June 22

Is Your Value Proposition Losing You Deals?


Sale Leadership Awakening
Sale Leadership Awakening
Is Your Value Proposition Losing You Deals?

In this Sales Leadership Awakening Podcast episode, James Muir, Senior VP of Sales at UnisLink, emphasizes the importance of effective messaging in sales. He highlights value propositions and storytelling in engaging prospects and shares insights on enhancing messaging strategies. James discusses personalized coaching and one-on-one interactions with sales teams, offering actionable advice to bridge the gap between knowledge and execution in sales leadership.

“Emphasizing your value prop using a story would likely create the biggest return because storytelling creates thousands of mental hooks that make it memorable.” – James Muir

Key Takeaways:

  • Value proposition and storytelling are essential elements in effective sales messaging.
  • Personalized coaching and one-on-one interactions contribute to sales team performance.
  • Engaging prospects through targeted messaging and impactful storytelling can lead to successful sales outcomes.
  • Creating a strong value proposition with clear metrics and storytelling components enhances sales effectiveness.
  • Continuous improvement and practice in delivering messaging are key to sales success.

Follow James Muir on LinkedIn

Follow Colleen Stanley on LinkedIn

Follow Steven Rosen on LinkedIn

[Transcript] ​


[00:00:05] Colleen Stanley: Hi everyone. I’m Colleen Stanley and welcome to the Sales Leadership Awakening podcast. Our mission is to help sales leaders bridge the knowing-doing gap. Of course, my cohost, Steven Rosen, is joining me today. Steven, you’re looking rather dapper today.

[00:00:26] Steven Rosen: Well, it’s summertime. You have to look like you’re out golfing on the Thursdays and Fridays even though I don’t golf, but part of the look. 

[00:00:34] Colleen Stanley: It’s very good. As we always say, we are fortunate to have another great guest so why don’t you kick it off?

[00:00:39] Steven Rosen: I want to welcome James Muir to our podcast. I’ve known James for a number of years and he’s not only a nice friend, but he also is a very, very sharp guy that you can learn a lot from. So James, welcome. Can you tell us a bit about yourself, the company you work for , and a bit about your sales group?

[00:00:56] James Muir: Sure, it’s great to be on and to see you guys again. I have been in healthcare for over 30 years, both as a domain expert and a salesperson. On the sales side, I’ve served every role that there is in selling.

[00:01:09] James Muir: I’m an executive VP of sales for a revenue cycle management company based out of Phoenix. It’s about a 40-million-dollar company. I have my own sales team. What makes me a little different than some of the other folks is I’m an author.

[00:01:21] James Muir: But my day job is managing salespeople and growing our company. It gives me a little more of a grounded perspective on how some things are. Some things sound like they’re going to work and then you go try them and they don’t work, right? I have a very practical perspective on all that stuff.

[00:01:38] Steven Rosen: You sure do and combining both the practice and the theoretical, I think is a great approach. Being able to try your ideas and see if they work, I think is great as well. 

[00:01:48] Steven Rosen: Our signature question on the Sales Awakening Podcast is what was your sales leadership awakening moment? Can you share that with our audience? 

[00:01:58] James Muir: Sure. I spent 16 years at a publicly traded company called NextGen Healthcare, and I got promoted from top salesperson to regional vice president. I thought that was just a natural progression, right? That’s how it worked. About a week or two into the job, I realized that the skills you need to do this job are completely different from what it takes to be a great salesperson.

[00:02:21] James Muir: That was shocking to me. At that time, this is a few years ago, there really weren’t very many books out there that you could go read that would tell you how to do this. I got most of my understanding at that time and desperation from Skip Miller. I have all of his books actually. I learned a lot from him, but now there are a lot better resources that you can get, but his books withstand the test of time.

[00:02:44] James Muir: The second thing I realized is I thought I could just throw everybody into an auditorium and then teach them what I did and suddenly that would be pumping out little James Muirs all over the place. The truth is in reality, every single salesperson is unique. They all have different strengths. They all have different weaknesses and they’re all in different places in their own personal development. What that meant is, and this was the aha that I got, the most productive work is actually done one-on-one rather than in an auditorium-type setting.

