Mastering Value-based Selling

Aparna Shah
May 30, 2022

Modern buyers face pressure to reduce costs while maintaining profitability. Value-based selling has become critical, however executing any sales methodology successfully depends on multiple factors. 

What is Value based selling?

Value-based selling is a sales approach that focuses on identifying and communicating the unique value that a product or service can offer to a customer. Rather than simply emphasizing the features and benefits of the product, value-based selling seeks to understand the customer's needs, challenges, and priorities, and then tailor the sales pitch to demonstrate how the product can address those specific needs and deliver tangible business outcomes.

Why is value selling important?

Value selling leads to improved customer engagement, higher win rates, increased sales productivity, improved customer retention, and higher profitability. It is a consultative and collaborative approach to sales that allows salespeople to act as trusted advisors and problem solvers, rather than just product pushers, resulting in more successful sales outcomes and long-term customer relationships.

In a recent panel discussion with Modern Sales Pros, we discussed know-how on value selling and dived deeper into what it takes to execute a sales methodology with Mutual Success Plans successfully.

The panel of speakers included:  

  1. Tom George- VP, Global Sales Enablement at Skedulo
  1. Shankar Ganapathy- Co-founder and CRO at BuyerAssist
  1. Bill Parry- Director of Sales Enablement at Privatar 

View the discussion below and keep reading for actionable nuggets on scaling your value selling methodology for your sales team. 


The conversation unfolds with a discussion highlighting the challenges across their current sales methodologies and operationalizing value selling across the teams with mutual success plans.

# Challenges that prompted you to look for a sales methodology


In the context of our business, we’ve seen tremendous growth and lift in the past few months. From a sales perspective, we ended the year with 16 reps, much bigger than we started. Today, we have about 35 people total in the sales team with SDRs and SCs, and we’re planning to double the number by the end of this year. Here the challenge was to capture the knowledge of the first 16 core reps who took us where we are today. 

In addition, some of the current challenges that we faced were that we had a product-led/demo-led sale. So if we found a customer who got the perfect use case for what we do, it was excellent. Still, if we got a little variability that required customization of services, we would struggle to understand the challenges and opportunities. And so, setting up deals to be successful, especially when it's a little outside our core use case, comes as a challenge. 

The last challenge is that many of our deals are lost to “no decision,” and we're not making the case to get people to act in terms of where “we” want to go. In fact, the stuff we did with vaccines was a big test for us to be able to handle a completely different use case. We've seen the ability to manage variability and nuance requiring an extensible platform that allows us to go to enterprise. Here the sales motion is going to be entirely from saying, “ Hey, you've got this problem, we've got the solution to that,” to be more about what customer needs are, what their challenges are, and how we create a solution to addresses them. 


We work with a lot of growth-stage companies, typically in series B, C, and D stages. Here we see them primarily face two challenges: 

  1. Most of these companies are going from targeting mid-market accounts  to enterprise accounts, which means a more extended, education-driven, and complex sales cycle. 
  1. These companies are massively ramping their sales team. They're going from 15 reps to 30 reps to 100 reps. And to get these reps up and running quickly often comes as a considerable challenge. 

If a new sales leader comes on board and is tasked to grow from $10 million to $100 million in revenue in the next three years, extending predictable execution from the first 10 to 15 reps to the next 100 reps becomes challenging. 

Another part of the challenge is how sellers integrate what they had done in the past in terms of their process, and methodology, and apply them in the current organization. This is where sales methodology becomes very critical. “The need for companies to make sure that every person in the sales organization is executing the same plan and that everything is measurable is essential in a company’s capability to be more predictable in revenue generation.” And that's where we're seeing a lot of series B/C/D stage companies like Skedulo investing in a sales methodology, with a trend being followed across most growth-stage companies. 


It’s interesting how people still confuse sales methodology with the sales process. Processes are the “what we have to do to get the sale across the line?” and the sales method is “how do we bring it in?” 

