Value Quest – What, Why and How

Value Propositions, Unique Differentiators, ROI, Business Case…, the list goes on and on. Salespersons and Marketers are forever in the quest for the elusive answer to the eternal question – ‘what really makes the customer tick’? What is ‘Value’? How do we understand what the customer really ‘values’?

‘Value Selling’ is among the most clichéd term used in the B2B Sales World today. If you are in a sales or marketing role, you probably have got used to hearing prescriptions and sometimes strong directives around “You need to understand your customers”, “You need to relate to their world” and “You have to articulate Business Value of your products and Services”.

“But the customer is always asking about the price…!” You ask yourself. When was the last time you were in a sales cycle where the customer started the discussion with the question “what value do you bring to the table?”.  Well to be fair, some customers do, but many still do not.

Having been in the Sales and Solutions space in the IT world for over 20 years, and having worn formal ‘Value Seller’ hats in SAP and Oracle, I have had the opportunity of witnessing this quest for understanding, articulating, selling and delivering ‘Value’ to the Customer from the front line. This series of articles (planning to write this in 3 or 4 bite size parts), is an attempt to share my experience and my understanding of ‘Value Selling’ in simple terms. Especially the frameworks and methodologies that I have seen work particularly well.

So here goes…

The Value Quest – Part 1

Few years back, I and my team were in a meeting with the Head of HR of a telecommunications company, trying to convince her to partner with us for developing a 3 year technology roadmap for HR solutions for her company. An extremely clued in executive, she was trying to understand how IT solutions can help her address the challenges of employee productivity, employee engagement and talent management. We were explaining the breadth and depth of our HR solutions, and giving references of other Telcos who have adopted our solutions. Our technical explanations were not helping much, and the discussion was not going anywhere. She was not getting convinced that it was a good idea to bring in our team to help them develop a technology roadmap.

While listening to, and participating in the conversation, I was, in parallel, furiously thinking of how I could explain the concepts in simpler terms. I had heard Simon Sinek’s TED Talk before, where he had introduced the concept of the ‘Golden Circles’. In that session, he had very eloquently explained his theory of ‘Why People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it’ (for those of you as yet uninitated to his theories, please listen to his TED Talk on Youtube at).

He spoke of brand leadership, brand value, and how leaders communicate. I had loved it. Sitting there in the meeting, I started wondering “could I apply the same framework to articulate ‘value’ of information technology to this HR executive?” The really simple, but extremely elegant Golden Circles framework of ‘Why’, ‘How’ and ‘What’ is shown below.

It had dawned on me that for this HR executive, her world view was from ‘Inside-Out’. Her key challenges were the ‘Why’s’ for her; the reasons she needed to do anything at all. These were her ‘Value Drivers’. For each of the ‘Why’s’, she would like to know ‘How’ IT solutions can help, and then get to the ‘What’, in terms of the specific IT solutions she would need. Only when she is able to get answers to her questions from this inside-out journey, will she be able to relate to how our solutions can impact her value drivers, and help her achieve the desired business outcomes.

On the other hand, our team’s world view until then was ‘Outside-In’. We were explaining the ‘What’s’ first. The breadth and depth of our HR Solutions, the different modules, and then we talk about ‘How’ each of these modules would address typical challenges in the HR domain. We were doing a classic product pitch, and in this process we were losing her. There was a big disconnect.

We changed track, and white-boarded an ‘Inside-Out’ discussion by taking each of her challenges (the ‘why’), and demonstrated ‘how’ a state of the art HR system can address these challenges, and only then getting to ‘what’  HR Solution modules would provide those capabilities. Much better result!

The Golden Circles saved us that day, and since then I have consistently used this simple framework, reasonably successfully, to explain the concept of ‘Value’ in the context of Information Technology. I have also developed it further to elaborate the concept of the differing ‘world views’ of C-Level stakeholders from that of the ‘technologists’. I will discuss the enhanced framework and more in my next part of Value Quest.

Hope you enjoyed reading this article. Please share your experiences and best practices that you have seen, as we develop this idea.

Together let’s embark on our Value Quest.

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