[00:03:11] James Muir: That was a bit of a wake-up call because you’d like to think you can be efficient about it. But if you have a room full of 30 people, the odds of you being able to hit with one topic and hit ’em all and get ’em all leveled up at the same time are not realistic because they’re all in different places.

[00:03:26] James Muir: The real work happens when you’re one-on-one with them, figure out what they need, and then help that person with what that person needs. So those two things. 

[00:03:33] Steven Rosen: Speaking to a group of 30 is an efficient way to do it but it’s not effective. It’s great learning that many of us have learned transitioning into leadership roles. 

[00:03:42] Colleen Stanley: You know, Steven, that’s funny because that’s just what I wrote down as James was speaking there.

[00:03:48] Colleen Stanley: I give you credit, James because that one-on-one is hard work. We’re all tempted, even though we’re well intended to maybe do the group presentations, which have their place. One of the things, from knowing about the work you do in the big background you have, is, especially with our positioning on bridging the knowing and doing a gap.

[00:04:05] Colleen Stanley: I’m sure you’ve seen this perhaps with yourself or other sales leaders. So technically they’re doing all the right things. They’re providing sales training. They’ve identified their ideal client profile, and yet they’re not hitting their targets. Now there can be a lot of reasons for this, but from your perspective, what’s one that might be glaring out there and we’re not working on?

[00:04:27] James Muir: That is such a good question. I get invited to come and help people improve their close ratios a lot because of the perfect close that I got. That’s usually the reason that they’re coming in. But after you make a discovery with them, very often, we find out these guys don’t have a closing problem.

[00:04:39] James Muir: These guys don’t have a closing problem. They have a messaging problem, right? Their value proposition and how they’re articulating it aren’t working. I’m telling you, I have seen it, and I’ve been lucky enough to work with some of the biggest companies in technology and healthcare.

[00:04:52] James Muir: I have seen full-blown, large-scale product launches built around weeks or virtually nonexistent value propositions, which literally blows my mind. You have a lot of money riding on these product launches, right? But the ironic thing is I see it over and over and over again. 

[00:05:09] James Muir: Think about this. If you don’t know what your value prop is, how in the world are you going to be able to communicate that to your customers and the people who are hoping to buy that either through marketing or through sales, right? It’s just so foundational. 

[00:05:20] Colleen Stanley: Where do you think that miss is happening? It could be one of two things that I’ve seen over the years. The messaging statement just isn’t there at all.

[00:05:30] Colleen Stanley: It’s not customized to each buyer, or it’s not really empathetic. They sound like brochures instead of messaging statements. 

[00:05:40] James Muir: Here’s the thing I see over and over again. 

[00:05:41] James Muir: You go into a group, and you say, ‘All right, what is your product?’ You’re just trying to learn what their product does so you can understand what their sales process is. What you learn is that all they did is create this product, which may or may not have a real purpose in real life but let’s just assume that it does, then they just abdicate the entire delivery of the value prop to a marketing department, somebody totally not them. 

[00:06:02] James Muir: I know this will be shocking, the marketing people actually don’t know what you do. I know that sounds crazy and so the reason it sounds like marketing drivel is because they’re doing the best they can with nothing. So they say, ‘Oh, it’s the most robust this or they use all of this.’ It’s called puffery in legal terms, right? It means nothing and people pick up on that. That’s what I see happening most of the time is people have abdicated.

[00:06:25] James Muir: They think, ‘Oh, well, this person knows how to speak market ease better than anybody else, so let’s just tell them to create the whole thing.’ Since there’s a disconnect between how the solution actually delivers value and the person who has to write how that value is being presented to the market, the solution ends up being weak.

[00:06:43] James Muir: It just ends up being weak rather than it confess that say, ‘Hey, I don’t know what we do, we need to sit down.’ They just go for it. The marketing department will do as good as they can with what you give them. If you don’t give them anything, you’re going to get very low-grade, weak messaging. 

