The Value of Time

As a part of keeping up with global business trends and events, I subscribe to several on-line feeds from industry and economic publications. These feeds including the Financial Times, Bloomberg and so forth are a great way to get the highlights of activities around the world that may be impacting our little corner of the global economy.

Recently one of these publications, as an incentive to subscribe to the full package of their content, sent out free copies of Anthony Iannarino’s recent book, “The Lost Art of Closing.”

It’s unusual for something to show up with any genuinely useful ideas, but Iannarino’s book is one of those.

Now a freebie is a freebie, so I flipped through the book looking for anything useful. Full disclosure — I am NOT a big fan of business self-help books or how to be a better salesperson publications. I find most of those to be so general and full of simplistic answers as to be largely impotent. In fact, a large number of the 400+ B2B selling books listed on your favorite online bookstore would probably make a great 1000 word magazine article, but are not worth a 250-page, $30 book.

When you decide to buy or read one of these, first check the author’s “street creds.” Have they actually sold something to someone or just write books about how to do it?

Do You Value Your Client’s Time?

The nugget that popped out of Iannarino’s book was actually one that I have included in various forms in sales training classes for quite a while but he coalesced into something a bit more focused and perhaps more succinct.

The key aspect of this whole rAVe article’s topic is to understand who our salespeople really are and understand why they might not immediately grasp this concept. The reality is that the majority of sales personnel deployed by our industry come from the technical side of things — not all but a large majority.

They need that knowledge base to make the complex systems and technology we are offering understandable to our non-technically educated clients.

Some manage to blend their technical expertise with a real grasp of the whole selling flow-chart, but many do not quite get the entire transactional process that must take place to be successful.

They can explain the system, the design, the hardware and do it professionally. But what is often missing is an understanding that the client’s time is of real value to both them and the client.

The failure to recognize that just getting the meeting means the client has committed a resource of value — their time — to the process is an essential concept. Unfortunately it a concept all too often not fully perceived and thus not fully weighted in the whole interactive dance that is a sales presentation.

You Bill, But So Do We

This value of time concept was brought home to me recently when reading some comments on an industry blog. Someone was lamenting losing a sale because they found out that the client rejected their proposal because they didn’t charge for the time to prepare it. The client felt (and in my opinion rightly so) that if the integrator didn’t value their own time, they wouldn’t value the client’s either.

One of the things I learned over the last 40+ years is that every one has a value perception and that, in their own way, they assign a value to their time. If you and your sales /design team don’t recognize this GOING IN to a project meeting, you will more than likely create a perception that you don’t know or understand the whole value equation. This is a bad start!

The client assigns a monetary value to their time. This is a given, even if it’s not stated. They also expect that you do the same.

This is why we have always taken the approach that we are happy to have a brief phone chat about their needs, but if they want to sit down and discuss things, want a preliminary proposal or want to discuss details, that is billable time. If they have a problem with that, it is likely you will have a problem with getting paid for your work, so carefully consider whether it’s worth taking the meeting. Sometimes you have to say no.

Think about it this way: if you make an appointment with a doctor, lawyer or a plumber, during which actual work might be performed or services rendered, do you expect that to be free? They certainly don’t. In fact most “trade” pros charge a trip fee, even if they don’t actually do anything. They value their time and you should too. The time they spend with you is revenue time, from you or somebody else so time really is money!

Market Evolution and Value Perception

This whole concept has become even more important as the industry’s “buyers and authorizers,” those with purchase power evolve from the traditional management folks into the IT departments. On average the IT people are younger, often better educated, quicker on the uptake for technical details and very quick to judge whether or not you know what the hell you are talking about. They have a lot of stuff on their plate, and thus they want to be perceived as competent, reach a solution, and be the hero to their management. By that I mean they resolved the problem, achieved the goal within budget, on time and efficiently. This adds whole layers to the “time is money” value equation scenario.

With this population, it is essential to recognize that there must be palpable value to be gained for them in taking the meeting. You cannot assume that because you are presenting a product as a solution that such information in and of itself is of value. IT IS NOT!

If it’s not obvious to you that any hardware is a commodity to the client, one they can shop around for, it should be. They know that a black box for some functionality is just that. It’s the value that YOU add to that box in a system and problem/solution package that matters, and is what will have measureable value to them.

You have to constantly consider, proactively, what value you are providing in exchange for the time invested — by the client, as well as your own. Boiled down, your relationship initially and long term with any client is super-glued to the value they perceive from the time they spend working with you and your team — EVERY member of your team that comes into contact with the client.

If they all don’t radiate “value” to the customer you have, or will have, a problem. This applies to your own people as well as any sub-contractors or specialists you recommend or supply. They will all be judged and will reflect on your value.

Establish the Framework

Most sales meeting start off slightly askew. That is they don’t start with defining and clearly elucidating three things:

  1. What does the client think they want?
  2. How do they expect you to provide that solution?
  3. What does the client actually need to achieve their goal? (Redefining the want)

It is essential that all three points be clarified and a cohesive and workable answer results from the meeting. If you leave anything “till later” it will come back to haunt you and more than likely cause delays, confusion and dissatisfaction.

Taking the time to assume you have all the needed info is time that has value to you and if you present it correctly has value to the client as well. Something as simple as: “Can we review what we have decided and agree that the solution, proposals, and project definition meet all your needs?” is a question well worth the time.

Do not take for granted that because you got the deal that you have all the information. You must ask and ask again to verify that what you think you heard is what they actually said and that what they said is what they actually meant.

Reaching All of the Stakeholders

I am a firm believer in the follow-up memo, one that restates everything discussed at a meeting, in clear, concise and non-technical language and requires a sign off to verify that all stakeholders, especially those that weren’t at the meeting, to agree to the process as presented. It only takes one “I didn’t approve that” down the line to discombobulate the whole project. If you not sure you who know who all those people are, ASK who has to approve things and be sure to ask again to verify you have all the players defined.

The cost of the time you spend to do this will show to the client you have their concerns in mind and that you understand the need to satisfy all needs, even those which are often unspoken. This is real value.