Revenue Leader Adam Ellingson, EVP of Sales at CeriFiOne of the biggest gaps in buyer discovery is getting a buyer to co-own and co-develop the payoff that would get them really excited about working with a new vendor.  

When they identify a specific desired gain, a buyer is acknowledging value and building a vision of their future. For the seller, this is the most important step in building momentum to close a deal.

One sales team that is doing really well with helping buyers and customers to co-develop specific payoff statements is the CeriFi team under the leadership of Executive Vice President of Sales, Adam Ellingson.


Helping Buyers Focus on Outcomes by Asking: ‘What is your Success Rate Today?’

“We focus the entire buyer journey on two questions,” Adam shared with me as he described the crux of his approach.  First, ‘What is your success rate today?’  Then, ‘How could this success rate go higher with personalized instruction and more predictable analytics?’   The whole buyer journey needs to be about getting the buyer to continually rethink their goal and deepen their understanding of the gaps that keep them from that goal.”

CeriFi is an education and certification provider serving firms and professionals across the financial services market. The Series 6, Series 7, and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ (CFP) are education and exam-based licenses and certificates that allow employees in financial services firms to manage other people’s stocks, bonds, and investment portfolios.  The market to provide these financial licensing exams is large but highly competitive.  There is not a growing population of financial advisors and there are more than 300 Board Registered Programs available to complete the CFP® education requirement and a similarly large number for the Series 6 and Series 7.

Growth in this market requires a different way of thinking about uncovering buyer value.

“CeriFi has brought together a unique set of capabilities to move away from being perceived as an undifferentiated, commodity offering,” Adam explained. “Not only do we have the highest quality content, but we also provide the ability to personalize learning, and use analytics to see the principal barriers to higher success rates.  For us, the real question we need our buyers to answer is ‘what is not happening today’ in your financial licensure training that is keeping you from raising your test pass rate.   What is your current gap around content, learning delivery, or learning analytics?”

CeriFi was not an organically grown company but emerged from the acquisition of many companies, including Dalton Education, Money Education, Keir Financial Education, ACFCS, CPMI, Bionic Turtle and Pass Perfect. This brought together, under CeriFi, a range of different high-quality content for the Series 6, Series 7, and Certified Financial Planners.   It also brought together a banner list of financial service clients including companies like Ameriprise, Wells Fargo, Merrill Lynch, Fidelity, and UBS.   CeriFi has a small business line that focuses on selling financial services training directly to individual financial managers, but the vast majority of its revenue comes from business-to-business relationships with companies needing certification training for their employees.


Letting Buyers Self-Qualify Starts Value Discovery Early

“Most acquirers would be content to just cross-sell high quality content across this different client base,” Adam noted. “We focus on re-educating buyers on what is possible.  This process of re-education on possibilities happens across the entire buyer journey, starting with how we engage new buyers and continuing through to how we start new partnerships and how we look at deepening into existing accounts.”

Many companies think of discovery around a buyer’s goals, pains, and payoffs as happening in early discovery as part of the first introductory sales calls.   Adam and CeriFi have built their growth trajectory around the understanding that discovery on a buyer’s goals, gaps that hurt goal achievement, and targeted gains happens continually through the buyer journey.

“The process of educating buyers on improving Series 6, Series 7, and CFP® exam pass rates starts in marketing with a series of self-service buyer journeys,” Adam explained. “We have content playbooks that automate the early discovery with videos, blog posts, and tools that help explore why someone might want a certificate, the right course for them, and the steps they will need to take to get it.”



Co-Developing the Target Payoff Builds Buyer Excitement and Momentum

For CeriFi, the value discovery process continues into the sales conversation with a focus on the level of exam pass rate performance that would lead to excitement and the process of getting there.

“Once we have the buyer engaged, we start to qualify toward a pilot program to show the impact of our solution on their exam pass rates,” Adam continued. “Often we try to focus on the path to use our three pillars of high-quality content, personalized learning, and learning analytics to target a 5% to 10% improvement in pass rates.”

Large Brokerage firms hire thousands of employees each year.  One firm in particular successfully partnered with CeriFi to increase pass rates by 15%, while decreasing time-to-production by 25%.  This success translated to over a million dollars in cost savings.

The consistency of CeriFi’s value discovery process, from the self-service buyer journey to pre-pilot sales calls, makes it easier for account managers to push for the close in a way that still feels authentic to the buyer.

“If it looks like we have a fit, we will simply say ‘We have talked about the value of such-and-such rate of improvement in your exam pass rate.  Can you give us four weeks to show the impact we can have for your learners?’”  Adam said.

The consistency of its value discovery process also makes it easier for CeriFi’s account managers to look for opportunities to deepen its existing relationships.   The same set of discovery questions around current success rates, desired success rates, and path to improvements are used to identify new employee groups to target for deepening the number of courses.

“With existing partners, the discovery process focuses on their success rate today and their target success rate,”  Adam said.  “However, now, we have a chance to plan different types of pilot outcomes and explore both qualitative and quantitative improvements in exam performance.   The ultimate aim of course is to show a quantitative improvement in test scores, but the path is often through more qualitative elements related to a better learner experience.”



Using Value Discovery to Co-Develop Payoff Statements with Buyers

The CeriFi example shows that in good buyer discovery, guided questioning helps the buyer lead us to a payoff statement with a specific goal and target improvement that could motivate a purchase.   Here are some things to keep in mind when creating payoff statements with your own buyers:

  • Payoff statements are specific to each individual buyer.
  • They can be used just as effectively for an initial sale to a new buyer as for an expansion sale to a current customer.
  • Good value discovery is not specific to just sales, but should happen at each phase of the buyer journey from marketing to prospecting, sales, and customer success.