If you’re not co-creating the business case with your customer, then don’t claim to be a solution provider

Filip Franck, Senior Analyst

In my previous value-driven sales blog post I talked about that, as a b2b sales person, you should strive to let customer investment value drive your sales pitch. Being able to quantify this value as lifecycle net cash flow that an investment in your solution brings will essentially contain the element of cost (both CAPEX of initial investment and OPEX, both variable and fixed), and as such an isolated discussion regarding only cost in your sales pitch is irrelevant.

Your customer needs to trust you are working in their interest

But how do you get into a discussion on investment value in the first place, and how do you get your customer to openly talk about your solution’s potential revenue streams in an intricate way in the context of the markets they are active in and in their portfolio of other assets or businesses? The customer needs to feel that they can trust you are working in their best interest and not just trying to sell something or, even worse, feel like you are ripping them off. Customer trust is built up gradually with time, but is initiated by you having done your homework in understanding their market and company context as well as possible. With this background knowledge, you can make quantified estimates of the proposed value that your solution could bring and present them to your customer, inviting them to agree or disagree with your value proposition and your assumptions.

In many cases, just claiming that your solution could return a certain payback and IRR, granted that it is attractive, will more often than not engage your customer in discussion around what the cash flows are that yield your claimed payback and IRR. The better you can support or defend your claim, the more reassurance you will get from your customer that you are truly primarily working to provide a solution that is in their interest. And so begins the co-creation with your customer, iterating your assumptions and calculations with theirs and perhaps even collaborating in joint calculations, accumulating to a true belief and agreement around a robust business case, a mindset that “this will fly”.

This all sounds very promising and utopian, but in reality you will most likely (or already have) come across customers who are very careful and, at first, unconditionally against sharing of any information. Simple things like a non-disclosure agreement can help to solve this issue somewhat, but it is also important to understand that what you really want to do is build a relationship with your customer, not just an agreement or contract, also known as relationship selling. You want to build an understanding of your customer’s business drivers and risks, now and in the future, so that you can shape your value proposition in accordance.

Identify and make sure that key individuals support the business case

This customer relationship will be complex by nature because it will involve several persons. Even in the smallest of companies, while there may be just one decision maker, he or she will still be listening to the advice of others within and outside their company, e.g. advisors and consultants. As such, one of the first things you will want to map out is who the promoters are from the customer’s side. The concept of promoters will be discussed in a future value-driven sales blog post, but essentially it is the idea that besides a value proposition of a good business case you must also have the right set of people supporting it from a power (=decision-making), expert (=technical), process (=intra-organizational know-how), relationship (=network), and gate-keeper (=technological information holder) stance.

There shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all solution for all your customers

Finally, it’s important to remember that not all your customers will have the same business drivers, especially if they are operating in different market segments or geographical areas. In addition, the overall economic and organizational (structure, size) situation and culture of your customer will impact on how willing they are to take risks, how they perceive the present and project the future, what strategy and values they pursue, and how open they are to innovative products, services, or business models. Therefore, there shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all solution for all your customers. Otherwise there is a risk that what you are selling is a commodity or turning into one. In the same way as your company’s R&D department is innovating, you must also innovate the application of your products and services by letting specific customer value shape the final value proposition and the solution that you will sell to the respective customer. In return, not only should you get a sale that matches up with your required sales margin, but you will be differentiating yourself from the competition by exceptional customer value and a good basis for repeat sales. Finally, you can provide input and direction to your company’s R&D on how to match the future needs of your customers and retain a competitive edge regarding the characteristics, performance, and quality of your products and services.

Co-creation sales methods do exist

There is no manual for b2b relationship and stakeholder management, but there are methods that you can apply to guide you on the way to stem co-creation with your customer and to help you proactively follow-up on several co-creative sales leads simultaneously. PBI have together with Åbo Akademi University developed co-creative sales methods to suit industrial suppliers’ sales needs. My blog posts on value-driven sales will culminate to a general sales method that embraces all the concepts brought up, so stay tuned. Next time we’ll pick up on the concept of Promoters, ahead of which I invite you to think about one of your ongoing sales cases around the following question: Is anyone at your customer end currently promoting your sales case within their organization?

Filip Franck is a Senior Analyst at PBI. He is specialized in the energy industry and power markets, working in strategic consulting projects with industrial market players and stakeholders.

SalesWolf Virkki