark Holmes:

Yes. In fact, I'm going to make a segue just briefly to the book, just to bring out the five points that I'm going to talk about, which are form and acronym for value, V-A-L-U-E. The E step in that process is to provide evidence or proof. And that is an important part of a sale depending upon the industry you're selling to. It could be in a very important part, particularly if they don't know you, the trust level is low or the familiarity is low. You may need to stack up more evidence and proof on the front end and throughout than what you might in some other sales settings or even sales cycles. But that, let me go through value just real quick.

 

Mark Holmes:

So, the book will talk about V stands for verify the value drivers. Get in there and know your customer. Give it a series or a number of examples of questions that you can use, and that you can begin to build your own questions off of that the salesperson in the story actually uses.

 

Mark Holmes:

And then the A stands for adapt your value, to tailor fit your value. Don't make a one size fit all. We talked about that. Adapt it.

 

“If you're going to sell anything effectively today, you must be an effective listener who not only listens but accurately processes that information and develops from that a compelling value proposition.” – Mark Holmes · [32:49] 

 

Mark Holmes:

The L which probably isn't taught nearly enough is the important principle of listening and, Will, if you're going to sell anything effectively today, you've got to be, you need to be, you must be an effective listener who not only listens, but comprehends, accurately processes that information and develops from that a compelling value proposition, explanation, answers. So, that's the L.

 

Mark Holmes:

The U is to understand the buy. Who's buying? Who are all the buying influences? In the book, you'll see eight questions that if you'll ask these eight questions or a form of them, you'll probably hardly ever get duped or tricked or fooled by not selling to all the value or all the decision influencers, decision-makers and identifying all their roles. And that's the key today. There's, what, five, six, seven people in a lot of complex sales that are making decisions today, they've got input to it. Well, you've got to be able to curate a lot of favour and a lot of agreement in your direction to land a sale in a lot of these complex sales situations. Pardon me. And so that's the U, understand the buy. Ask those questions where you can know who's buying, what's their budget? Do they have a budget? Is this funded or not funded? Are they just fishing for prices because they're not really serious about buying? They're just trying to explore.

 

Mark Holmes:

And then the E is to provide evidence or provide proof, and that's going to vary for every company. In some cases, it could be marketing information or other cases, it's case studies or customer testimonials. It could very well be data studies that have been conducted, independent studies I'm a real fan of. We try to use those as much as possible to provide credibility to our message. And quite frankly, in a lot of cases, if you'll just ask the customer, “What kind of evidence do you need in your company to be able to persuade you or to help you come to the decision that we can provide the best overall value?” Rather than taking a guesswork at that, find out. Just ask questions. Pardon me while I get a drink.

 

Will Barron:

I've got a friend who is a fundamentalist Christian, which is much rarer here in the UK than it is elsewhere. He's good mate, man. Do a lot of rock climbing and that with him. I'm not Christian at all. And a question that I ask him often when we're, because I love, as I said, I'm not religious. I'm atheist, but I love debating religion and Christianity and other things. I love watching documentaries on it. I find it all fascinating. So, it's all from a good place when we have these conversations, usually after five pints in the pub, after going rock climbing, and you kind of mentioned a question then, which I often … His name is Matt. I often ask Matt, and that is what evidence could I put in front of you that would prove that there is a God, isn't a God, whatever kind of scenario is.

 

Smart Questions That Improve Your Chances of Getting a Yes · [35:57]

 

Will Barron:

And for him, a lot of the time, there is no evidence. So, it's a ridiculous conversation to have in the first place. And that's where we have that final fight and go our own ways and walk home. But it seems like, and not for me, but from you kind of pointed out there, Mark, it's a smart question to ask of what evidence could, if we're at loggerheads with a competitor, what evidence could we provide? What would make the difference? What would be the separation between us and them? Because once we get that answer from the potential customer and we've hopefully documented it down and repeated it to them over and over, “You said this, you said this.” I don't know the psychological terms, but there's probably biases that then, once we prove what they've said that they would accept, separates us from the competition and puts a tonne of value on our proposition from the instance. Is that a question that we should be engineering into our conversations of what would make us win this deal and then we could just do what they've told us to?

 

Mark Holmes:

Yeah, I think, yes, there are questions that we need to leverage and use into the sales process before you get the no. And I'll give you some examples. Some of the examples I like to use in training or coaching to ask questions like this. “Okay, you said we were looking good in our proposal. Can you tell me what does that mean exactly to you?” I had a client, actually a salesperson, who was experienced salesperson who lost a big deal because he actually was duped into believing that that meant he was going to get the sale. He'd gotten previous sales there. And when the customer said, “Well, your proposal's looking good.” He went back, told the sales manager, “Oh, we're going to get it because,” he said, “Our proposal looks good.”

