What is sustainable value? Stated simply, it is “value that keeps on giving.” For the customer it is that quality of a product, service or company that always delivers, that is always there. For the seller, it is an opportunity or an account that pays for itself over and over.
Sustainable value should be the highest aim of a seller—for keeping and expanding one customer is far more cost-effective than obtaining a new customer. Of course a company should always be after new business, but equal if not more emphasis should be placed on delivering sustainable value and keeping that existing customer. This can be seen as a real necessity with a SaaS business; if a customer isn’t happy, they can simply switch services with a few clicks of a mouse.
Sustainable Value and the Whole Enterprise
While sellers should have sustainable value as their primary interest for customers, it cannot just be the salesperson that has this purpose. In fact, if only the salesperson has this aim while the rest of the company does not, the salesperson will fail in delivering sustainable value to customers. So, unfortunately, will the company.
A comparison could be made between an enterprise an an orchestra. The salesperson we just mentioned could be the pianist. Finance could be the brass. Customer Service might be the strings. If the players are all virtuosos—which must be the case for any world-class symphony orchestra—then the company’s customer will have a remarkable experience, just as a listener would be ecstatically moved by the symphony orchestra’s music. However, if the orchestra’s pianist is fantastic while the rest of the orchestra is mediocre, the experience will not carry through.
This means that every single place in a company where a prospect or customer touches that business must create its own sustainable value. A great deal of emphasis is being placed today on the vital importance of “customer experience,” and sustainable value for every company touchpoint is what is meant. When every touchpoint—from marketing, through the SDR, through sales, through finance, through Customer Success and beyond—delivers a spectacular experience for the customer, that customer’s experience cannot help but be so good that sustainable value is delivered for the company. That customer will remain loyal for years to come.
Another way of looking at sustainable value is, how many does it benefit? A product or service that only benefits the seller—such as the financial instruments that caused the financial crash of 2007-2008—can be seen to have no sustainable value. A product or service that benefits both the seller and the buyer could be said to have some sustainable value. A product or service that not only benefits the developer and seller of that product, but the customer, the community and society as well, could be said to have far-reaching sustainable value.
A Bit of History
How far back does the concept go? At least in our contemporary society, sustainable value was originally described by the “father of modern economics” Scottish economist Adam Smith all the way back in the 18th century. Smith wrote about the something he called the “invisible hand”: in a free market, individuals’ efforts to maximize their own gains may benefit society, even if they begin with no particular intention to do so. Not long afterward the same concept was expressed by French political thinker and historian Alexis de Tocqueville in his famous work Democracy in America as “enlightened self-interest”: individuals who act to further the interests of others (or the interests of the group to which they belong), ultimately serve their own self-interest. The concept runs all through the Austrian School of Economics, popular for the last 150 years: trade is only lasting and sustainable when it has a beneficial effect on society.
Your Product or Service
How far-reaching is your company’s sustainable value? The more beneficial a product is, the more sustainable value it has. An example can be seen in the modern trend in fashion. Apparel has always had some sustainable value to consumers: it makes them more attractive, provides protection and maintains modesty. However in the last half-century apparel has become very unsustainable in the way it has been made: using third-world labor, with dyes that contained carcinogens, with manufacturing processes that polluted the environment, and with lower quality processes and materials reducing longevity. Today an increasing number of manufacturers are utilizing sustainable-grown cotton, with non-poisonous dyes, made using only fair labor practices. Therefore the customer not only looks better, the clothing has a lasting sustainability on all other fronts.
In B2B sales, your product or service can be rated as to its sustainable value. If you are, for example, selling a software product that greatly benefits its users, those users will be better employees at their companies, the company itself will be better performing, and will, in the end, have a positive impact on the overall economy. The examples of sustainable value are endless.
Sustainable Value—Added Value
Today’s sales forces are having to add value for each customer—you must learn all about prospects, their particular issues, and how your product or service will precisely benefit them. A question any salesperson can ask themselves is: what sustainable value will my product bring my prospect? The answer to that question should be fairly detailed for each prospect: the more ways a product can be shown to benefit a client, their company and beyond, the more sustainable value it can be shown to have. You will find that long-term sustainable value will be the primary selling point of your product or service.
The more a sales force is able to isolate sustainable value for each sale, the more likely the deals will close. It is probably the most powerful factor in sales force effectiveness. And as we can now see, it means everything for whole company success as well.
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