Why B2B Salespeople Love Value Propositions – But Shouldn’t

I wrote yesterday about how value propositions play a role in B2B sales analogous to models in economics. Useful, but not to be confused with what really happens.

In the real B2B world, buying decisions are far more emotional than salespeople—or buyers!—like to admit. And while salespeople will admit the truth of this, only the really natural salespeople actually incorporate it into their selling.

Why is that? Why are B2B salespeople afraid to bring emotional connectedness to the sales game? Even when they acknowledge its power?

Let me clarify what I’m talking about. I’m not talking about shooting the breeze, ‘how ‘bout them Bulls,’ or commenting about the kids’ pictures on the bookshelf. I’m not talking about cheap fake intimacy, scripted active listening, or golf outings.

I’m talking about genuine concern for the whole-person well-being of the buyer as individual, and the buying organization as a group. Why do most sellers find it hard to go there?

It’s partly about fear, of course—it usually is. But in this case, something else is at work. It’s an inner conflict that too many salespeople contain within themselves: a battle between the desire to help other people, and the feeling that they must betray those same people to serve the capitalist imperatives of their corporate parent.

In other words: most salespeople think they are fundamentally at war with their customers. They think that business is a zero-sum game. They feel that “good social skills” exist ultimately to con the customer. (A study once showed that insurance salespeople all felt trust was very important, but they themselves were extremely untrusting of others).

They are hardly crazy to think this way. The reigning strategic model of our time is based on Five Forces of competition, including competition with our customers and our suppliers. Salespeople, whose job it is to make nice with customers, are simply internalizing the contradiction—no surprise if they feel schizophrenic.

As a result, they are torn. They know they have powerful skills—they can seduce buyers. But they believe those skills must be deployed on behalf of their company—and therefore against their customers’ interests. Hence to sell well is to harm the people they sell to.

Psychologically, there are only three resolutions for this dilemma. Some salespeople give in to the dark side and simply accept that their role is to move the merchandise, gain share of wallet, get the sale.

Most, I suspect, just live with the contradiction and suppress thinking about it.

But the really great salespeople rise above it. They realize that the best short-term performance comes not from managing short-term, but from managing long-term.

That means relationships–not transactions. And relationships mean emotional connections.

The great salespeople ignore the sales managers’ pleas to tweak end of quarter numbers, because they are truly in it for their customers. They know not only that long-term relationships are more profitable, but also that you don’t get them by re-inventing value propositions on every sale.

You get relationships the same way you get them in the real world. You take risks, you invest, you absorb the minor irritations, and subordinate your ego to the larger good of the relationship.

The best salespeople have opted out of the “competition” game. They do not obsess about “closing,” and don’t worry too much about short-term metrics. They don’t constantly ask themselves how they’re doing, but rather whether they’ve been doing enough right for their customers and for the relationship. They know that sales are simply the fruit on the tree of relationships.

They are other-oriented, not self-oriented; more collaborative than competitive (at least, with their customers). And above all, they don’t shy away from deeply emotional selling. Because they care—big time and long term. And it pays off.

Those people don’t sell by economic value propositions. They sell by personal commitment. They have resolved the schizophrenia problem by squarely opting for the side of the relationship, and realizing there really is no contradiction between doing that and enjoying great economics.

And paradoxically, they do better as a result. Not because they try harder to do better. But because doing better is the byproduct, the side-benefit, of doing the thing that val-prop selling just doesn’t do.

Trust-based selling just works.

September Carnival of Trust is Up


The September Carnival of Trust is up, and it’s a great read. 

Our hard-working host this month is Ann Bares, of Altura Consulting Group, who writes at Compensation Force.  For those of you new to "carnivals," the concept is this: each month, a guest host combs the internet for the best blog posts relating to trust: trust in sales and marketing, leadership and management, strategy/economics/politics, and advising/influencing.  Each host adds their own particular perspective and commentary n teh Top 10 choices they made.

Ann has done a terrific job surveying the field–her selections convey the range of situations within which trust is relevant.  She introduces and shares with us posts on trust relations between citizens and local government; the role of trust in social networking; how saying "No" can create trust; and my personal favorite, the use of trust as a substitute for controls in the business world.  Congratulations to all the posts selected by Ann to make the Top Ten List–it’s an honor!

It’s a great read–I recommend the September Carnival of Trust to you.

Past Carnivals can be found here.  If you’d like to enter a blog posting for the next Carnival, click here.  The next Carnival of Trust will be held at the beginning of October.


Live Webinar on How to Build Trust in Sales Conversations — Thursday, August 21

I don’t do a lot of webinars—but I will be giving one live next week—Thursday, August 21, from 2-3:30PM Eastern Daylight Time--on the subject of Building Trust in Sales Conversations.