 

Mark Holmes:

Well, when a new decision influencer entered the mix, somebody he had never called on and they swung the decision in another direction. So, you got to ask those questions early on. Don't find out after the fact. Find out before the fact.

 

Mark Holmes:

So, here's another question you can ask. As you look at our proposal, what are some of the areas that you really like? What stands out to you that is really painting a great picture of value to you? You're going to get probably some really good insight there. Reverse that question and ask this question. “Are there any areas of our proposal that give you pause, give you some concern?” And then just shut up. Let them tell you. Fill in the blank. Don't start going, “Such as,” or, “Like,” and, “I know that we were …” Just shut up.

 

Mark Holmes:

I find when you ask questions in a short, brief form, straight to the point. “How long do you want this training to last? Have you ever considered the advantages of filtering your fluid before putting it down the well board,” another question, landed millions and millions of dollars. Make those questions short, compactful, and penetrating. And just shut up and listen to what they have to say.

 

Mark Holmes:

And if you'll do that, in so many cases, they'll go, “Yeah, there is something about your proposal that's giving me concern. I'm not …” And then you have that discussion and you go, “Well, what kind of evidence can I provide for you?” “Well, it would be helpful. Do you have any case studies that we might be able …” “Certainly I can do that. What else would be helpful to you as you go share this with your committee,” or, “I know you have to run it up the ladder to your boss and you said it's really not possible for me to speak with them if you can't get through that wall.” Find out what can I provide to you.

 

Mark Holmes:

If they're the cheerleader, if they're the person that's providing the leverage point into the organisation and kind of the gatekeeper at the same time, find out what do you need, what can I provide you that would help you make a case for our value that we're the best value choice for your company?

 

The Benefits of Having Difficult Conversations with Prospects Early in the Sales Process · [39:20] 

 

Will Barron:

Because I think we sometimes avoid these difficult questions, when in reality we're doing the prospect a huge favour by having that slight bit of awkwardness of, I can't remember the phrasing you've specifically used then, so I'm going to give my terrible version of it, but essentially what sucks about this and what's making you feel nervous about this and how can we give the evidence on top of that, because otherwise they're going to sit there, they might not want to ask the awkward question. They might feel like it's our job, our prerogative to do that. And so, they've got that little bit of doubt when they're going to their boss to get the budget, the final sign-off to not be vetoed. And so, we're doing them a favour, we're strengthening their position. We're allowing them to feel better about it by that just one little minute of awkwardness on our half. They probably don't feel awkward about it at all. It's almost an investment in that moment to accelerate the deal further along the line.

 

Mark Holmes:

Yeah. And when you can put these two together, take the value proposition, which we've talked about, put it together with really good, compelling questions. Sometimes they don't seem all that compelling, but just a good, straightforward questions.

 

Mark Holmes:

I'll give you an example. I landed a huge company. They had about a hundred different locations. I work in about 20 different industries. And so, it was the simple question. A lot of people have used it. There's no brain work in that, but essentially I'd gotten in there on a referral and I said, “So, really what interested you in what I provide?” And he had an answer to that. And I said, “So, what are you struggling with? What really kind of drives you to want to spend time?” And he had his two VPs with him talking about this.

 

Mark Holmes:

He said, “Well, I'll tell you,” he said, “Because our customer service sucks.” And you could tell, just that hot button of him. I mean, I could just see it happening. His facial tone changed, his two VPs kind of flipped a little bit, flinched, I mean, and I could tell it hit a nerve. And I said, “Well, tell me why it sucks.” And boy, he did. He unpacked that.

 

Mark Holmes:

Well, at that point, our sales cycle shortened down real quick. I got to the heart of the matter, found out how that was affecting course. You can imagine I started really penetrating some pain there by asking, “So, how's it affecting sales?” And of course, his answer was just, “It's killing us. It's just killing us.”

 

“Great selling is never a monologue. In fact, I hate PowerPoints. I tell my clients all the time, “Kill your PowerPoint or kill your sale.” And I think today, unless you take the approach where you find out what the customer wants in your PowerPoint, it's essentially, for most salespeople, a waste of time.” – Mark Holmes · [41:49] 

 

Mark Holmes:

“So, how do you want to solve that? What are you prepared to do?” You just have those questions in your mind. And so, you begin to focus that back into the dialogue. And now suddenly, that becomes the most natural form of conversation. Great selling is never a monologue. In fact, I hate PowerPoints. I tell my clients all the time, “Kill your PowerPoint or kill your sale.” And I think today, unless you take the approach where you find out what the customer wants in your PowerPoint, it's essentially, for most salespeople, a waste of time. You're just going to position yourself into a box, looking like everybody else out there.

