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How to encourage value-based selling

Value-based selling (VBS) is challenging but fruitful, so B2B companies are keen to implement it. To enable and motivate salespeople to adopt VBS, firms can take a holistic approach by building frameworks that consider all these factors: salesperson regulatory focus (promotion or prevention), level of organisational empowerment, level of customer openness, and degree of awareness and cohesion in sales teams.

Value-based selling (VBS) refers to a selling approach where the salesperson converts customer benefits into monetary terms. It is a powerful sales strategy that B2B firms are keen

to implement. However, salespersons often cannot implement VBS as they have difficulty articulating the business value, especially when pitching new products. They can, and often do, resort to traditional selling tactics, leading to less than ideal results for the firm. To help firms resolve this issue, a study analysed the antecedents and performance outcomes of VBS to answer the question: How can firms motivate and enable salespersons to implement VBS when pitching to B2B customers?

The study defines VBS as the degree to which a salesperson works with the customer to craft an offering that translates the benefits of products into monetary terms so that the product’s

contribution to the customer’s bottom line is clear. This behaviour can only be achieved through an in-depth understanding of the customer’s business. It is a more challenging selling approach than traditional approaches. It needs significant effort and communication on the salesperson’s part. But it is also a more fruitful approach. Firms communicating value have greater success in convincing customers to choose their products.

The study identified several motivational factors that affect salesperson VBS at an individual level:

Salesperson motivational systems – Salespersons, have a promotion focus (attaining positive outcomes) or a prevention focus (avoiding adverse outcomes). Both types of focus encourage VBS but in different ways. Promotion focus is aligned with value creation for customers through incremental revenue growth. It is also associated with a creative, risk-taking and growth mindset. Prevention focus is aligned with value creation through quantifiable cost reduction. It is associated with a secure, predictable, risk-averse mindset.

Empowering organisational climate – An empowering climate increases employees’ feelings

of competence and helps them feel valued. Employees in empowering climates are more motivated and engaged. They are also more likely to demonstrate VBS. They adopt a proactive approach to selling by acting as co-creators of value with customers by innovating offerings, helping to implement these offerings, and matching business processes between parties to maximise customer profits.

Customer openness – The customer’s willingness to share value-related information is a

powerful influence on salesperson VBS motivation. Cooperative customers ask for salespersons’ opinions during decision-making, delegate task control to them, and show confidence in their ability to create value. Contrary to expectations, this trust does not encourage VBS across the board. Because customer openness reduces uncertainty, it lowers the motivation of promotion-focused salespersons but increases the motivation of prevention-focused salespersons. Customer openness, however, works well with an empowering organisational climate as salespeople face fewer obstacles overall and are more likely to demonstrate VBS.

The study emphasized team-level motivation. Using a systems approach, it explained how individual motivation among salespersons was connected to team motivation through a synergistic interaction of individual-oriented and team-oriented motivational factors, including:

Team awareness – In highly aware teams, employees have a greater consciousness of each

other’s progress and challenges and a higher sense of collective responsibility toward team goals. Awareness can increase the accountability to achieve goals, which leads to an increase in the number and quality of sales-related activities. As team members exchange information and modify their plans, resource allocation, and behaviours to better meet the team and individual goals, customers’ adoption of new products increases.

Team awareness also heightens focus on areas of improvement. The focus on mistakes acts as a driver for promotion-focused salespersons as they are motivated to learn from the mistakes and avoid missing opportunities. Therefore, promotion-focused salespersons show greater VBS when team awareness is high. On the other hand, prevention-focused salespersons become more conservative in their approach to avoid making mistakes, leading to lower VBS. A higher level of team awareness also strengthens the impact of an empowering climate on VBS motivation.

The study has crucial implications for sales leaders of firms. They can best motivate

salesperson VBS by adopting a holistic approach by considering all the factors that drive salesperson VBS together. Salespeople are diverse in their backgrounds and motivations. Firms that embrace this diversity can choose to ascertain the regulatory focus (promotion or prevention) amongst individual salespeople. Then they can design interventions that align salespersons’ promotion/prevention focus with the other factors to enable salespersons to implement VBS.

Since team goal pursuit contributes to VBS motivation, they can also monitor and encourage

team-level collective efforts to meet goals, especially through collecting and sharing customer insights. Sales leaders can also develop an empowering climate by offering salespeople opportunities to express their opinions, demonstrating confidence in their abilities, and giving them greater autonomy in performing tasks.

Further, they can assess customer openness through the tools developed by the study. They can use this information to categorise customers and then coach or support salespersons on specific selling approaches that work with empowering and non-empowering customers, especially keeping salespersons’ motivational systems in mind.

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