EPISODE 470: Why Value Selling is Imperative with Supporting Strategies Sales Leader Lynn Stewart

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Sales Game Changers virtual learning session sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on February 9. 2022. It featured an interview with Supporting Strategies sales leader Lynn Stewart.]

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LYNN’S TIP: “Take the time to plan for prospect conversations. I think it all boils down to that. The more you do that, I think you’re going to see your close rate and win ratio improve.”


Fred Diamond: We’re talking today about value-based selling, and we’re going to get deep into what that is. Lynn, Value comes up all the time on the Sales Game Changers podcast. I like to say that the great Neil Rackham who wrote SPIN Selling said that sales is all about value creation. Let’s get right deep into it. You’re with Supporting Strategies, you’re the VP of Sales and I don’t need to disclaim this, we’re a customer. The Institute for Excellence in Sales is a very, very satisfied customer. We use you guys for our outsource bookkeeping services and prepare all of our financial reports and take care of all of our accounts payable and all those things. We’re grateful to have discovered you and I’m excited to talk to you today. Let’s get right to it. From your perspective, what is value-based selling?

Lynn Stewart: Fred, thank you so much. This isn’t going to be a brand-new concept for the folks on the call. Value-priced selling, value-based selling is also known as consultative selling. It’s essentially about setting a price that represents the value the client receives for your product or services, rather than just the price of what it costs. We’ve all heard of cost plus, “Here’s the cost of the product or service, let’s add a mark up and let’s determine a price that way.” This is really about setting the price based on the value your solution brings.

Fred Diamond: We have questions coming in. One of our frequent listeners, Kathy, she’s all over this. She wants to know what is it, how does it work, what’s in it for the customer and lastly, things like how much and those kinds of things which she’s talking to her customers about. Let’s get through some of the components.

How does it work? What are some of the processes that you might go through if you’re a value-based seller?

Lynn Stewart: There are a lot of benefits to this pricing model, both for you as a business owner as well as for your clients. First of all, greater transparency for everyone involved. This is the cost to get what I want and what I need, and then in turn you have a more reliable income stream, recurring revenue, more predictable cash flow. A couple of quick facts – trust me, I’m not going to bore you with a bunch of these. I read a really interesting report that DecisionLink did. 92% of buyers want to hear a value proposition early in the sale cycle. Less than 32% of people think there’s significant differentiation between one vendor services and another.

With that said, really putting more care into researching that prospect, asking smart questions, getting the information, the intel that you need on the front end about what the real challenges are. What are their pains? If you follow the Sandler training methodology, that you really need to learn about and understand what they need in order to properly right-size a solution and propose a solution.

Fred Diamond: You’ve been called a pro-change leader. What does that mean? How do you go into organizations as a pro- change leader and how does that look like? Especially today.

Lynn Stewart: Great question. That approach is I don’t come in just wildly changing everything [laughs]. You really have to focus, find out what the current processes were, what’s working, what’s performing, what isn’t. Then really lend your experience and your recommendations to, “We might try this,” or, “This is the case I’m making for this.” In our industry, which are accounting and bookkeeping services, typically an hourly pricing model. That’s something that’s really changing in our industry, so it’s really been a big focus for us over the past year or so, but again, based on evidence. This is what it’s doing for customers, this is what it’s doing for our business owners.

Fred Diamond: You mentioned a few moments ago, you talked about pain. Obviously, we talk about that all the time. Not really pain, but the fact that sales professionals now need to bring solutions to their customers but not your solutions. You need to understand what the customer is going through so that you could bring them solutions to what they’re facing. Talk about how sales professionals should be preparing for when they have that opportunity to present solutions to customers.

Lynn Stewart: Doing your homework, it’s as simple as that. You’re looking at their business, their website, this, that, whatever they’ve got going on. Gather all the data that you have about other similar engagements or engagements within that industry. You’re boosting your knowledge base right out of the gate, and then really put some thought into what information you’re looking for, and being prepared with those questions. A discovery, pre-qualifying those prospects, asking the right questions. If it looks like they’re a match between what they need and what you offer, then great, then let’s dig into a needs assessment.

But unfortunately, I’ve been guilty of it early in my career, I’ve seen plenty of people do it, they dive right in with, “Here’s our dog and pony show and this is what we can do for you,” and there’s no customization to it. I am a firm believer, and proof is in the pudding, that the more care you put into your approach and understanding that prospect, the better chance you’re going to have to win.