[00:06:57] Colleen Stanley: Isn’t it amazing? As sales leaders, I know you probably spend a lot of time in ride-alongs, whether they’re virtual meetings or actually in cars, but we don’t have our marketing departments do right along because nothing replaces hearing the prospect of the customer actually speaking.

[00:07:12] Colleen Stanley: So I’ve always found that a big disconnect and I find that fascinating. It’s a great gap you’ve just uncovered for people. 

[00:07:17] James Muir: Let me tell you how to bridge that gap. There’s more than one way to do it, but a really great way is to bring some of your clients in and have them present to your sales team, your marketing team, and your ops people and say, ‘This is what we really value about what you do.’

[00:07:33] James Muir: They will be able to articulate in such a great way that the marketing people who’s writing down furiously. But believe it or not, a lot of people think that the marketing people know, and they don’t know. If you just have a customer come in and tell you, and I know that sounds super obvious, but I have seen it maybe two times in my whole career.

[00:07:49] James Muir: One way that we address that for salespeople is, I would do an internship. I would take a salesperson and I would put them out at a client site and make them an intern for between two weeks and a month. 

[00:07:59] Colleen Stanley: Oh, I like that.

[00:08:00] James Muir: They had to literally live what the client was doing day in and day out.

[00:08:05] James Muir: Then, later, when they’re having a conversation with a prospect, they can say, ‘Yeah, when I did this, we did it like this.’ Their credibility just goes through the roof because now they’re speaking from personal experience, and they understand what the customer is trying to do way better because they literally had to live it for a while.

[00:08:22] Colleen Stanley: Yes. Wow. I have never heard of that. That’s a great idea. 

Crafting a Strong Value Proposition

[00:08:25] Steven Rosen: I come from the pharmaceutical industry where messaging originates from marketing, positioning, messaging, but you don’t know how many times that products are relaunched because they missed on the first go.

[00:08:36] Even though they have focus groups, they have advisory groups for products when they launched in that industry. There’s a lot of time and effort spent because there’s so much money that’s gone into the R and D on the product, global marketing and yet messaging is still missed. There needs to be fine tuned. 

[00:08:56] Steven Rosen: James, how do you assess if the value proposition is missing the mark? Do you have some examples? Maybe you’ve shared some already, but there are some specific examples you can share where you’ve seen that. How do you go about assessing that, maybe before you launch, so you’d mitigate the relaunch? I’ve always said you have one time to launch. 

[00:09:13] James Muir: Who’s watching? If you’re publicly traded company, the market’s watching. If you’re a PE firm, the PE firm is watching, and of course the public is watching. 

[00:09:21] James Muir: If you blow it, very few companies will take a second run at it. Sometimes they will, but they’re like, ‘Wow, how did we get that so wrong?’ I agree with you that it’s better to get it right the first time. However, people do get it wrong quite a lot.

[00:09:34] James Muir: There’s some pretty famous examples of stuff like that out there, but when I go work with a client and we try to figure out and say, ’Let’s just assess their messaging.’ The very first thing I look for is a very basic value prop that’s permeating all their stuff. The first thing these groups need to do is they need to define what their value proposition is.

[00:09:50] James Muir: Some have them, some don’t, and some have them for their established products but don’t have them for new products. A basic value prop has three things: a metric, a direction, and a magnitude. A metric is, what’s the thing you’re improving, right? Direction is, is it going up or is it going down? While the magnitude is, how much is it going up and going down? Those three things are basically the basics of it.

[00:10:08] James Muir: Once you’ve got that, you’ve got a formula. Your formula is the direction plus metric plus magnitude. An example would be like we improve close ratios by on average 22 percent or if we improve net revenue capture by 3 to 5 percent. Maybe you could do a dollar instead; we improve net revenue capture on an average of 3 to 11 million. Those are all very basic value props so if I see that, great.

[00:10:31] James Muir: Then we look for the next thing. Once you’ve created whatever your value prop is, you can start tricking it out. There are basically six different ways you can trick it out. 