When new sellers join, they join with the excess baggage of pre-conceived notions on how they want to sell. Here, one key challenge any sales enablement team faces is creating a methodology that teaches sellers to put their previous learnings aside and encourages them to learn your process. And so, focusing on methodology becomes critical. 

We’re like many other startups. We’re morphing, learning, and growing each day. With leadership changes, putting the stakes in the ground to remain consistent regardless of whether somebody comes and goes is a challenge. 

And so, I believe building a methodology is relative to pivotal; using our language and working with sellers to cohesively put their inputs and value is critical. So now, I have not just sales leaders tell sellers what to do, but I also have sellers as a part of the development process. 

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# How are you operationalizing value selling in your sales team? 


Think of a scenario where a company has 50 salespeople trained on value selling methodology. When you ask each of them on how they adopted value selling in their deals, you will get 50 different responses. And it’s because they’ve been trained to absorb their versions and implement the learnings in their first few deals, which further transforms into a different methodology altogether. 

Today, we see companies make two major mistakes: 

  1. The first mistake is not establishing what your sales rep should follow a specific selling methodology to run a particular deal.
  1. The second mistake is in the way you do discovery with your buyers to drive the value. Do you uncover their pain points? How often do you go across the value selling framework to make the discovery as a sales leader? How do you ensure the seller can use that to capture that? This information flow has to go from training and enablement to action. 

Value selling is a way of selling. Every seller has their playbook and has used their way of selling successfully for many years. And this is where a mutual success plan can become a critical tool.

Coming an enterprise sales background, I've seen that in  a team of 30 people (Say), there are probably 5-7 sellers  using mutual success plan consistently. The rest do not want to do that, because they are most likely fearful of putting a plan in front of themselves first, then in front of their buyer, and worse, in front of their manager. They are reluctant to commit to things unless they’re certain. In the world  of remote first buying, the need for salespeople to put things in context and ensure that they drive accountability with the customer across the buying journey becomes very critical. 


Too often than not, we send sellers off to training and think that they’ve been trained and certified completely. But how do you know they’re equipped with the right understanding? Have they demonstrated to you their apprehension of the knowledge? 

My background is military, and when I reported aboard my first ship with the Coast Guard, I didn't just get handed the keys to the ship. I had to learn how to spend time in the engine room. I had to demonstrate my understanding and knowledge to everyone on that ship and the subject matter experts. And I take some of this and apply it to the sales world because we need to have a clear demonstration that your sellers know how to sell effectively. So we need to help the sales leaders push sellers to demonstrate their understanding of the learning. 

As opposed to assuming that your sellers know how to do it, sales leaders need to hold them accountable by asking them to demonstrate what they’ve learned. Once they start seeing it in action and realize that the customers are part of this plan, you don’t have to cajole salespeople on whether they got it. 

In summary, we've to get the sellers to demonstrate or explain their understanding of what we just shared with them. 


It's not about getting the sale to signature, it's about getting the customer to go live and retention beyond that. With a mutual success plan, we have a system that can be mutually accessed, edited, and shared between you and the customers. It shifts the dynamic to where you're mutually trying to achieve success. And so, the mutual success plan is a part of coming together with the customer."

Furthermore, these plans are a manifestation of the work that you do with your value selling. What we really need is a partner that could help us operationalize our methodologies oriented to buyer needs, challenges they face, and the value they want to derive. However, this comes with tools and templates. This is tied very nicely to what BuyerAssist does, which captures that document so that you can share it with your buyers. 

A big part of my job is implementing a methodology and working with the salespeople to drive the adoption of these tools to get traction and results.  While it’s difficult to implement the plans completely across the reps, we're scoring touchdowns now. New sellers and lower-performing sellers are the big hit when it comes to driving adoption. That's what enablement really needs to be focused on standardization


There are two dimensions here when you look closely. If you think about this from the perspective of mutual success plans, then the adoption will crawl, walk, and run. You need to build wins to get to the outcome. But if you think about this problem from the perspective of sales methodology and playbook adoption then you need to ensure that the prescribed playbook is followed because that is how you forecast or report activities on deal reviews.

