The current B2B selling environment is information rich, but buying insight poor. Potential buyers have access to almost unlimited amounts of information about vendors and their competitors from websites, peer review sites, and social media sites. More information, however, does not help buyers make better purchasing decisions unless this information is directly aligned to buying goals and payoffs.
Most vendors make the “information rich, insight poor” problem worse by overwhelming buyers with information about themselves and their products. A study by Gartner showed that sales representatives overshare product options and information in the sales process, believing they need to “help customers consider all options” and that “more information leads to better decisions.” This mindset pervades content strategy and leads many companies to produce high volumes of content from an inside-out perspective focusing on their company’s product and goals.
The reality is that in this information rich environment, buyers do not want more information. Instead they want a company and its Sales, Marketing, and Success teams to offer very targeted information tailored to their business goals. Buyers want their vendors to do the work of providing insight and evidence on how their product or service advances the buyer’s goals. Aberdeen Research has shown powerfully that what separates Best-in-Class teams from the rest is the ability to understand a buyer’s goals and challenges and then specifically align their products or services to these challenges. The Content Marketing Institute has shown that buyers want very tailored content based on their issues with 92% of B2B buyers giving the most credence to peer reviews, 68% wanting content categorized by issue/pain point, and 58% wanting content specific to their industry vertical.
Become Buyer-Centric with Value Pathways
Value pathways are the answer to an information-rich, buyer-insight-poor environment. They create a buyer-centric focus across the entire revenue organization. They accelerate revenue velocity by shifting Marketing, Sales, and Customer Success from “product pitching” to leading with buyer goals and value across all buyer interaction. Playbooks linked to value pathways document already proven buyer value and make it easier to sell this value forward to new buyers or to deepen account value with existing buyers. When driven by an overarching concept of customer value, playbooks in Marketing, Sales and Customer Success accelerate revenue outcomes by building consistency in buyer messaging across the revenue organization.
Value Pathways in Practice: Ascend Learning
“Our higher education and public safety groups beat their plan by an average of 11% in July, August, and September despite the disruption of this global pandemic,” Phil Charland told me. Phil is Vice President of Sales, Professional Education at Ascend Learning. “The executive team was really surprised by the strength of the team’s performance. We expected summer bookings to really suffer.”
“That’s outstanding,” I said. “What made the difference for the team?”
“There were two key changes,” Phil began. “First, we have been really focused on good buyer discovery with the team moving from talking about our product to engaging buyers around their goals. They got a lot better at asking targeted questions. Rather than just asking about our buyer’s curriculum needs, they were asking how content needs connected to the goals for learner assessment and skills measurement, about new instructional modalities like flipped classrooms or simulation-based learning to support remote instruction, as well about needs for buyer-specific customizations or service.”
Ascend Learning’s Professional Group is a $150M revenue organization that offers curriculum and digital learning tools for professional education including for first responders, public safety professionals, personal trainers, nurses and healthcare professionals. Professional education is a mature and very competitive market with lots of product alternatives offered by major publishers like Pearson, Cengage, Elsevier and others. Phil joined Ascend to bring together five different sales teams into a single integrated sales organization that could compete at a different level. Phil and his sales leadership team committed to training the team on a more customer-driven approach as a way to differentiate their selling from competitors, increase cross-selling across product lines and deepen account value.
“The second big change is that our Sales Enablement team started to work directly on connecting our value positioning across Marketing, Sales, Product and Customer Service,” Phil said, describing a new group on his team responsible for resourcing and supporting the sales team. “Responding to the need for stronger virtual engagement, our Sales Enablement and Marketing teams produced a range of webinars, videos, and virtual book fairs aligned to the buyer goal areas that were working for our sales team. We also created the expectation that our sales team capture all goals discussed in a buyer conversation, not just the purchasing goal, so we could use the customer service process to deepen the relationship and connect to the next sale.”
Ascend Learning achieved significant growth in a saturated, commoditized market by centering and aligning Marketing, Sales, and Customer Success teams around key buyer value pathways. Value pathways help a company grow more quickly by leading all buyer interactions with a focus on each buyer’s critical business goals or painful business blockers. Value pathways help a vendor to speak to buyers in the language they understand best, which is the goals, priorities, and pains that shape their work.
How Value Pathways Drive Revenue Outcomes
Leading with buyer value is a form of “enlightened self-interest.” In a noisy market, buyers quickly tune out when vendors only talk about their own products and services. It takes too much work for the buyer to link the product or service to their own goal. By contrast, companies who use value pathways to lead with buyer value experience improved revenue outcomes at each step in the buyer journey. Leading with buyer value produces more quality new opportunities, as well as higher deal velocity to more closed won opportunities. It also leads to increased account value from both reduced discounting and accelerated time to upsells and cross-sells. Lastly, companies that focus on specific buyer issues see faster expansion within vertical market segments.