The session is being hosted by the good people at RainToday, a powerful site focused on marketing and business development for professional services; the cost is $90, you can sign up here at

Why the topic Building Trust in Sales Conversations? Because it tackles a lot of myths and misconceptions about selling.

For one, most of us think that selling draws down on trust. Rightly done, however, sales interactions are one of the best situations in which to create trust.

For another, trust is largely created (in intangible services or complex sales) not by branding, eloquence, speeches or credentials, but by personal interactions. Conversations. Sales conversations, about what people need and want.

Finally, many people think of trust-based sales conversations as things that can happen only after a long period of time has allowed trust to develop and grow. The truth is, it is in sales conversations that the trust grows. Just like other types of human relationships, trust doesn’t happen before real, honest conversations—it is created in them. Trust doesn’t enable selling; selling enables trust. This means trust can be created far more rapidly than we oftne think.

Understanding how to create trust in a sales conversation is a great source of freedom; trust doesn’t take time, it isn’t a business process, it doesn’t come about from following metrics, and it isn’t a business process. It is something each of us can do, personally, far better than we think.

Join me in a conversation (well, a webinar anyway) about this exciting topic. Sign up here for How to Build Trust in Sales Conversations.

I look forward to the time together.





Trust-based Selling Program June 19 in the Baltimore-Washington Area


I will be offering a special one-day open enrollment session of Trust-Based Selling on June 19 in Columbia, Maryland. Attendees will be capped at 25, and I’m announcing it first here.

If you’d like to be more trusted by your clients and customers, if you’re tired of sales models that are seller-centric at heart, if you wish there were an approach to sales that combines high integrity with high profit—this program is for you.

I will co-lead the session with Mark Slatin of True Colors Consulting. My page on the Trust-Based Selling program offers more detailed information on the what the workshop will cover.

Breakfast and lunch are provided, as well as a signed copy of the book Trust-Based Selling, and a workbook from the program. Cost is $500 per attendee. I rarely do open-enrollment programs, and this special one-day program is priced lower than my corporate programs.

You can learn more and sign up for the Trust-Based Selling Program here.

Look forward to seeing you there!


The Limits of Needs-based Selling and Consultative Selling

These are popular concepts in today’s sales world:

Consultative Selling Amazon 568 mentions
Consultative Selling Google 270,000 mentions
Needs-based Selling Amazon 158 mentions
Needs-based Selling Google 22,800 mentions.

Both approaches ask questions to define buyer needs, so that the seller can alter or position the product to address those needs, thereby raising the value to the customer and the likelihood of closing the sale.

This may sound stunningly obvious and commonsensical. To that extent, it’s a tribute to the triumph over the old product-focused approach of convincing people they needed whatever it was you had to sell.

(At the same time, sounding obvious doesn’t mean it gets practiced all the time, or even usually. Product-based selling is far from dead).
The mainstream view among sales practitioners is that needs-based selling and consultative selling represent the state of the art, the high road, professionalism in selling.

But it’s just not true.

Reading the consultative or needs-based books, websites or training programs, you’ll find two beliefs—implicit or explicit—that limit the value of these approaches to selling. Those beliefs are:

1. Their primary intent is to close the sale
2. A secondary intent is to qualify prospects.

Those may sound obvious and benign as well, but look at it from the customer’s side.  Together, those two beliefs mean that if you’re paying attention to me as a customer, it’s only for as long as you think this transaction will result in a sale for you.

That means:

a. while you’re definitely in it for you, you’re only in it for me if it bodes well for you, and
b. while you’re willing to talk about my needs, you’re not willing to do so unless you see a sale close at hand.

Either way, it certainly appears you don’t have my interests very much at heart.

There is another way. It’s called Trust-based Selling®. It says focus on buyer needs, so that you can better articulate them and get them met.  Period.

You don’t focus on their needs because it’ll get you the sale—you do it so you can help them better articulate their needs and get them met.  Period.

You don’t focus on buyer needs in order to screen out buyers who don’t need what you have to sell. You do it so you  can help them better articulate those needs and get them met. Period.

The key difference lies in liberating sales from the transaction.  Trust flourishes only when then quid and the quo have some blue sky between them.  Screening at the transaction level screams “I only care about your wallet;” trust-based sales screens at the strategic customer selection level, not the tactical transaction level.

For needs-based or consultative selling to become trust-based, you need to migrate away from the tight leash of the transaction.  Loosen up.  Get free of the “pay me now or I quit doing this consulting” mentality.

Trust-based selling says, if you consistently do the right thing by your customer, then when the customer needs what you’re selling, you’ll get the first call. And you’ll therefore make more money.

The highest profit comes when you make profit a byproduct—not a goal—of a truly customer-centric sales process.