The way you move a deal from a discovery to approve or approve to a vendor of  choice needs you to do a particular set of activities, some of which are in conjunction with the customer. Now, historically, you'll do a lot of this offline. You expect the seller to do it right and expect the manager to catch any red flags. But then, many of these tasks are getting systematized and operationalized by something like a mutual success plan that fits in the workflow, the way the seller is supposed to execute. 


In sales, there are primarily two types of sellers- one that shows up at 9-5 and gets their job done, might make their quote, and sometimes not. And then there’s a sales professional, a student of his industry and craft who understands the mutual process between the buyer and seller. It is important that sellers realize that if they don’t have buy-in and support, and if they’re not helping buyers achieve goals, then it’s a waste of time. 

# What are your thoughts on customer journey mapping as a value proposition to get the executive buy-in? 


A demo-led sale does not include understanding the customer's needs or their process, which is why you need to focus on the ways customers learn about you or engage with you. But the methodology is what you do internally to become part of the sales motion. Once you've done the mapping, you want the methodology to map to the customer journey. 

But on an ongoing basis, do you have the methodology where you're doing good discovery around the business issues and the problems before you get into the workflows and technical stuff? 


I'm a huge fan of mapping and whiteboarding with a customer. But just because you did it once does not mean you should go back, review it and make discoveries repeatedly because that person you talked to the first time about that map has a different perspective. 

Sellers today don't want to ask uncomfortable questions because they don't want to lose the deal. Somebody very wise told me years ago that your level of success as a seller is determined by your ability to have uncomfortable conversations. You've got to have those awkward conversations because typically sellers  will land on that one person that they can have comfortable conversations with but it won't help them win deals eventually 

Companies don’t buy software for their IT team. They buy software to make money. And as a sales leader, you need to understand where that value is and how it's mapped throughout the company. 


This goes back to the true definition of a mutual success plan. More often than not, we look at a mutual success plan as a way to get the contract signed. But is it mutual in that case? You’ve got your end ofself the bargain- by getting the contracts signed, but how do you now ensure that the customer is getting value? 

When you do your discovery upfront, it's important that you navigate from the value narrative to key initiatives and key pain points that you can solve across not just one stakeholder or the executive sponsor, but the entire buying team to build consensus. This consensus is not about you, it's about you as a vendor telling your customers the practical challenges that you have identified in their business and waht to help them solve. If they don't solve this, they can't meet our company’s objective. If you get them to align on objectives, then a mutual plan shows them the following milestones, the timeline when the contract needs to be in place, etc.  

“And the philosophy of a success plan outlives the sales cycle. It's not tied to a an individual seller; instead it is about the customer and their journey. Many companies, the more progressive ones, are already going toward operationalizing that customer-centric approach to success plan.”

# How do you prevent the shiny object syndrome? 


I think that’s a leadership issue. It’s like telling your four-year-old kid -“No, sorry, you cannot do that, not until you finish this, not until you learn how to do this.” You’ve to constantly teach them as to why they need to follow the process. 

If you're selling on value, you don't need a shiny object. What you do need is the ability to ask better questions so that you can get to the point of their value. And so, as a seller, your job is to find out what is important to them and what they need.  


I think focusing on the customer needs is very important. And if there's a need where the shiny object addresses it, chances are that a gap is created. But if sellers get all caught up in what they’re doing and do not focus on the customer, it will be hard to win the deal.  

Quit worrying about the product. We’ve sold our products to hundreds of customers, and we've got a solution. So don't get worried about the stuff that's going to be coming right and focus on what the customer needs. And then we'll figure out how we line up enough to get the deal, and a shiny object is needed.


A shining object could be anything. It could be a marketing collateral, a new feature, and even a new product. The challenge is there will always be more and more shiny objects for all you know. There are always going to be feature gaps and content gaps, but what should not be there are the customer pain gaps. If you do extensive work of going behind pain and making sure you understand the pain, everything else falls in place. 