Buyer value pathways are unique to each company’s product or service, but generally focus on key buyer goals like improving revenue, reducing costs, managing budgets, increasing staff impact, or changing a user or employee experience. Across all buyer goal types, value pathways follow the same framework to build consistency and high quality execution across the revenue organization.
Using Value Pathways as a Messaging Framework
Value pathways focus on starting each new buyer interaction with value discovery. It really does not matter whether a buyer interaction happens on your website, in a prospecting call, in a sales call or in a customer interaction. Each new buyer interaction should start with discovery, re-discovery, or clarification on a buyer’s goals and payoffs. Good value discovery takes the guesswork out of the purpose of the buyer interaction. It lets the buyer build the target and the bullseye that might motivate a purchase or additional purchase. It helps us hear the buyer in their own words so we can align our language to their language. Good value discovery happens at three levels, focusing on a buyer’s goals, then on the gaps or challenges keeping them from goal achievement, and then on the payoffs or benefits of investing in goal achievement.
Value pathways also build consistency across the Sales, Marketing, and Success teams, ensuring a company’s best messaging aligns to buyer value. After value discovery, each buyer interaction should move into a value mapping phase. The purpose of value mapping is to provide a crisp explanation and evidence of how a company’s capabilities help with buyer goal achievement, remove a buyer pain or gap, or support a specific target buyer payoff.
Buyers want an easy explanation of how a company’s capabilities are unique and different from other existing internal or external alternatives. Buyers are not interested in hearing claims of impact on their goals and target payoffs, they want to see and hear evidence in the form of use cases, success cases, and testimonials of impact. Consistently positioning capabilities and evidence across content marketing, prospecting outreach, sales conversations, and success conversations builds buyer trust. It also accelerates buyer education and the pace at which buyers are able to move between steps in the revenue process.
The Key to Putting Value Pathways into Practice: Revenue Playbooks
While value pathways create the overarching philosophy and approach to customer value creation, it is playbooks that put value pathways into practice. Playbooks are literally the “plays” that market-facing teams run in buyer-facing situations at each step in the buyer journey. High-growth companies create and align five different playbooks connected to their value pathways: content playbooks, prospecting playbooks, discovery playbooks, deal velocity playbooks, and customer success playbooks. Each playbook suggests a set of individual or coordinated actions to respond to a specific buyer situation. A good playbook captures and socializes team best practices for each type of buyer interaction. Playbooks support practice and repetition to build skills outside of direct buyer interactions. Good playbooks also provide flexibility and options around best practices for each team member to find their own voice.
Building value pathways and actionable playbooks across the entire revenue organization drives growth in four specific ways:
- More new opportunities: It aligns buyer value and revenue outcomes in the prospecting phase to generate more new quality opportunities;
- More won opportunities: It leads faster deal velocity and more won opportunities out of the discovery phase;
- Higher Account Value: It leads to higher account value out of the deal velocity and closing phase with less price negotiation and a faster path to upsells; and
- Faster Segment Growth: It leads to deeper engagement and faster market segment expansion in the customer success phase by identifying success patterns and practices in each target buyer vertical.
More New Opportunities
Value pathways increase the pace and quality of new opportunity generation by making it very clear in early discovery that a company plans to provide that buyer with a ton of value. Value pathways help shift the focus of prospecting from product to prospecting as a trusted advisor and maintains a focus on continually engaging new buyers with intriguing ideas or insights.
As we’ve learned by analyzing our customers, companies that make this shift to buyer value from product raise their new opportunity production from the same set of leads by an average of 45% or more. Buyers are simply a lot more interested in engaging in a discovery call with a new vendor when they believe they will take away something of value in managing their own business.
Top performing companies get more and higher quality discovery meetings from their prospecting activities. These companies have prospecting playbooks organized around buyer campaigns that focus on buyer goals, using content to demonstrate expertise. Buyers expect to take away insights and practices from a discovery call after this kind of prospecting outreach. Middling performers, by contrast, prospect around their product and “one-time” offers and discounts. Buyers that show up on discovery calls with these companies are usually already in a buying motion, have looked at several alternatives, and come asking for a discount before considering a second call. Top performing companies do not put themselves in this position.
More Won Opportunities
Beyond generating more quality new opportunities, value pathways change the buyer experience in the sales process to generate faster deal velocity from initial discovery calls to closed won deals.
Companies that build playbooks around a core set of value pathways to train their sales teams to start and end every sales conversation on buyer goals and payoffs have higher buyer engagement in the sales process. Buyers experience the sales team and the company as thought partners around the opportunities and alternatives for goal achievement. From analyzing our customers, we have seen that companies that anchor sales conversations on buyer goals and payoffs experience average gains of 40% or more in deal velocity to closed won. We have seen companies that were closing new opportunities at a 12% rate, jump that close rate to 17% or 18%. We have seen teams closing opportunities at a 25% rate, jump that up to 35%.