Fred Diamond: One thing you also talk about is the fact that you need a clear vision of what the success is that the customer needs to achieve, and I’m just curious. Does the customer always know that? One thing we talk a lot about is the fact that the customer has access to so much more information, of course. We did a webcast a week or two ago with the great Tom Snyder who said that in some cases, sales reps don’t even get called in 17% of the time because the customer has as much as they need to start making decisions.

Talk about as a sales professional and that notion of the fact that the customer needs to have a vision of what success looks like. And not really success with your tool, but in their business objective. How do you get yourself into that mindset?

Lynn Stewart: It’s savvy questioning. How do you lead them to give you the answers that you need? If you’re going into a conversation and they’re not quite sure where they want to go, “What are you trying to accomplish? What is your biggest goal this year? Where do you want to be revenue-wise?” You can lead them to it. If you can even find out where they’d like to end up ideally, then you can back track into how it might work for them, what kind of solution you could put together for them. Again, not blow them out of the water. You want to go in with something right-sized, something that shows you were listening.

Fred Diamond: We have a couple questions coming in here. Marty says, “What do I do if the customer goes right to price?” Again, we talked about there’s value-based selling and then there’s price. Everybody wants to avoid price, and even in the commodity space, we want to figure out more value so that we’re not going head-to-head on price. First of all, if a customer comes at you right away and says price, is it a sign that they’re just comparing you to somebody else? I’m curious, so let’s address the concept that the customer comes to you and says, “What’s your price? That’s all I want to know.”

Lynn Stewart: You have to get comfortable in this sales style slowing their role. You’ve got to take ownership of that conversation. This is all part of you prequalifying them. “Let’s take a step back. How can I offer you a price or a solution when I don’t even understand what the problem is yet?” I’ve done a lot of role-playing work with folks on my team and colleagues of how to have those conversations and to get them to back up enough to give you the information you need. In my experience, people that just want to go directly to price, they may just be shopping you. It’s up to you, depending on your business and what you offer if you want to do that, but if folks won’t commit the time to explain what they need and to work with me on a solution, they’re typically not clients I take.

Fred Diamond: Let’s do a quick role play so we can give some examples. I’m going to put you on the spot, if you don’t mind.

Lynn Stewart: Okay, I’ll give it a shot.

Fred Diamond: I very rarely do this, but I just think it makes sense in what we’re talking about here. I’m a customer of Supporting Strategies, so I had a need at a certain point, it’s been a couple years now, where I knew I needed to get my company’s books, the Institute for Excellence in Sales, in better order. To be perfectly honest with you, I knew some of your people and I went right to you guys and brought you on. But let’s say I’m someone who has this revelation and I need outsource bookkeeping services. I don’t want to hire a full-time person, I want to bring in you. Let’s just have some fun for a minute or two.

I call you up. Lynn, it’s great to see you. I’m looking for an outsource bookkeeping, how much do you guys cost?

Lynn Stewart: Okay. Well, let me ask you a question. How much are you paying now? And normally, they don’t want to tell you that either. Sometimes it’s a good way to start the conversation. If you don’t mind, I’d like to ask you a few questions, just give me an opportunity, just a few so I can better understand what you’re looking for. Does that sound like a good plan? Almost no one says no.

What’s keeping you up at night? What prompted you to pick up the phone and reach out to me today? Typically, they will unload and tell you exactly what it is, “I’ve had a problem with this,” or, “I’m not happy with that,” and it’s always a great jumping off point. Then, pick a thread. What did they just say? Then start asking questions, but I’m really looking for in that initial conversation, what are the core issues? Do they align with what we potentially offer? What is their timeline? Do they have a budget in mind? And again, you might not even be totally addressing that within the first conversation, but you want to hear what their thought process is.

“I’m paying somebody now, my uncle, $50 a month to do it.” You already know there’s going to be some upselling to do from there, but it’s really just working from the information you’re gathering and using that information to pose your next questions. In my experience, discovery, that’s less than a 30-minute call. That can be a 20-minute call and if it sounds like it’s viable for you and might be a good fit for that prospect, then you get on a deep dive call and really dig in.

Fred Diamond: If somebody keeps pushing back and says, “I just want a price,” Cathleen says, “This is where you need to be assertive.” Talk a little bit about if they keep pushing back on price. From your experience, is that not a prospect? What are your general thoughts on that?

