I’ve read the term “value messaging” a lot lately, and it disturbs me.  It’s growing in popularity. Even my own company, CSO Insights, uses it to describe how to communicate value to a prospect.

CEB promotes a combination of commercial Insights (customer value, level of “customer specificity” varies) and helping prospects facilitate their buying journey (decision process value) as characteristics of high-performing sales teams.

RAIN Group extolls value-oriented selling as by far the most effective. They have data that shows that a value-driven sales culture is higher performing, lower turnover, more rewarding, and has happier customers than average sales forces.

All of these experts aren’t wrong, the “M-word” just means the wrong thing to too many people. We all agree that focusing on value is what top-performing sales organizations do.  I just find that particular term misleading.

“Messaging” probably isn’t the right word.

The word “messaging” can mislead people. Most dictionaries define “messaging” as unidirectional (although sometimes back-and-forth serial “telling”) communication methods over electronic media. That’s clearly not what the experts above mean; I imagine that they are attempting to broaden the dictionary definition to include in-person delivery.

Even if we remove electronic medium from the definition, the “unidirectional” part is what bothers me. Broadening it to mean ”formulating a communication for impact” still carries a “telling” flavor.  What many people mis-hear, or mis-define it as:  mass messaging, standardized messaging, scripted messaging.  That kind of communication is not how customer-perceived value (there is no other kind of value than “customer perceived”, of course) is best created.  The word “messaging” can ever evolve beyond that unidirectional message flow.

Worse, there are too many people in the world ready to believe that there is such a thing as a magic pitch, a magic script, that will cause the heavens to open up and rain revenue. Most harmfully, some of these people are senior level executives with little exposure to selling, who think that sales is some (“hire the right person and pray”) black box.  The word “messaging” doesn’t free these people from that misperception.

One part of “messaging” I do like is the intentionality that should precede sending an electronic message. We should retain a sense of intentionality and thoughtful message crafting before delivery, jettisoning the unidirectional baggage that the word also carries.

The term “value” in the phrase should bring us all back on track.

Value means the desirability of a perceived outcome from a course of action (such as a purchase). Value only exists in the mind of a customer. While some portion of value may be common to all customers, full value (the desirability of all achieved outcomes) to a prospect is highly individualized.  Value is personal.  If the prospect does not understand full value, they may buy, but will do so without fully-formed preference, probably not at an optimal price, and almost certainly more vulnerable to a competitor’s discounting behavior.

How can you script or standardize communication about something so individual and personal as value? Especially in complex/consensus business-to-business selling?  When you communicate a high level, extremely predictable (and easy to compete with) value on a standardized/canned basis, world-class selling requires more…much more.

“Value dialogue” is what great sellers and sales organizations do. Not deft messaging. 

Value creation in the B2B world involves dialogue, empathy for a customer, deep listening, and business acumen.

  • Dialogue is uncovering, developing, and expanding value. Both parties are listening and responding to one another. This is the human art of creating shared meaning.  “Messaging” can create a reason to have dialogue…perhaps even some high-level generic value, but will never result in the prospective buyer realizing full, personal value.
  • Empathyis placing yourself in the customer’s position.It is the foundation for true dialogue. I’m not sure this is trainable, but it can be uncovered in a (pre-hire?) assessment, and developed further.
  • Deep listeningis what separates serial back-and-forth messaging from true dialogue. This is trainable, assuming a minimum level of customer empathy.
  • Business acumenhelps a seller refine empathy into dialogue about value. You can’t “know thy customer’s business” without knowing about business. Business acumen is 100% a training issue.

CEBs “commercial insights” require sellers to be expert in their customer’s business.  Half of all “Challenger” sellers provide those commercial insights via unidirectional messaging, without empathy and dialogue, and end up being a company’s lowest sales performers.  Without business acumen, those commercial insights are little more than marketing messages – sellers must personalize any insights to each prospect.

Research by CSO Insights and many others indicates that, while many customers bring sellers later in their buying journey than ever before, in after extensive self-education, that they welcome one particular kind of seller earlier: one who can provide perspective:  applying their domain solution expertise to a customer’s unique organizational and business challenges.  This requires dialogue, not messaging.

Don’t be misdirected

Language matters. Unidirectional statements are a far cry from value creation dialogue.  Dialogue isn’t “messaging”, at least by any current English definition of the word.

I work with sales organizations to have great purposeful dialogue.  With intention and empathy.  I can also raise your sales organization’s business acumen.

Are you wrestling with how to improve sales performance, and does any of this resonate with you?  It was a unidirectional message, so I don’t expect magic results. I’m actually interested in hearing your individual story, to see if I can provide another set of eyes on your situation, whether we end up working together or not.  Contact me if you’d like to have a dialogue.

To your success!

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