In selling, the term “value added” has taken on a life of its own. This term has a variety of meanings and interpretations which is confusing for buyers and sellers alike. Here are just a few examples of what “value added” has meant in different industries:

  • We will throw in some extra features or upgrades at no additional cost.
  • We will wine and dine you, give you some baseball tickets, or invite you to our special event.
  • We will discount our price if you buy or sign before a certain deadline.
  • We will make you an exclusive, premium or featured partner to market your own business.
  • We will offer expertise in consultation or design to improve customer satisfaction.
  • We will finance your purchase or extend favorable credit terms.
  • We will bundle together services to create convenient, one-stop shopping.

Within these examples, you can identify free and low-cost add-ons as well as extra that might actually increase cost but improve quality, convenience or benefits to the customer.

Within all these examples, however, there is an important value-added component that is missing. The untapped potential of this missing value-added offering far exceeds any of the examples given – both for the buyer and for the seller. That missing piece, the single greatest way that a buyer could have true added value, is… YOU, the seller.

How can you (not your company, not your product, but YOU) add value to your customers? I can think of at least five ways:

  1. You can help the customer sort through a mind-numbing number of options, variables, and decisions related to ordering your product.  To add value, you’d do this in a way that saves time because you know your customer and your own products well enough to make well-reasoned suggestions and to anticipate future needs.
  2. You can ask questions that make your customer think strategically. You add value to the conversation when you ask thought-provoking questions that help your customer plan long-term and think beyond a single transaction.
  3. You can offer relevant, timely suggestions about new products or services. They will be relevant and timely because you’ll have taken the time to understand your customer’s needs. You won’t be wasting their time with generic pitches.
  4. You can demonstrate professionalism, integrity and genuine interest in every interaction with your customer. When your customer knows that you are trustworthy, it adds value to the equation by easing their apprehension that a slick seller will take advantage of them.
  5. You can follow up on the customer’s order to make sure that it makes its way through your internal processes and is delivered on time and as ordered. Knowing that you are there and able to troubleshoot and follow through on the order gives your customer peace of mind

Sellers and their companies don’t always take these steps, mainly because they feel that this is an inefficient way of doing business. Sellers tell me they don’t have time to spend learning about customer needs or babysitting orders that have been placed. In my observations, the reason these sellers don’t have time is that they are spending a lot of time looking for new business and cleaning up preventable messes. The old saying “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” applies here. So why not spend time taking exceptionally good care of the customers you already have, creating value by serving them well?

For companies with sellers who add value, there is strong competitive differentiation and marked customer loyalty. In a time when it is increasingly difficult to have a truly unique product and to sustain it at a truly competitive price, the greatest advantage a company can have is its people. Buyers choose sellers that add value, and smart companies are responding accordingly.

Recent research reveals that buyers expect, even demand, more from sellers than ever before. The “Challenger Selling” approach advises that sellers simply must be prepared to continually educate and challenge their customers with new ideas. Customers want sellers who partner with them by helping them explore and see new ways to improve their effectiveness.

In other words, buyers are telling sellers exactly what they want to see as an added value.

Unfortunately, many sellers are missing the mark. They resist learning about a customer’s needs, feel uncomfortable asking questions that would help them learn about the business, refuse to challenge a customer, and wonder why the seller isn’t more receptive to impersonal “value added” offers.

In response, buyers are finding ways to distance themselves from sellers who don’t choose to partner with them. Wal-Mart, for example, asks its suppliers to completely eliminate the seller role and allow them to order directly. They’ve asked suppliers to apply what would have been sales commission to the savings they extend to Wal-Mart. For them, the value of working with a seller just didn’t add up.

As buyers, you may be doing the same thing – avoiding sellers while you shop online, for example. The reason is simple. Your time is precious, and you don’t want to waste it on a seller who will not add value for you and about you.

Sellers can add tremendous value. Or they can become irrelevant, annoying and unnecessary. It’s a matter of choice that each company and every seller should consciously make. And soon.    


Deb Calvert

Deb Calvert, President of People First Productivity Solutions, is a Top 50 Sales Influencer who’s championing the movement to Step Selling & Start Leading. Deb provides consulting, training and coaching for companies aiming to improve their sales, leadership and team connections.