Lynn Stewart: It might be. In turn, I would tell them, “I operate as a trusted advisor. I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t have more of an understanding about what you need before I started spouting out price. If you have a certain number you want to work within…” How can you get the conversation back? “But I wouldn’t be doing my duty if I just went ahead and gave you this information without understanding your need.” A lot of times, I found that very effective and I’ve sold things at various price points. Until they understand the value, you don’t really have a sale.

I believe you have a very low likelihood of selling someone that comes at you that way, “I just want a price, I’m only here for this,” probably not your best prospect, but you will decide that. Just don’t get too far down the path, realize they’re not going to work out and now you’ve just wasted valuable time on a less than ideal prospect. It’s an art and a science, there is no formula.

Fred Diamond: Qualification’s obviously a big part. We have another question here that comes in from Julie, “Can Lynn ask a more detailed question so that I can understand how deep to get?” You guys sell outsource bookkeeping services and things related to that. You talked about what is the pain, “Who are you paying right now?” type of a thing. Maybe we can get a little bit deeper into some of the questions that you guys would ask so that we can give our listeners an understanding of what that means to really get deep to the customer with value-based selling. What would be some more incisive questions that you would ask for your industry to get deeper?

Lynn Stewart: There’s a lot of different paths to take, but when you’re prequalifying them, what’s keeping you up at night? What’s your biggest pain? Tell me, what’s causing you the most grief? You’ve got to get to the root of that so ask in a number of different ways, find out what they say.

Let’s say the answer is, “I don’t have a good idea of what my cashflow is, I don’t have clear insight into my money.” Then I would start asking specific questions of, “Tell me, how are you reconciling your accounts now? Who’s managing your accounts right now? How often are they closing your books? Monthly? Is this something you do quarterly? Tell me a little bit more about that so I can understand the sophistication level of the work that they’re having done now.”

Then you can get very granular, “How many accounts? Approximately how many transactions do you have a month?” I’m going in armed with questions tailored to that prospect and their industry. It’s hard for me to just generally give questions, but you start with that main point and then you work the questions from there. But if I’ve done my homework and I’m talking to someone for example, like you, Fred, and your business, then I need to understand and ask questions about the type of expenses that you have. How many bills do you have to pay a month? How many employees do you have? You really do have to cover the basics.

Fred Diamond: Julie says, “Thank you so much.” As you’re answering these questions here, you need to really be successful in sales now because the customer has many options, we think, to get their answers and to even come up with a solution before they even talk to a sales professional in a lot of ways. You mentioned trusted advisor, that’s a word we throw around a lot as well.

Lynn Stewart: It’s true, you have to be a trusted advisor.

Fred Diamond: Yeah, and that means that you have to understand what they may be thinking about but not asking you. How much of a need is there to understand their industry? For example, as a sales professional, do you recommend that you’re going to be more successful if you focus on an industry? Or if you’re focusing for what you guys sell, on the services that you provide from a general perspective.

Lynn Stewart: It could go either way. Sales enablement for our franchise space, one of the first projects I took on when I came aboard, industry-specific sell sheets.  We had subject matter experts, we got testimonials from existing clients and you have to understand the intricacies.

For example, bookkeeping and accounting services for a law firm, very different from a hair salon. Understanding the terminology and what’s most important to them and you don’t have to be an expert, just have a basic understanding and going into the conversation knowing to ask some of those questions. “Are there any nuances to your particular industry? Any categories that aren’t typical? Any legal restrictions? Any regulations?” If you even just know a little bit about their industry, it’s going to help you ask the right questions.

Fred Diamond: Why do you think that some sales professionals may be resistant to this? As I’m listening to today’s conversation, we’re up to close to 500 episodes of the Sales Game Changers podcast, we’re doing them almost every single day now and value comes up all the time. The fact that you need to show more value than ever before – and you’ve always had to show value – because we’re all dealing with the same problems as we come, hopefully, out to the close of the pandemic. But every company is challenged, every company is dealing with things like mental challenges with employees, dealing with everything that we’ve had to deal with in the last couple years. Why do you think there’s resistance for salespeople to focus this way?

Lynn Stewart: The oldest reason in the book. Change is hard, people don’t like change generally. No judgement, but we’re flying from meeting to meeting and we’re grasping at every opportunity. It’s time to slow down, I believe, and get a bit more strategic. That preparation is going to pay off. Being prepared and coming in with the right-sized solution that I keep going back to is going to truly differentiate you from maybe two, three, five other vendors offering similar services. If you don’t differentiate your services and you don’t set yourself apart from the crowd, I don’t know how you’re going to win, especially in this marketplace.

