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.