Why You Can’t ‘Sell’ Value

You can’t sell value!
Let me tell you how I learned that. I was in my first sales role and I was in the box seat on a big sale…


Well, let me tell you how I learned about value. I was in my first sales role and it was a painful lesson

Selling construction machinery, I was in the box seat in a $300,000 deal. I was on list price and the Buyer asked me to throw in a $1,000 accessory. I was confident that I’d done a great sales job and sales-talk aside, it was definitely the best machine. The Buyer thought so to.

And so, being a good Company Rep, I said he’d have to pay for the accessory.

The next day when I called to get the order, the Buyer told me he’d given it to a competitor. I was gobsmacked! When I asked him why he said:

‘You were arrogant. I was paying full price with no trade-in and all I asked for was a $1K gimme. And you refused. You needed to be taught a lesson.’

Ouch! What a kick in the butt. I did indeed learn a lesson.

And the lesson? Well, it taught me two things about value:

  1. Value is whatever the Buyer, not me, thinks it is.
  2. Value is gained, it can’t be given (sold).
    Thinking rationally, I was sure $1,000 wouldn’t break a $300K deal. And I was wrong. To that Buyer, value was retaining his manhood by getting at least something off list price. It wasn’t rational but pure emotion…like all decisions are!

And so, just as you can’t sell value, it follows that you can’t create value, propose value or any other doing-value thing.

Value is like benefits. Remember features and benefits? They figured prominently in 20th century sales training. A feature is what your product/service has (e.g., contoured seat), a benefit is what it does for the Buyer (e.g., better back support). Value is the outcome from the benefit (e.g., relief from back pain).

Just as Buyers judge what is of benefit to them, they also judge what value is to them.

As Sellers, we only control (think about it) the features of our products or services. And of course, how we discuss them, which takes some skill.

For example, to suggest a feature is valuable to a Buyer is not skillful. That’s making assumptions, as that is the Buyer’s call to make. I’ve often thought I had the ‘ideal’ solution and then lost the sale. That’s when I made that type of assumption!

Instead, when we appreciate that value is received not given, a transformation occurs. We ask Buyers e.g., ‘what do you value?’ Rather than tell them e.g., ‘this is the value you need’. Our curiosity demonstrates that our genuine intent is to be a source of value to them and not simply to sell them.

…and then they’ll tell us how we can be of value.

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