[00:10:53] James Muir: You can add target statements so that when you’re either writing or speaking, the person you’re speaking to can hear themselves in the target statement.

You can add a mechanism of action, which is your secret sauce that makes this thing work. You can add the time to get a return, and I will refer to that as soonness. How soon am I going to get my return? There’s some science behind that. There’s risk reduction or guarantees; I call that sureness. How certain am I that I will get the return you’re promising, the value prop you just mentioned? Then there’s impacts or add on benefits or enabling benefits that is once you produce the return, sometimes that creates this cascade of other benefits that you can pile on. 

[00:11:31] James Muir: The last is stories that illustrate the point. I’m just going to give you an example. Usually, people ask when I put all that out there, so I’m going to give you one that I did for a client called Streamlined Health. 

[00:11:43] James Muir: These guys had some technology that helped improve revenue capture for hospitals. This is not verbatim how people say, you just teach your sales team this and you give it to your marketing and then they rework it in lots of different ways. But I’m going to say it, and you’ll hear all 6 things in this.

[00:11:57] James Muir: We specialize in helping hospital systems with 3 or more facilities, improve net revenue capture by 3 to 14 million in this short 60 to 90 days. In fact, we don’t even invoice you until the system’s completely paid for itself, so there’s no risk there. We’re able to accomplish that by using a unique collection of 4,500 proprietary and custom rules that are constantly updated, along with some dedicated specialists that we use to help you optimize those rules and then turn that feedback into actionable advice and workflows in your organization.

[00:12:32] James Muir: We were able to do that for Memorial, which in my world, everyone would know who that is, and we improved their net capture by 14 million just in their first year and they actually went on and end up using that to put on a whole new wing on their main hospital. 

[00:12:45] James Muir: If you listen closely to that, you can hear all of the elements in there, but the very basic value prop is simply that they improve net revenue collection by 3 to 5%.

[00:12:57] James Muir: What you’re going to do is you’re going to deliver that to both marketing and to the sales team. It gets reworked in different ways. For example, if they’re writing an email, they’re not going to just paste that in as an email.

[00:13:08] James Muir: But if they’re having a dialogue with the customer, that might end up having two back and forths before you’ve covered all that stuff, but all of the elements are there in the messaging, but the very crux of it is just that very short improving that revenue capture in that example.

[00:13:23] Steven Rosen: Okay. Thanks for the clarification because I’m thinking that sometimes a rep doesn’t remember the name of their product. 

[00:13:31] James Muir: There’s some reason to add all of those things. You can certainly have a basic value prop, but one of the reasons you tell a story is because there’s literally thousands of mental hooks that allow them to remember the story.

[00:13:44] James Muir: If you literally did nothing more, your value prop in a story will probably create the biggest return for you because people can at least remember the little story behind the return that you did. But if you just give them the facts, even though facts are strong, like the metric that you’re improving, they’re not as memorable, and so people tend to forget those things. The more dramatic the story, the better. 

Coaching for Effective Messaging

[00:14:04] Colleen Stanley: James, I’m curious about your own sales team. You were able to deliver this value prop easily. What I’ve seen when I used to teach sales training is people would stumble and bumble over value props. They weren’t customized by the buyer or the industry.

[00:14:19] Colleen Stanley: So, as a sales leader in your own company, what are two or three things that you’re doing weekly, monthly, to make sure that your team is articulate in delivering the value prop? Because it’s one thing to teach it, but it’s another thing to say it conversationally, as if it’s the first time you’ve ever made such a statement.

[00:14:37] James Muir: The first thing is that I have a weekly meeting with them. It’s a 90-minute meeting where they drive the agenda, and it’s just an improvement session. They tell us where their challenges are, and then we work on those. Sometimes it’s messaging, but sometimes they pick other things they want to work on during that session.

[00:14:53] James Muir: So I like it being driven, as long as you make it safe for them to do that. It’ll be a great session. If you’re the kind of manager who comes down on people, what happens is they just climb up, and you won’t get any interaction from your team on there, but I don’t have that problem. We run long all the time if there’s not some meeting at the end of that session. That’s one of the things we do.