It requires some discipline and it’s awkward for folks, but I think the more you do it, prepare your questions, you get used to how to guide the conversations. It gets easier with every one, it really does.

Fred Diamond: You’re recognized also as an innovative leader, you’ve been in numerous industries. You’ve been in tech, you’ve had some global marketing responsibilities, advertising, give some advice to the sales leaders out there on how to be innovative right now because it’s getting harder and harder for sales professionals to differentiate themselves because it’s easier and easier for the customer to get information. The information they get may not be right, but they think it is. Give some advice to your peers or maybe people who are a level or two below you who are looking to get to your level about how they could generate more innovation from their teams.

Lynn Stewart: It sounds counter-intuitive, but you’ve got to make sure the fundamentals are locked down first. You can’t just be chasing all the new and the next. As long as you are covering the bases – appropriate prospecting, personalizing your messaging, discovery, needs assessment, that’s all one component of it. But I can honestly say, I really think that you need to be open-minded to what’s not working well for us and then focus your innovation there. What am I not seeing?

Broaden your horizons, read about some tools, find out what the other best practices are doing, folks in your industry, and then pile it. Try some of these things, give them a few months to give them a good try. I think that some people take innovation a little too far a little too quick, doesn’t have to be like that. Try one new thing. The definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over again, same results. Take what isn’t working and look to innovate there rather than crumple it up and start from scratch.

Fred Diamond: We have a question here that comes in from Jerry, “Can Lynn share some additional advice focused on coming out of the pandemic?” You’ve been a sales leader for many years, now you’re with Supporting Strategies in outsource bookkeeping and things related to that. I’m sure you do more than that, I know you do a whole bunch of different services. Just a valuable asset for many companies, but what other advice do you have? We’re doing today’s show in February, people may be listening to this way into the future. Hopefully, we’re coming towards the end of the pandemic as it moves into an endemic, and hopefully events are going to start happening and people are going to want to see their trusted advisor sales professionals. What else do you recommend for salespeople right now for being successful?

Lynn Stewart: I would recommend putting a lot of thought into your digital communications. I think that we’ve all been sitting in front of our computer screens more than ever over the past couple of years. Folks are starting to venture out again, hopefully we’re rounding the corner. But I think that folks are still firing out those email messages that are four paragraphs and they’re clearly a cut-and-paste, there’s no personalization to them.

Start with your communications. Take a look and have some messaging that is brief, succinct and possibly, highly personalized. Messages that are quick, to set up a meeting, set up a call, something like that. Stop sending chapter and verse, because honestly, it’s the first thing I delete. When I get an outreach from a salesperson that they get it, they’ve got my attention, I will then look into what they have to offer. I would say if you’re competing from a sales standpoint, don’t do what everybody else is doing. Again, I think we’ve reached a record high in template emails, so that would be my tip.

Fred Diamond: That is great. We’ll take one more question before we ask you for your final thought. Jerry says thank you for that answer, by the way. We’ll take a question here from Lindy, “How much should I be developing my personal brand to be different?” Talk about that for a second or two. You talked about how you need to differentiate and we talked about that from a value perspective about having expertise and how you can help the customer and coming to the customer with solutions. Just curious, there are so many different ways for people to use video and for people to do their own podcast to establish themselves. What are your thoughts, Lynn, for Lindy’s question? Should you be developing your brand right now?

Lynn Stewart: Lindy, 100%. That is a great approach. Become a persona, become who you are. For folks to be able to get a taste of who you are and what you’re about, it warms up any sales message. If they can go to your LinkedIn page or your social media or look up articles that you’ve contributed to blogs, whatever it might be, if your personal brand is impeccable, it’s only going to position you even better to the prospects. Absolutely, take a look at every outward-facing item. Your LinkedIn profile, your Facebook profile, anything you’ve got for your business and really hone in on that. Personal brand, absolutely important.

Fred Diamond: Lynn Stewart, I want to thank you very much and I want to acknowledge you for the great work that you’re doing to help businesses get their arms around their business and be successful. You’ve given us so many great ideas, give us one final action step for the sales professionals listening today to take their sales career to the next level.

Lynn Stewart: Thank you for having me, Fred. Take the time to plan for prospect conversations. I think it all boils down to that. The more you do that, I think you’re going to see your close rate and win ratio improve.

Fred Diamond: I want to thank Lynn Stewart for being on today’s show and I want to thank everybody else who listened today.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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