Value selling tools are an essential part of the B2B sales process. When built properly and used consistently, they can strengthen your sales message, improve the credibility of your sales reps, and by extension, your organization. Additionally, they can help close more sales in less time. Some consultants dispute their potential because homegrown and generic tools typically struggle to meet expectations.
If you’re currently struggling with flawed or ineffective value selling tools, you’re probably ready to abandon them for something better. And if you’ve decided to implement such tools for the first time, you also have to answer the question, “Should we build them ourselves or pay experts to do it?” Allow us to offer some guidance to help with this decision.
As developers of value selling tools, our position is not always the most obvious. There are pros and cons to each approach that must be weighed against organizational goals, available resources, and expected outcomes, as well as the ROI you will achieve from using the tools. You must also weigh the cost of your solution against the cost of development. Typically, solutions that have an average selling price greater than $15K benefit most from outside expertise.
Persuading prospects that you have the best solution requires more than an ROI tool. You must first establish that they have a big enough problem to focus on, and that your solution can solve that problem. This may require various assessment tools and techniques that nurture engagement during the early phases of the buying cycle.
Tools are only one part of the solution; how and when they are used is another. Once they are developed, your sales and marketing leadership needs to focus on how you can deliver more value to your customers. Only by demonstrating how you can deliver more value to customers, can you sustainably grow sales.
However you decide to move forward, we recommend that you embrace the four considerations below and incorporate them into developing your value selling tools.
1. How can you build with purpose?
No one tool can make or break a sale but when used strategically at specific points in the sales cycle, thoughtfully designed tools can build a solid business case for your solution. Homegrown or off-the-shelf approaches to value selling often fall short because they focus on a single metric or value dimension and often miss the many other ways that your solution can add value.
A full complement of assessments, tools and calculators can greatly improve lead quality, accelerate decision making, and provide cost and benefit justifications that help close the sale. Each requires unique insights to ensure valuations and calculations are accurate and valuable to prospects. When deciding whether to build or buy, consider that a combination of these value selling tools might be needed to serve the full scope of the project.
- An Assessment Tool helps prospects understand the depth of their issues when compared to industry benchmarks. Used at the beginning of the sales cycle, this tool helps qualify leads and improve lead conversion.
- A Value Calculator allows buyers to enter their own numbers and calculate the value of your solution. This helps fill your pipeline with higher quality leads earlier in the sales cycle.
- A TCO Tool differentiates your solution from competitors in terms of benefits and Total Cost of Ownership. Use later in the sales cycle to overcome price objections and move the sale forward.
- An ROI Calculator helps justify the cost of your solution, gain purchase approval, and close the deal. This popular tool is significantly more effective when used in combination with the others.
For more established companies, we also suggest developing a Value Realization Tool, which allows current clients to look back and evaluate the actual return achieved on their investment. This helps support customer retention, improve cross-selling and upselling opportunities, and increase renewals, especially in a SaaS or managed services environment.
Building your own tools can be a practical option, if you have full and consistent access to all the in-house IT, analytical, and strategic sales and marketing resources that will be required. Consider both initial development and ongoing refinement when determining the true cost of the project. Organizations that cannot support an initiative of this magnitude on an ongoing basis will be better served by engaging a vendor that specializes in value selling tools and has expertise in value selling. This approach guarantees accuracy, simplicity, and expediency at a reasonable cost.
2. Are spreadsheets a viable option?
Spreadsheets are often perceived as the fastest, most cost-effective way to develop value selling tools. Everyone is familiar with spreadsheets, so how hard could it be? Many companies initially take this approach, only to discover that the results fall short because the tools are inaccurate, unreliable, and unprofessional looking.
Maintaining control is a big concern with spreadsheets. Suppose you distribute a spreadsheet-driven tool to three sales reps. Each rep then tweaks the calculations or inputs, creating multiple versions of the same tool and opportunities for compounded errors. You will have no idea who’s using which version (if they even let you know they are using a modified version), whether or not it’s accurate, or how to maintain every version that’s out there.
