Cold calling has a fearsome reputation. Among those receiving them who feel irritated by the idea of persistent and hard-sell calls that interrupt their day. And also among new sales reps, who fear rejection, their mind going blank, being hung up on, even aggressive responses.
Value-based sales can help mitigate these fears where price-centric and product-centric approaches can fall down. Product-based selling (“Why we’re the best on the market!”) can too easily slip into the dreaded ‘selling features, not benefits’ issue; plus, as a strategy it relies heavily on continued investment in remaining best-in-class. A price-centric model is tough to compete on and measures value purely by transactional cost, rather than by value delivered.
Both these approaches also leave you open to the customer immediately comparing you to competitors, rather than focusing on your own product.
Value-based selling focuses on outcomes that are aligned with your customers’ pain points and a higher level of differentiation: your value proposition. Pushbacks and a lack of engagement from customers are often borne out of frustration that you’re not focused on how your call is relevant to them specifically.
Steve Reid, Head of Sales Enablement at Kazoo, coined the phrase 'value-based cold-calling' and this article takes much of its inspiration from the experimental approach he led at Kazoo as he nurtured it into a fresh, innovative, and results-producing lead generation approach.
(You can watch his full talk from Austin's Sales Enablement Summit at the bottom of this article 👇).
The value-based cold calling mindset
It may sound evangelistic, but you have to personally believe in the product and its value, benefits and effectiveness.
Always keep that reason to call in your mind - your reason to call is that you’re offering to give your prospect something that genuinely helps them. Yes, sales is a numbers game - but you can only make those numbers count if you can communicate value with authenticity and conviction.
I was going to write ‘convincingly’, but perhaps that’s the wrong word: ‘convince’ has an air of trickery about it and tricking your way into a sale is not what we’re talking about here. Even if you do get past the gatekeeper with that approach, or even bag a meeting, everything’s going to unravel at some point if and when it becomes obvious your product and the customer are not a good match.
Think of it like dating: you can wheedle your way into a date with smooth-talking or fake promises, but that romance isn't going to go anywhere in the long-term - even if you do get a bite with a cheesy chat-up line.
So, how do you find the value and communicate it honestly? Imagine you’re explaining why you enjoyed a movie. You’d describe enthusiastically what was so good about it and why you’d recommend they go and catch it. You’d give an honest representation of the value.
OK, now you’re selling absence management software to big businesses...
Absence management is often cited as the biggest headache for employers, as well as the trickiest one to manage. Before you set up a value-based call, you firstly need to understand why this is such a massive problem: this way you can work out how to give them a reason to continue the conversion and show as early as possible what’s in it for them.
Absence management is a pain point because:
- It’s a complex, often sensitive and personal process
- High risk from a legal compliance point of view
- Requires cross-department buy-in and coordination for a consistent approach
- Can lead to high employee turnover
- Reduces productivity
- Reduces profitability
- Leads to lower customer satisfaction
Next, how does your product (let’s call it Amazing HR) address these problems, ie, what are the outcomes for the customer?
Amazing HR’s value proposition:
- Reduces cost in terms of time and money
- Frees up manager and HR time to concentrate on strategic goals
- Improves employee retention = less time spent recruiting and training
- Enhances employee motivation
- Reduces risk of litigation
Now you take these outcomes and adapt them to your prospect. This comes through research, not presumptions. Find out what they care about. You need to understand the prospect’s role and business. Only then can you target your messaging properly and with relevance.
Tips for handling the value-based call
- Get to the point. You don’t necessarily need to couch your call in business jargon, but don’t be too casual either. Communicate clearly and in a way that shows you respect their time.
- Don’t make it all about you. Focus on what will happen after the sale. How soon will the product be implemented? How soon do others begin to see results? Help them to visualize and put into their own context how it would work in their organization. Shut up and listen! Once it’s opened up, give them space to talk. It’s a sales conversation yes - you know that and the customer knows that - but a conversation nonetheless.
- Tell them something they don’t know. Before you can convince them of the value of your product, you need to convince them of the value of talking to you as an individual. Share insight and perspective, tell them things you’ve learnt from - and achieved for - from other customers (especially competitors). Teach them something new, whether it’s something about why they're experiencing the pain that they are, something new and industry-specific.
Sales professional and prospecting coach, Miles Croft, advises:
“Give them something that you know that they would appreciate. So again, you could go industry-specific information, like a report on what the local market or their competitors are doing or something role-specific. So let's say they're in finance. You could give them an industry financial report. Consider everything from their point of view and apply your value to that.”
- Hook them with your opener
“Hi my name is xxx, I’m calling from Amazing HR. Would you have a few moments to talk to me about how you currently manage employee absence?”
You’re making it easy to respond with rebuffs like “I’m busy”, or “We already have an internal program/use Super HR and are happy with that.”
“Hi, I’m xxx from Amazing HR. I work in HR and I’ve been speaking to employee management professionals like yourself about how you use your absence management programs to improve retention rates/lower business costs/free up HR time/mitigate risk within your business. Can you talk to me about what you’re doing at XXX”
You're establishing from the off you understand their business and the outcomes they look for in their role; you’re getting straight to the point about what’s in it for them.
Bringing the value-based approach into your business
- Focus on deep research skills - finding out as much as possible about the individuals that reps will talk to as well as their company in general. Use LinkedIn profiles, previous interviews, guest articles, etc.
- Use team coaching and role plays intensively, especially for nervous new recruits.
- Record and analyze calls - used this to feed back into role play.
- Train in core messages, but empower reps to use their discovery to reframe according to the prospect. Teach them how to engage and give them confidence on how to do this.
- Teach listening skills - and how to get the best value out of a prospect’s answer. Use the analogy of a doctor asking you questions so they can make a diagnosis and prescribe the best solution to help you; they often gain as much knowledge from how you say something as from what you say and use this to guide their questioning. Focus on specific things to listen out for and how to respond.
- Consider shortening sequences and reducing the number of touchpoints, ie, less calls, but higher-quality interactions.
- In the same vein, you could think about reducing the number of accounts for each rep to improve focus and allow more time for research before reaching out.
- Ensure content is streamlined to the value-based process so that it properly supports the rep in their conversations.
The Community, Curiosity and Generous Intent philosophy
Kazoo's Steve Reid advocates an approach of ‘earning the ask’, which sums up the points we’ve discussed above.
This is about establishing common ground: “I understand you”; “We’re in this together.
“I’m interested in what you think”; “I want to learn from you”.
This is the part about offering something interesting to your prospect - be it content or advice - without necessarily expecting anything in return. Don’t ‘ask’ upfront - this should happen later in the call, or even in the next scheduled call. Or even six months, or a year down the line. Sometimes the best outcome is a truly meaningful interaction.
Ahem, so here goes…
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