Salespeople Need To STOP Selling “Value” – With David Priemer

Jun 28, 2021
Author: Neville Chamunorwa
Neville Chamunorwa

If your company’s conversion rates need a boost, David Priemer’s insight, stemming from a long, successful sales career will certainly be of value. David is an award-winning research scientist with exceptional analytical skills that have helped him lead winning sales teams. During his twenty-year career in sales, he has occupied senior positions at industry-leading companies like Salesforce and Influitive. Additionally, he is the author of the critically acclaimed sales book “Sell the Way You Buy” and has lectured at renowned academic institutions like the London Business School.
In a recent interview with Predictable Revenue David explains why salespeople need to reassess how they approach their craft. This perception first took shape while sitting at his desk as his phone rang nonstop with sales calls. He avoided answering the phone because he didn’t want to be bombarded with all the pitches. It was at that point when David had a little epiphany. He recalls thinking; “I don’t like talking to salespeople very much.”
After asking thousands of other people in the industry, he found this to be a common perspective. Almost no one wants to speak to salespeople, including other salespeople.
“If you don’t like talking to salespeople, you are not alone” explains David. “There are studies and research showing that when you use the words ‘sales’ or ‘selling’ with someone, they have this visceral negative reaction.”


“I was not necessarily selling the way that I buy,” David recollects. “And this mantra of ‘sell the way you buy’ kept repeating in my head.”
David’s ‘sell the way you buy’ mantra has two elements. Firstly, there’s an empathetic component. This can best be understood by trying to put yourself in your customers’ shoes and considering whether your own strategies would work on you.
“As salespeople we go out, and we execute these tactics, which are not categorically ineffective or unethical, but we just do these things that wouldn’t work on us,” observes David. Simply put, avoid tactics that wouldn’t be effective on you.
The second piece to this is that “we need to be really curious about the pathways and mechanisms by which human beings make purchasing decisions,” explains David. “Because this is really what we need to master if we want to be able to convert customers with passion and conviction”
In short, David argues that in order to sell more effectively, we need to better understand why we buy.


To explore this further, David uses a hypothetical scenario. Imagine it’s your first vacation since the pandemic and you decide to go to Paris, France and have a budget of $800 for your flight. However, you’re then informed that a first-class ticket has been reduced from $5,000 to $1,200. To buy this, you only need to raise a further $400. “Do you spring for this upgrade?” asks David.
He explains that people who decide to opt for the first-class ticket are constructing a narrative for themselves. “If I were to ask you where you are getting this $400 from, you would tell me a little story.” Some people would say, well I’d max out a credit card. Others would say, I’ll sell a bit more at the end of the month, or I won’t go to all the fancy restaurants I’d planned to visit.
However, those who decide against buying the first-class ticket are doing the same thing. “The people who think ‘no, a budget is a budget,’ are also telling themselves a story, about how fiscally responsible they are.” The point here is that people develop a narrative to justify why they’re making the expenditure, or why they’re refusing the deal.
This observation has significant ramifications for salespeople. As David elucidates, “in sales we think that customers go out and buy solutions to problems that they have. But in reality that’s not what we do at all. We buy one thing first and foremost, and that is feelings — 100% of the time.”
This is a scientifically proven fact. Neurologists have discovered that when a person’s emotions and feelings are impaired, they find it extremely difficult to make decisions.



This observation is what led David to develop the “solution-fit paradox”. To understand this concept, David suggests considering another scenario. As a salesperson working at a company, a customer’s involvement in your sales cycle ends in one of three ways: 

  1. They buy your product or service. 
  2. They buy someone else’s product or service, build it themselves, or solve their problem some other way. 
  3. They do nothing.

Now, imagine you looked back at all the opportunities that were closed out over the past year. If you placed all of these into one of the three categories above, what percentage of the time would customers have made the best decision for themselves?

The percentage, argues David, is consistently low. “This is the solution-fit paradox. People don’t do the best thing for them. They don’t eat the best things, they don’t go on the best vacations, they don’t manage their money correctly. But they do what they feel.

However, by the same token, consider someone who only eats what’s best for them 1% of the time. Are they going to be upset about what they ate the other 99% of the time? No, they probably feel good about it, because they got what felt right at that time.


Given all this, why does David argue that salespeople need to stop selling value? “It’s because value and return on investment (ROI) are absolutely NOT the same thing. ROI is an objective financial calculation of an expected rate of return. Value is a subjective feeling. When we go out and tell our teams ‘go sell value’, really what we mean is ‘go sell the return on investment’.” 

Team leaders invariably tell their reps to make the business case. But that’s simply not how people buy. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the ROI and the business case are not important. If the ROI is going to be used, though, it has to be believable, and it must make the customer feel good.

“The only thing that matters as you’re putting together a business case for a customer” explains David, “is whether or not they believe that what you state is actually going to happen. And belief is a subjective feeling, not an objective statistic. So having a good ROI makes my customer feel good. But it is that feeling that is moving the customer towards purchasing.”

sales strategy


With feeling playing such a key role, it’s obvious that emotions should be central to your sales approach. “Don’t kid yourself,” warns David, “there are thousands of vendors that can do what you do. That’s why we talk about building relationships with customers, because relationships are emotional.”

A recent study from Harvard Business School emphasized the role that emotional drivers play in people’s purchasing decisions. This explains why a car manufacturer will have an advert in which an attractive person will put an instrument in the back of a car, pick up another attractive person, and then drive to the countryside. “These are attractive people, exploring the outdoors, living their best life”, explains David. “This is what I want!”

He continues, “When advertisers use these emotional drivers, conversion rates increase. Emotions are the quickest way to get to someone and convert them. We lead with emotions.”

Those working in technical or software sales have been slow to learn this lesson. Most of the time, these salespeople still tend to lead with the features and functions of the product. This needs to stop, David urges. “If you want to stop selling value, then stop selling the ROI and stop selling the business case, or at least stop leading with that. Lead with emotion. Lead with the pain that your customer is experiencing.”


To help stop selling value, David recommends asking yourself some questions about who you are selling to. “The first question I have for you is, who is your ideal customer? What is their demographic, their role, and their intent? Secondly, what does that ideal customer value? When they buy your product or service, what feelings are they buying? I would implore you to lead with those feelings.”

Sales people everywhere will benefit from shifting their focus away from the business case and the ROI. Once you’re “selling emotions and feelings, and selling empathetically”, you should experience a sharp increase in your conversion rates.

If you’d like to learn more about how to stop selling value, listen to David’s full conversation with Predictable Revenue here:

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