Exposure is another risk. Because spreadsheets are easily distributed, they can easily fall into the hands of competitors and disgruntled employees. Above all, you don’t want prospects to see your spreadsheets. Not only do they look unprofessional, but they invariably cast doubts on the integrity of your calculations and perhaps your organization. It’s very unlikely that a buyer will trust your spreadsheet.
In our experience, the allure of an easy spreadsheet solution carries more risks than benefits. This can cost more in the long run in time, dollars, and reputation. In most cases, it’s better to invest your resources in working with a professional firm that can deliver accurate, secure tools that facilitate sales and provide valuable insights to your prospects. These experts can also help your team adopt best practices for implementing the tools and incorporating them into your sales process.
3. Can you fully prioritize development?
There are some advantages to engaging your internal IT department to help develop value selling tools. You’re all on the same team, and you share a vested interest in closing more sales and boosting revenue. And while IT serves the needs of all departments, in reality, organizational needs often take priority over individual groups. When this happens, actual development time can be significantly longer than anticipated, and it can be difficult, if not impossible, to schedule and complete needed updates.
Complexity and lack of transparency are also common issues with IT-developed tools. Although sales and marketing can articulate the customer needs and the business value of your solution, developers without business experience may not successfully translate those factors into their computations. If assumptions and calculations are hidden and the tool is too complex to use, sales reps and prospects alike will have little confidence in the output and won’t use it.
Staff continuity is ideal in this regard. The original team knows the intricacies of the calculations and ideally, should be consulted when it’s time to update the tools. This may not be possible if they are assigned to higher priority projects, and they may even have left the company. Turnover for IT professionals is high and without developers who understand the current tools, ongoing refinement can be difficult and result in unplanned obsolescence.Internal market analysts involved in the project pose similar issues that can undercut your value drivers. Progress can be delayed when they are pulled in different directions and while they can add valuable insights to assumptions and calculations, their views are sometimes myopic. Analysts are also likely to underestimate the entire effort and their role in getting things done. This includes establishing default values to appropriately size the business case, performing secondary research to bring credibility to the tool, interviewing customers about the value received, and much more.
When you work with a dedicated tool vendor, your project and all the activities that make it successful are always a priority. In addition to their availability and technical expertise, you benefit from their deep understanding of sales and marketing, and their ability to discern and translate your value proposition into accurate, easy to use value selling tools.
4. How can you ensure credibility?
Because value selling tools are used to market your product, it may seem logical to engage a marketing agency, or perhaps your own marketing department, to manage the project. Or does it? These professionals are no doubt adept at developing websites and digital campaigns. However, those skills are not transferrable to developing comprehensive tools whose output accelerates the sales process.
Agencies and in-house teams are likely to oversimplify (though I’ve seen the opposite as well) calculators and assessment tools, and overlook your true value proposition. In many cases, the tool turns out to be a black box for entering numbers that produce questionable results. Marketers are typically not analysts or developers. Without an understanding of the interplay between business issues, calculations, and special application software, their tools will not be successful.
This unique blend of expertise is more readily acquired by partnering with an external organization that specializes in value selling and the development of related tools. Their objectivity and expertise guarantees the accuracy and credibility of their output for individual prospects, and they can develop specific tools for each phase of your selling process to fully support your sales and marketing goals. They are also more adept at developing tools for more complex solutions being sold to multiple industries or market segments.
Before moving forward, we encourage you to challenge your assumptions about building vs. buying your calculators and assessments. It’s important to fully understand and appreciate the expertise needed to develop quality value selling tools that enhance credibility and increase sales.
Take advantage of online resources to inform your decision and wherever possible, talk to companies who have already chosen their path. Evaluate the cost benefit of a build vs. buy decision. Better yet, talk to someone who tried one approach and then made the switch! You’ll get a much better picture of what works and what doesn’t.
Done right the first time, you will acquire invaluable tools that help you qualify leads, fill your pipeline, differentiate your solution from competitors, and close more sales. Take your time, and do it right the first time. It’s well worth the effort and and upfront investment.