Being in sales, you'll need objects every once in a while because you want to pump up your energy. You can't just sell what was there a year ago or even use the content or case study dated six months back. There always will be a new shiny object. But then is it less about a sales artifact and more of an emotional artifact? That's where I would see a little difference. If you sell on value, you don't need those artifacts.

# Importance of a mutual success plan and what does a really good mutual success plan look like?


There are two things that have fundamentally changed in the post-pandemic world of B2B buying. 

  1. The first significant change is that everything today in a B2B world is consensus-based buying. It doesn’t matter whether they’re doing a $20,000 deal or a $2 million deal. If you’re only speaking to two people, you’re probably not aware of the actual pain. On average, there are six to eight people that need to be convinced on the value of your offering to close the deal.  
  1. The second pain point that most B2B organizations face is their buyers are unable to differentiate between you and their competition. Every product looks the same, sounds the same, and even has the best collateral. The only way in which you can differentiate against your competition is how deep you go with your customer's pain points into their desired needs in the future state. 

When you combine these two pain points, what you essentially get to see is the importance of aligning with customer on their pain points and goals. This is where a mutual success plan becomes very critical as it gives you the ability to co-author a living, evolving document with your primary “champion”. When your sellers and buyers invite the right people and make sure they're aligned on the definition of the problem, the needs, and the key milestones for the customer to get to the value you're going to have, deals with greater predictability. 

You're going to win customers who are happy because you're not trying just to sell them a deal and vanish; you're actually going to help them solve their problems to reach their business goals. That is where this artifact goes from an optional tool for top major account executives to something that every salesperson uses, whether they’re selling mid-market enterprise or big contracts, they've been forced to use this artifact in some shape or form.


A mutual success plan can help you differentiate yourself and be at the top of your mind. For one, it identifies the gaps in your pitch, like- “Have we identified all the potential solutions? Have we identified all the sources of value, qualitative and quantitative, that would come from addressing the problem?” And this is where BuyerAssist comes in great. It's a very elegant, easy-to-use platform for capturing that roll-up of the overall business case - why are we doing this, and what's the expected benefit? Or what are the milestones getting us to close a deal and get us to go-live, with one common place to fill and track the progress. 

In addition, the mutual success plans change the dynamic from selling to partnering for success. And that’s what we’re seeing as the early accomplishments or benefits, it's a business conversation. So we're able to be a trusted advisor by adopting the Mutual success plan approach. 


Most deals are lost because of no-decision. The reason for no decision is that sellers have not done their homework to understand what the customer wants or what’s important to them, which is why you have to be a student of your prospect, customers, and your craft. 

When you study your prospect, you start to bring value to the conversation. You've to bring value before you start to get value to foster credibility between you and your customers. Modern customers have access to more information than they've ever had before. While it may be a good thing, it's a bad thing too. And what they really need is somebody to come alongside and say, “Hey, what's your problem? Let's figure out how we can do this together”, because if you're not doing it mutually, there will be no success. 


I do have a question, and maybe, Bill, it's a continuation of your answer. Is this relatable even in a transaction business, even your 20K, 30K, and 50K customers need to be sold on value? Is that something you see in your go-to-market, or are they more than higher-end deals?


Yes, I think it's human, whether I'm in McDonald's or whether I'm buying a $20,000 thing, if somebody helps me get the right thing for where I am at the time, that's a value, isn't it? It's being able to have a conversation and truly understand what the person wants. 

# If the mutual success plan is focused on the account or the opportunity? 


So philosophically, it should be at an account level where you're not just solving one problem for one customer, you solve that problem six months and later identify the following problem and solve that in the next milestones. And that's how you make sure the customer renews, expands, and grows. 

Additionally, you’d want to make sure the customer can easily go back in time and look back at what has been the value that I've realized from this partner over time. Even if the customer changes, it becomes easy for you to establish trust, for everything is documented in an easily accessible way. And so, it has to always go to an account level. It will always start with an opportunity level, but it will end up being at an account level if you're being truly strategic about your customers.


