Our brains are wired to understand the narrative structure, which is built on two principles:
A Consistent Pattern: Joseph Campbell's The Hero's Journey showed how every memorable story is designed around the exact same pattern.
An interesting character encounters a problem, which forces them to choose a path forward. That choice will lead to one of two endings. Comedy, or tragedy.
Contrast: Our brains ❤️ contrast. We can’t see “value” in isolation. Only when things stand in comparison to each other. Which is why a good story highlights both:
- Comedy: Positive outcomes we get to live out. - Tragedy: Negative outcomes we just avoided.
It's easier to make a choice between black and white than shades of gray.
You'll apply both of these principles to the storyline inside a business case — a type of Value Story, in other words — when you:
Move from costs to consequences.
The cost of inaction (COI) is a 1st-order effect. But prospects need to connect this to the 2nd- and 3rd-order effects, too. The negative outcomes, in other words. For example:
1st Level (COI): “We lost $2M ARR we should’ve won this quarter.” ↓ 2nd Level: “Winning less customers with the same sales & marketing spend inflated our cost to acquire customers (CAC).” ↓ 3rd Level: “Our GTM Efficiency is pretty ugly right now, yet we’re about to fundraise in a tough capital market. Hello, dilution.”
Flip those consequences upside down to find the payoff.
Like we said, value = the positive outcomes you enable (—) the negative outcomes created by the current state.
So, if you measure the problem with ARR, CAC, and GTM Efficiency, the payoff should be measured with those exact same metrics.
Building a Bridge: Sell an “Approach” Before a Product
Your job as a seller is to build a bridge between the customer's current and future states. To show them the path that avoids tragedy, and ends in comedy.
So how do you that, practically speaking? You make a strategic recommendation to guide the customer’s approach to creating change.
The approach is how you solve a problem. Not who or what solves it.
Which is what the majority of sellers miss. They hear a problem, they show their solution. While completely forgetting to eliminate project risk (choosing to take an altogether different path), and focusing too narrowly on product risk (walking a specific path with someone else).
It's easy to miss because the approach is neutral framing. It's vendor agnostic.
So before you speak to a specific set of features, confirm everyone’s aligned on the higher-order questions of:
What’s the right value driver to focus on?
What must be true about how we impact that driver?
I say again. The approach isn't “buy XYZ software.”
Instead, it’s focused on a core shift, practice, or project that impactsa specific value driver.
Less, “use our content automation." More, “shift the mix of leads from paid to organic sources.”
Influencing a Newly-Hired CRO’s Approach & Impacting Value Drivers
Take a newly hired CRO as an example.
Let's say her company just raised a Series B. Now, she's got to deliver on the happy ending they promised investors. So the CRO will ask herself, “What’s my biggest revenue opportunity?”
Is it acquiring new logos? Boosting net revenue retention (NRR)?
Let’s say it’s NRR. Investors were talking about that a lot. But does she...
...hire more AM's for the enterprise segment?
...find untapped cross-sells for SMB's?
...take an altogether different path?
There are lots of different value drivers she can focus on.
In fact, if you look at this example “driver tree”, you’ll notice that when you sell to executives who own very high-level metrics, they have lots of choices, trade-offs, and competing priorities.
You can “drive revenue” in a lot of ways:
If you haven't seen a driver tree before, here's a quick definition:
A way to map the value created by a company, by linking outcomes to a series of inputs. On the left side, list a target metric you’d like to impact. On the right, you'll see what "drives" that metric.
Okay, so, this CRO’s got to pick her priority today, which will affect buying decisions tomorrow.
Now, let's suppose you sell a sales intelligence platform that helps generate leads. You see this CRO was just hired. She just raised a Series B. Perfect timing to reach out, right?
Well, if the CRO’s thesis is that a singular focus on NRR is best — so she’s entirely focused on expanding revenue from the customers who already love them — you have one of two options while designing your deal:
Align with her thesis.
Let’s say you can give her data on customers who recently changed jobs, and could champion her product at their new company.
Reshape her thesis.
How long can she afford to focus on NRR, without landing new logos? Aren’t the seeds for NRR sown early, during the new sales and onboarding process?
If there’s no logical bridge between her priority and your product—an approach that she’s aligned with—it’s not time to sell your product. There's still more to the story.
Enable Your Champions With this Value Story Framework
So, back to our first point.
Whenever you're told to "sell value," here's how to actually do that:
Setting: understand where your customer is today, and where they want to go tomorrow.
Choice: map the customer's business using a driver tree, and settle on the right approach.
Ending: measure the problem, and flip it upside down to create contrast to a clear payoff.
Nate is the CEO & Co-Founder of Fluint, the Buyer Enablement platform built for high-velocity sales teams. He's a 3X sales leader, 2x founder, and loves his wife, daughter, dark chocolate, and the Rocky Mountains.