As part of my role as a Managing Partner at Atomic, I am one of the first people our clients interact with when they’re making decisions about their custom software needs. My goal in each of these interactions is to practice something called “value-based selling”. Don’tconfuse this with “value-based pricing“, something Atomic doesn’t currently practice. Value-based selling is a strategy through which we attempt to add value to every potential contact and therefore eventually become their vendor of choice. Here are four concrete ways I attempt to bring value to our clients during the sales process:
As I mentioned, I am often one of the first people someone speaks to at Atomic. Usually, our marketing introduces me to them by email. Whenever I can, I try to find out a little bit about the person I’m going to talk to before we have a meeting or phone call. I might look them up on LinkedIn. I might also see if their company is on a business directory like Crunchbase, Owler, or Alignable. I’m not looking at these sources of information to find leverage to get them to buy from me. Rather I want to create a hypothesis about the focus of the meeting so I can use our time efficiently.
It’s possible I might set myself up to be cognitively biased by priming myself for a conversation. My own expectations of how the conversation might go may affect the experience’s direction. Through my research, I may prepare for a completely wrong conversation that won’t happen! I think that’s a risk worth taking. Here’s why: I value the time of the people I speak with as part of my role at Atomic. The first meeting with someone has the potential to have great value or to be a huge waste of time.
At the first point of contact, possibilities are limitless. They could be anyone, they could have any need, and the conversation could go in any direction. This could be the start of a multi-year partnership on a fantastic software product. It could also be the last time we ever speak. It’s not really valuable to the other person if I let that conversation meander in any direction until we finally land on a valuable topic. Rather, I want to walk into that conversation with a hypothesis of how I might best plug them in with Atomic or point them in another direction.
Here are some things I’m looking for when I do research:
- What’s the size of the company my contact works for?
- What’s their position in the organization’s leadership structure?
- What has the organization been releasing to the press in the last six months?
- If they’re a public company, what was their performance like over the last four quarters?
- What industry vertical is the company in? What sort of past experience does Atomic have in this vertical?
The answer to all these questions helps me to prime the conversation for the best possible outcome for the other person. If Atomic isn’t a good fit, we’ll figure it out quickly. If Atomic is a good fit, I’m prepared to make the case for working together.
Listen before you speak.
Although research helps me prepare for a value-based selling conversation, listening during the actual meeting is more valuable. Upfront research provides me with a reasonable hypothesis for how the conversation will go. Listening to the other person in the conversation provides me with actual evidence that will validate or disprove my hypothesis.
In a first conversation, I generally limit myself to asking the other person questions about their situation:
- What’s going on? How can we help?
- How long has this been happening?
- What budget have you set aside for this project?
- When do you want to get started?
- What needs to happen for us to get started?
- Who is making decisions about this project?
- How did you go about looking for partners?
- What’s most important to you in choosing a partner?
The answers to these questions will effectively help me understand if we can help the person I’m speaking with and what our next steps should be.
Connect your offering with the pain the customer feels.
Once I understand more about what the other person’s need is, I can effectively connect Atomic’s service offering to the need the other person is attempting to fill. How could I possibly pitch a solution before I listen carefully to the problem? To do so just assumes that Atomic is a great fit for everyone and every situation. Pitching Atomic’s service offering without first establishing the other person’s need is just self-congratulatory conjecture.
After carefully listening to my potential customer to uncover the pain they are feeling, I frame Atomic’s service offering as the ability working with us will give them. Some potential options I’ve shared in the past:
- Business leaders like you turn to Atomic when they have a problem they believe technology can solve, but they don’t have the internal expertise to create something custom to their own organization. Atomic can give you the ability to create something that is viable and relevant to your business.
- Directors of Engineering have come to us in the past when they didn’t have a model for how to build and scale cross-functional product teams. Our teams can teach your teams and give you all our product development DNA.
- Startup Founders have come to Atomic when they weren’t looking for the cheapest option, but rather the right option to build the foundation of their product for years to come. We’ll work directly for you or hand-in-glove with your product organization.
After 21 years of business, we have many ways to help our clients. Whatever the pain might be, we very often have a solution for it. That’s at the heart of value-based selling.
Teach don’t sell.
Many times, the first conversation with a new client contact reveals we aren’t a good fit for what they need right now. In that situation, we are fortunate not to need to make “hard sells” to underqualified clients. We’ve also made a strategic decision to make our upfront team out of Managing Partners — all of whom are former software practitioners. They have all built multiple software products of varying sizes in their careers. This strategic decision puts us in a valuable position.
Instead of manipulating potential clients into working with Atomic when they probably shouldn’t, we can take the opportunity to share our rich experience in product development. Instead of pushing our services, we can share our expertise. In doing so, we are able to point them in the right direction with reasonable next steps. Often, I find myself hoping these potential clients will come back when they’re ready for Atomic’s services.