Philosophically, you want to do the right thing for the account. But realistically today, we are focused on opportunities and that's how we're making a business case for the transaction and the implementation.

# Where should a mutual success plan live? Is that built into the CRM attached in CRM, Google/word /sheet or all of the options? 


I’ve used MSPs on excel files for years previously. While it does work fine, the challenge you run into is it doesn’t deliver the experience you want to deliver to the customer. At the end of the day, it remains a static document. If you want to make it more exciting, that's when you will come to a system like BuyerAssist. The next-level operational efficiency things that we do, such as automation of information collection, and information integration to Salesforce or Slack. What we are seeing is that this tool is changing from a tactical tool where a seller alone takes what they think is right to a strategic investment where B2B revenue leaders are making sure that everyone is selling on value, on the pain points for that's where we believe the market is going. And so, that's why we started this company.

# If you truly get to be that trusted adviser, at what point do you draw the line and introduce the handover of that relationship to a dedicated CSM? 


I’ve seen this so often where sellers want to do the one and done and pass customers off to the CSMs. While your customers understand you're a salesperson, you got to move on, they're also human. And so, I think it's incredibly valuable to show up and spend ten minutes with your customer. Years ago my first boss told me, “hey, a little Facetime goes a long way”. Just show up for ten minutes, and get on their calendar. Just that small amount of facetime will gain you more referrals and more business. 


We have the goal where we want our sellers to focus on selling and not being dragged into issues post-sale. So we put effort into really formalizing the hand-off.

We think that the mutual success plan is actually going to help in defining not just the obvious problem, but the array of business problems that the company is facing and that the stakeholders are facing, setting up a much better understanding by the fulfillment teams.


In QBR your seller doesn't vanish, it’s the CSM that is the seller's active stakeholder. More often than not, you would see once a deal is signed, it's handed off to the CS, the seller is no longer in the relationship. Ensuring that there’s a playbook where your seller actively engages in the QBR one day or half a day in the quarter to stay in touch with the customer is one tactic. 

The second tactic also is how you distribute an account. How you distribute and install base by making sure that there is not just a CSM owner but also a sales owner. And just like a CSM manager and a director and a VP have their roll-up to understand what's happening on account, the same roll-up should happen on the sales side to track specifically the expansion revenue similar to how you track your new logo revenue. When you do that, you are now incentivizing the seller to stay engaged. Again, as much as we want sales to be a noble profession, it's also a profession of making money. Therefore ensure your sellers see the line of sight to expansions and revenue and their commissions to keep them engaged. 

# If you had to tweet out one sentence, one thing that you really want folks to take away from this whole panel today, what would that be?


Be a student of your industry and your prospect so that you may bring value to the conversation. Do your homework because that will help you truly find what your customer really values


To fundamentally change the sales motion is that it has to be viewed as a change management exercise. You’ve to have the buy-in from the executives to the RVPs, communicate well and have all the right tools when you roll it out into practice. 

It's not just implementing a new system. I would like it to be less arduous, but the fact is it's a pretty big change. And it has to be viewed as a change management exercise.


We should ensure that our playbook, methodology, and the process have the customer and their journey and their expectations at the center of it and rework how we think about our sales process, our hand-offs, and our expansion. Once you do that, your customers are going to be renewing much faster, expanding much faster, and they're going to land new logos also faster by virtue of doing that.

Wrapping Up 

Salespeople not only need to focus on their methodology, processes, and playbooks but also proactively align to understand what “value” means for their customers, so your sellers win over even the “most challenging situations with the B2B buyer.” 

BuyerAssist is a SaaS platform that helps B2B revenue teams use Mutual Success Plans to align, collaborate and engage their enterprise customers in their buying journey. We typically partner with growth-stage companies as they look to operationalize a sales process and make things more predictable and faster.

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