Christopher Smith

Lost in Translation...?

Q: What does the critically-acclaimed 2003 movie, Lost in Translation, starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson have in common with selling value in 2019?

A: Let's begin with the premise that, like beauty, "value" is in the eye of the beholder. It is imperative as value sellers that we understand the buyer's context, which is shaped by numerous factors including (but not limited to) their:

  • Business needs and underlying interests (e.g., business objectives to achieve, strategies to implement and issues to overcome);
  • Corporate and departmental KPIs;
  • Performance Scorecard and compensation plan;
  • Near-term personal motivations, and possibly longer-term career aspirations;
  • Level of satisfaction with the status quo (particularly, if we are not the incumbent);
  • Appetite, or lack thereof, for embracing uncertainty and the risks associated with change;
  • Perceptions or misperceptions of the value of their next best alternative to you; and
  • Blind-spots of pending threats and/or gaps in his/her knowledge of new possibilities.

Having consulted with value-leading sales organizations around the globe for the past 25 years, what I have seen more recently are three additional factors that compound the complexity value-sellers face:

  1. The proliferation of decision-makers: Buying decisions for more complex solutions are now commonly influenced by several key cross-functional stakeholders (e.g., 5-8), not by a single, omnipotent decision-maker;
  2. The increased rigor of the buying journey: Enabled by the internet and social media, a relatively recent Forrester study concluded that customers complete, on average, 67% of a typical purchasing decision --researching solutions, determining decision criteria, ranking options, whittling down lists of potential supplier candidates, benchmarking pricing, and so on--before even having a conversation with a potential supplier; and
  3. The Rise of Procurement: In the last 7-10 years the procurement profession has moved from a largely tactical role in many industries, to a Strategic Sourcing role, earning Chief Procurement Officers a seat at the strategy table of the largest corporations.

Given these factors, sustaining strong growth and margins in highly competitive, global markets, in the face of both well-established and disruptive new competitors alike, is no small feat!

Clearly, innovation has a role to play, but sellers too, must rise to the challenge to translate the value of their insights and their solutions into compelling, quantitative arguments for their well-informed buyers. Without such insights (including a deep understanding of buyers' contexts) and an understanding of how to leverage them effectively, sellers are destined to default to hope as their strategy. For example, hoping they hit the right points in their lengthy presentation decks, but actually lowering their odds of winning new business in the process. Selling, after all, is a game of probability.

What then must we do as value sellers to increase the odds in our win our "unfair share" of new business? A client's recent "win" sheds light on the answer to this question, reinforcing the power of doing the work upfront to gain insight into buyers' contexts. In my client's case, that work vastly increased the odds her value messaging would hit the mark!

In a high-stakes meeting with the Global Sourcing leadership team of one of her largest customers, she received glowing feedback from the customer's lead global sourcing executive following her brief presentation:

"This was an excellent presentation. It's nice to see a supplier come in so well prepared and address all our important initiatives with an action plan."


In addition, her Sales leader commented,

"Not only was the client impressed with our insight into their company's strategy and challenges, they asked us to schedule time to begin partnering with them for the future growth of their company...and they never brought up price!"


This was clearly a strong ROI of her time to gain upfront insights regarding her customer's rapidly evolving context, and to align her value messaging accordingly.

In closing, given all the factors noted above, the challenge is clear. As value sellers, we must ensure we do not become over-reliant on R&D for breakthrough innovations, or Marketing for searing new insights, award-winning campaigns, and/or excellent promotional collateral. All are valuable, but as sellers, we too must have an insatiable curiosity, and relentless determination, to surface fresh insights about our customers, their markets and their ever-evolving contexts. Without the insight that comes from such effort, we run the risk of our value selling efforts and messaging being lost in translation.