[00:15:08] James Muir: The other is that we teach them this messaging, and then, as a sales leader, you have to decide that you’re going to let them try it and possibly fail at it. I usually get invited to most of the significant-sized opportunities, and I’ll just sit there and let them drive.

[00:15:29] James Muir: But I’m like a safety net. I’ll let them go and I’ve just learned over the years that at first you think they’re destroying the whole opportunity, but they’re really not. You have a lot more latitude than you might think you have. They can do it wrong and it’ll still work out so I just relax and then they’ll throw it to me if they feel like there’s drowning.

[00:15:47] James Muir: They’ll say, ‘James, maybe you can add something to that.’ Of course, I’ll add my two cents, and then they can hear how I might’ve done the same thing that they just did. It does give them a chance to practice in real life, which is a little different than role-play because, in real life, your adrenaline is pumping.

When your adrenaline is up like that, it costs you to remember the experience much better regardless of how it turns out. If you fail, you will remember the failure. If you succeed, you’ll remember that triumphant moment when you succeeded. We want to create that crucible that creates that learning.

[00:16:17] James Muir: It took me a lot of years before, instead of me just jumping in and trying to do the whole thing for them to try to use this as an opportunity to grow them. 

[00:16:26] Colleen Stanley: In your group sales meetings, do you do drill skills where you have everybody say, ‘Okay, here’s the skill we’re going to work on. This is messaging today. Go.’ And everyone has to deliver the value prop in front of the group? Because, to your point, that puts a little bit more stress on the situation. 

[00:16:39] James Muir: Yeah, absolutely. That’s a safe environment, right? We remind everybody, ‘Hey, we’re doing this real play in front of everybody because it’s better to do it now in front of all of your friends than to do it in front of the client where it’s a high stakes thing.’ But I like to do it in both. You gotta give them a little chance to practice before throwing them to the wolves. 

[00:16:56] Colleen Stanley: I’ve seen too many that don’t practice, and then they’re shocked when they’re on the call because the 30-second value proposition turns into 30 minutes, right? 

[00:17:06] James Muir: I had one just about four weeks ago where it was a really big deal. We let the salesperson answer the client’s question during a crucial sales discovery call. I said, ‘Kelly, why don’t you answer that question?’ She really blew it. This is almost a 2-million-dollar opportunity. Me and my CRO are on the call, we are like, ‘I don’t know if we can rescue this.’ 

[00:17:22] Colleen Stanley: James, it was interesting. I was working, and they were a rather large international client when I was doing sales training.

The Power of Storytelling in Sales

[00:17:29] Colleen Stanley: One of the lessons I learned from one of their executives is he said storytelling is the only thing that’s going to work at our level. You mentioned that as one of your six, and that just reminded me because, in some cases, a typical value proposition can work with certain buyers, but he was very adamant with me.

[00:17:48] Colleen Stanley: Storytelling is the only thing that works with our buyers and that was a good lesson learned for me. I don’t know if you had that same experience. 

[00:17:54] James Muir: Yeah. Well, I think it depends a little bit on the industry. Let me just say what happens psychologically. if you deliver a value prop, you improve X by Y amount, right?

[00:18:02] James Muir: The next thing is not, ‘Oh, that was so persuasive. I believe you. I want to buy your stuff.’ That is not what happens; what actually happens next is, ‘Yeah, right?’ They’re very skeptical. That creates a gap where they want to say, ‘Yeah, how will you do that? What’s the way?’ So, it’s the mechanism of action and the story fills that gap. 

[00:18:24] Colleen Stanley: There you go.

[00:18:25] James Muir: Honestly, the better the story, the more detailed, the more dramatic, the more they will remember it and the more persuasive it is.

[00:18:37] James Muir: There’s a lot of behavioral economics, but there’s a lot of cognitive anomalies around why storytelling is so effective and there are many books out there on it because the truth is it works. It’s very effective. 

