Sales and Sales Management Blog

June 6, 2011

Guest Article: “Let the Customer Define Value,” by Michael Boyette

Filed under: Client Relationships — Paul McCord @ 7:42 am


Let the Customer Define Value
by Micheal Boyette

The idea that salespeople must add value for their customers seems obvious. But what does added value really mean? Free technical support? Extra bells and whistles? Playoff tickets? Does it mean spending more time with customers, troubleshooting problems and acting as a consultant?

Or do those efforts detract from the value you provide?

Tech support may be a liability if it’s delivered poorly. Bells and whistles may make customers feel they’re paying for stuff they don’t want. Those playoff tickets may feel like a cheap bribe. And all that extra TLC? The customer may be thinking, “I wish they’d leave me alone so I can get some work done.”

The reality: There’s no single best way to add value. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.

The value definition
It’s tempting to think that you can lavish so much extra value on customers that you’ll automatically win more of their business and make competitors wither away.

But many who have pursued this path discover they’ve added costs (in time, if not money),and that the “added value” isn’t valued or rewarded by the market. Instead of becoming more competitive, they become less so.

The problem with this approach: It assumes that customers see value the same way you do.

Value is defined by a simple equation:  Value = Benefits – Cost

The salesperson who delivers the most benefits at the least cost wins every time. But it is the customer who defines each part of that equation. And different customers, even in the same industry, have different notions of value.

Key to value
The key to adding value is to understand what the customer considers a benefit, what the customer considers a cost, and how he or she calculates the relative value of each.

Some buyers, for example, will think the greatest benefit you can offer is not to waste their time. They don’t want to meet with you to talk about their business problems. They won’t read the news clips you diligently mail to them every month.

What they want – and will gladly pay for – is for you to make problems quietly go away. Others customers do the calculation differently. They may define value in terms of the attention they get from you. If things run too smoothly, they may wonder why they need you.

Accept thy customers
Like anyone else, salespeople have their own value equations. And when a customer doesn’t see value the same way, many assume the customer just needs to be educated more.

Yes, sometimes buyers truly don’t understand what you’re offering. But more often, they just value it differently. You won’t make headway trying to persuade the buyer to accept your definition of value. It’s more effective to align your values with theirs.

A flexible approach
For each individual customer, understand how they calculate the value equation. Ask yourself:


  • What does this customer consider a benefit? How much value does he or she place on these benefits?
  • What does this customer consider a cost? How big are those costs?
  • Using the customer’s value equation, how can I add benefits without increasing costs?
  • How can I reduce costs without cutting benefits?

Michael Boyette is the managing editor of Selling Essentials newsletter, executive editor of the Rapid Learning Institute’s Selling Essentials e-learning site, and editor of the Top Sales Dog blog. He’s also managed marketing/PR programs for DuPont, Tyco Electronics, and US Healthcare, among others. In addition, he’s authored ten books on a variety of subjects for such publishers as Simon & Schuster, Dutton and Holt. Contact Michael via email at




  1. Since value is unique to each person otherwise we would all be driving Yugo’s, eating at McDonalds for our dining experience or buying clothes only at K-Mart, then it makes just plain common sense to work with the prospect’s or potential customer’s value perception. Great article, thanks for sharing, Leanne Hoagand-Smith, author of Be the Red Jacket in a sea of gray suits.

    Comment by Leanne Hoagland-Smith — June 6, 2011 @ 8:18 am | Reply

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    Pingback by Guest Article: “Let the Customer Define Value,” by Michael Boyette | InternetRSSFeeds — June 23, 2011 @ 10:39 am | Reply

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