For top performing companies, higher deal velocity comes from a shift in the different buyer experience. Buyer’s experience interactions during discovery or stakeholder calls with our top performing company as value-added to their overall decision-making process. The calls help them to refine and prioritize their goals and targeted payoffs, to think critically about ROI and improvement, and to actively evaluate alternatives. These buyers appreciate the focus on finding the right fit and so engage more deeply. The buyer experience with middling performers, by contrast, tends to be a product pitch. The company sales team is determined to find the right package and price to “close a deal.”
Higher Account Value
Strong value pathways not only help source and close more deals, but also accelerate the timeframe to upsells and cross-sells that can deepen account value. Value pathways make it easier to use buyer discovery during the sales process to identify two, three, four, five or more buyer goal areas. Deep discovery across value pathways helps a sales and customer success team shift from thinking about individual goal areas to focusing on continuous expansion of buyer value by linking one goal area to a new set of buyer goals and payoffs.
In analyzing our client companies, we have seen teams that use value pathways to align sales, account management and customer success around continuous value expansion raise overall account values by an average of 20% or more.
Buyers engaging with high performing sales, account management or customer success teams have typically been exposed to deep discovery across multiple goal areas, which leads to higher account values for several reasons. First, buyers have had a chance to consider and prioritize a variety of goal areas, so they have a clearer understanding of the payoff and ROI outcome to a company partnership and are less likely to push back on price.
In addition, when a buyer knows we can help them with a variety of goals, they are more likely to see a company as a strategic partner that can expand to goal achievement in several areas rather than a point solution focused on a single problem area. Finally, a buyer that has been educated on multiple goal areas is more likely to consider upsell or cross-sell opportunities that address new goal areas.
Buyers that have gone through the middling performer’s sales or account management process, by contrast, have learned most about product, packaging and pricing options for the company’s software solution. When ales or Customer Success introduces new packages, the buyer will think first in terms of the budget and funding impacts. These buyers have not been educated on a range of goals that might be included in a partnership. Each time the Sales or Customer Success team introduces a new product, it will be treated as a new purchase rather than a continuation and expansion of value in the existing relationship.
Faster Segment Growth
Finally, strong value pathways not only help source, close, and expand individual customer accounts, but also accelerate the pace of new customer acquisition through targeted segment expansion. Buyers are most interested in hearing from and seeing evidence from peers in their direct market segment. The way buyers talk about their goals, pains, customers and markets varies in important ways from segment to segment. Value pathways make it easier to create versions of discovery questions, capability statements, and evidence of buyer impact in the specific voice of the customer that resonates most strongly with buyers in a specific market segment.
Companies that version their value pathway framework by market segments can grow 65% faster in new market segments than companies that do not have value pathways or do not version effectively. Speaking to buyers in the language that is most familiar in their market segment, with specific peer examples, builds a high level of trust. It also leads buyers to understand that a company has access to peer best practices and insights that can help them to advance their own business goals more quickly.
We have seen top performing companies actively segment buyers into key industry verticals with similar goals and value pathway use cases, such as financial services, airlines & travel, hospitality, retail, and human resources.. Top performing companies selling into higher education actively segment by top research universities, regional public universities, mid-size private universities, community colleges or liberal arts institutions. Top-performing companies selling into K12 school districts segment their buyers by Top 100 districts, mid-sized and small districts, urban, suburban and rural as well as Department of Defense (DOD) districts. It is the commitment to identifying top customers, success stories, and testimonials by segment that produces a higher level of trust and engagement with new buyers in this segment. Organizing prospecting and sales activities around these segment successes leads to wider and deeper engagement with buyers in the segment.
Middle performing companies, by contrast, tend to segment customers just around the total account value and how many products they buy. They may produce a number of success cases and customer testimonials, but none of their content is specific to an industry vertical. Prospecting and sales activities focus on the overall product and package and do not speak to specific business goals or challenges that buyers within a target vertical may encounter.
Assessing How You Use Buyer Value to Drive Revenue Outcomes: A Simple Self-Diagnostic
Here are questions you can ask yourself as you think about how you are helping your Sales, Marketing, and Success teams individually and collectively align to buyer goals to drive stronger revenue outcomes:
- Have you developed an overarching approach to customer value with your revenue organization?
- How do you connect buyer discovery work in sales, marketing and customer success?
- How do you connect capability talk tracks across sales, marketing, and customer success?
- If you look at increasing new opportunity generation, velocity to new closed deals or deepening account value, is there one area that would benefit most from leading with customer value?
- Have you identified top customers and developed customer success stories for each of your key market segments?
Most companies are taking an “information rich, insight poor” buyer environment and making the problem worse by overwhelming buyers with information about themselves and their products. Focusing instead on leading with buyer goals and payoffs in each new buyer interaction and tailoring information to each buyer’s goals can make your company part of the solution. Focusing on buyer goal achievement will, in turn, improve revenue outcomes at each step of the buyer journey.