[00:18:46] Steven Rosen: People remember it and they can relate to what you’re saying.

[00:18:49] James Muir: They’ll be able to anchor it. But if you just give them the value prop, it’s really not enough. You’re probably even better off just telling the story without the value prop. If you literally only had two seconds, you’re better off telling the story, and then they’ll draw you into the rest of the pieces of the messaging that you’ve got prepared.

[00:19:06] James Muir: What I do is I’ll go to somebody’s website and I’ll say, ‘Are there any value props here at all?’ That is the best place to usually find them. So if you’re looking at a vendor or something like that, you can go look at the case studies. If their case studies just say that the client’s life was improved in some way, I know that they don’t have a very strong value prop because they can’t. They have never taken the time to measure the difference that they actually make for the client in terms that can be monetized.

[00:19:33] Colleen Stanley: Right. 

[00:19:34] James Muir: For the record, there are industries where people don’t buy things for money reasons, right? So my son does luxury stuff. He sells Rolexes and Patek Philippe watches and all that stuff. You cannot do an ROI on any of those people. They’re buying that because they’re buying ego.

[00:19:50] James Muir: It’s a totally different kind of sale. But in B2B sales, which I have done, you can’t persuade someone to spend 2 million. No one is fast-talking enough to get them to do that. So you will have a business case that makes sense to have them spend the 2 million.

[00:20:07] James Muir: You’re never going to be able to make a sale unless you can say, ‘Hey, there’s a return here, and here’s how you get the return.’

[00:20:12] Colleen Stanley: Absolutely. 


[00:20:14] Steven Rosen: Great insights. Colleen, what was your biggest takeaway that we can share with our audience? Our goal is to offer one or two gems. There was a lot in there, James, and we really appreciate that. 

[00:20:27] Colleen Stanley: James, I just really admire that you’re doing the one on one coaching sessions because they are so easy to push off due to operations issues or other internal meetings.

[00:20:39] Colleen Stanley: Then, I think giving the six areas that you can tangibly assess that if I’ve got these six things included in my messaging, then I’m going to set my sales team up for more success because I have just seen way too many hardworking sales teams. They’re doing all the right things, but the problem is what’s coming out of their mouth or getting translated in email, LinkedIn, or whatever the medium is; it’s just not landing. They’re falling into that working harder, not smarter takeaways. How about you, Steven? 

[00:21:08] Steven Rosen: Well, this will be a first because I wrote down coaching and the one-on-ones with people. Although it may not be messaging, but it’s a great way to be out there and see if the messaging is being delivered, how it’s being delivered, how it’s resonating with the client.

[00:21:22] Steven Rosen: For me, the takeaway—and you know I’m very big on this—is that there’s nothing more important for a sales leader to do than to be out in the field, coaching their salespeople, and observing. Maybe you have to jump in once in a while, but there’s nothing like observational coaching. If you’re trying to fine-tune and make sure reps are delivering, that’s the only way to do it.

[00:21:43] Steven Rosen: James, I applaud that as well. I think most managers realize that they need to be doing it but not all of them do it. 

[00:21:50] Steven Rosen: As we wrap up a really insightful episode of the Sales Leadership Awakening podcast, Colleen and I hope you’ve gathered valuable strategies to close that gap between knowing and doing. I would like to recognize that if any of your sales leaders were listening and you feel that you’re stuck in deals, James Muir has a great way to help you unstick those deals and move them into sales.

[00:22:17] Steven Rosen: His new book is just coming out. I saw him signing 50 copies, so make sure you get one right away. 

[00:22:24] Colleen Stanley: Yeah. Congratulations, James. That’s a lot of hard work, and thanks for the copy!

[00:22:32] James Muir: I’m super excited about it. Thank you guys for having me on the show!


Colleen Stanley, emotional intelligence for sales and sales leadership, executive sales leadership, knowing and doing gap, sales leadership, sales leadership coaching, sales leadership development, sales management training, Stanley, Steven Rosen, the sales leadership awakening podcast

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