 

Mark Holmes:

True story. This just happened the last several months. Manufacturing client, long-term salesman. In fact, he's about to retire. I've been telling him, “Gary,” over and over again, “Drop your PowerPoint, man. You got to do this. You need to short value proposition, transition to questions.” He came back in our next sales meeting. He said, “Mark, you're never going to believe what happened.” I said, “What happened, Gary?” He said, “I go into this big manufacturing customer.” He said, “I mean, this is a multimillion dollar deal for us. And they say, ‘Well, sit down.'” It was a whole room full, like six or seven people around big mahogany table, all the decision influencers. And they said, “So tell us about …” They name the company. “Tell us about your company.” And he said, “Okay, great. I've got a PowerPoint.” He got up. And he walked towards the PowerPoint and they stopped him. They said, “Whoa! Hold on just a minute. Kill the PowerPoint. Sit back down. Come on! Just tell us about your company. We don't want a PowerPoint. We're done with those. Just tell us about your company.”

 

Mark Holmes:

And I said, “So, what did you do?” He said, “Well, I did what you said. I kept it really short, talked about our value. And then I transitioned into some questions.” I said, “Okay. What happened?” He said, “An hour and a half later,” he said, “It was a great dialogue.” He said, “We just talked.” He said, “They gave me the commitment to provide a proposal.” And long story made short. And the sales cycle was three, four months or something. They did land the sale.

 

Mark Holmes:

So, it was highly competitive situation. That's how you put it all together. That's how you have a value proposition that feeds into the question. The questions come from the dialogue after you're there. But you start with some preparation ahead of time. And in part, going back to part of your question, well, it's really important to take and have some discipline.

 

Mark Holmes:

And so, I use a tool. I use a tool I call the one-page sales call game plan. And Gary completed his one-page sales call game plan. It's not a form. It's a tool. It's a tool for change. Forces you to think about what's my sales call objective. What are the questions I'm going to ask? What's the value proposition I'm going to be prepared to communicate in a general sense? What objections are they likely to ask? Those are things that any and all of us can do.

 

Mark Holmes:

If we'll take the time, 15 minutes, 30 minutes, whatever it takes you to prepare longer for a complex sale for a follow-up call, whatever the circumstances, an important phone call, whatever they are, prepare for that ahead of time. Get your mindset right. I like to tell salespeople, “You need to prepare for every sales call. You need to prepare a couple things. You need to prepare your questions. Number two, you need to prepare your value proposition. And really the third one is you need to prepare your mindset.”

 

Mark Holmes:

And they usually look at me. They get the first two and they don't get the third mindset. Say, “You've got to prepare your mindset. You got to be prepared in your mind for the call. You got to have the right attitude. You need to have spirited energy. You need to step off of that elevator or out of your car, or pick up that phone, whatever you're going to do, communicate that email with some vibrancy and enthusiasm.” It just kind of comes out in the messaging. Whatever we do, we've got to give it our best shot and that takes preparation.

 

Mark’s Advice to His Younger Self on How to Become Better at Selling · [45:23] 

 

Will Barron:

Well, mindset is the conversation for the next episode, Mark. And with that, I may have got one final question for you to ask everyone that comes on the show. And that is, if you could go back in time and speak to your younger self, what would be the one thing you'd tell him to help him become better at selling?

 

Mark Holmes:

Well, that's a great question. I would actually advise what I just ended with and that is preparation. Make it all about the customer. Take the time to prepare ahead of time, intelligent, penetrating, targeted questions that are in the customer's language. How are you going to move that dialogue? Remember, people must think before they buy and customers or questions make customers think. And so, ask yourself, what are those questions? Begin with the end goal in mind and create questions that will truly make them think about the purchase in a deeper, better, more effective way, because ultimately again, the dirty little secret is they realise they don't have the expertise or the time to thoroughly completely accurately determine who has the best overall value. They need you.

 

Parting Thoughts · [46:28]

 

Will Barron:

Love it. Well, with that, tell us a little bit more about the book, where we can find it, and then where we can find out more about you as well?

 

Mark Holmes:

Yeah. My website, salesrevenuecoach.com, is a great place to go. You can find out more about me, catch some of the resources, the blog articles that are there. There are a number of the topics we talked about. We'll have articles that are linked in with that. The book, both of the books, the recent books, The 5 Rules of Megavalue Selling and The Sales Diamond. Both of those are there. They're also out on Amazon as well as my other books. That's a great place to find those. And you can find out more about the book and see if it's a good fit for you. And then I'm on LinkedIn, of course. And if you have some of the links in the show call or the show notes, I'm on LinkedIn and on Twitter at 4MarkHolmes and be happy to connect with anybody here that would like to.

 

Will Barron:

Perfect. Well, I'll link to all that in the show notes to the episode over at salesman.org. With that, Mark. I want to thank you for your time, your insights on this. We covered a lot of ground on this. We covered more ground than was expecting to. So, I appreciate that and appreciate you hanging onto my random questions there. And, with that, I want to thank you for joining us on the Salesman Podcast.

 

Mark Holmes:

Enjoyed it. Thanks, Will.

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