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Sales - 10 min READ

Value-Added Selling: Why You’re Not Doing It Right

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Author photo: Suzanne Scacca

Suzanne Scacca


There’s a problem with the phrase “value-added selling”. That’s because it includes a term that people don’t always have the most positive associations with.

“Value-added”, unfortunately, has a reputation for being used by salespeople and other business professionals that are dishonest or phony.

Here’s the problem, though: value-added selling is a valid sales technique.

As Wikipedia defines it:

Value added selling is one of several sales techniques that relies on building on the inherent value of a product or service.

The problem salespeople often run into is that they get wrapped up in the idea of selling an upgrade or extra as a “value-add”. That’s not what value-added selling is about.

This post is going to break apart these misconceptions and look at:

  1. Why “value-added” needs to be scrubbed from your vocabulary immediately.
  2. Why you as the salesperson need to become part of the value equation.
  3. How to change your (and the prospect’s) mindset towards a problem-solved approach.

Why “value-added” is such a dirty word

This is the first (and the most popular) definition of “value-added” submitted to Urban Dictionary:

Imagine if you used the word “value-added” when describing your pitched product or solution in a sales meeting. If your prospect sees value-adds as something sales reps say to mislead customers into paying more, your pitch would be dead in the water.

Oh, and the second most popular definition of “value-added” won’t fare any better with your prospects:

Using this term to describe your product could instantly turn off whoever is on the other end of your conversation.

But wait, there’s another definition Urban Dictionary has for “value-added”:

It’s simple enough and does seem more flattering than the previous two (more popular) definitions of the word. However, it still insinuates that the additional feature is only included to give off the appearance of greater value.

Clearly, there’s a real issue with what this word means in the minds of consumers. But should that keep you from pursuing a value-added selling approach?

What you can do to fix the "value-add" problem

Stop using the term “value-add” or “value-added” sales— with your prospects, your teammates, and yourself. The word isn’t just toxic because of the kinds of sales tactics it’s associated with. It’s also too vague.

If a prospect were to ask you:

“What does this feature on Product B actually do?”

You wouldn’t respond with:

“Oh, that’s a value-add. It makes Product B worth every penny.”

You’ve provided absolutely no answer to their question. Even if you were to phrase it with more natural wording, it wouldn’t work:

“It’s a really valuable piece of Product B. You don’t want to get it without that feature.”

What you sell should be valuable in its own right. If you take that away from the solution and start calling a specific feature or add-on “valuable,” what does that say about the base product?

When you remove “value-added” from your conversation with others, it gives you the chance to have more meaningful conversations in language that makes sense to them.

And when you remove “value-added” from your sales technique, it allows you to see the product or service you sell for what it really is — and not just a dollar amount you’ll make a commission on.

So, if not value-added selling, what do you call it?

Do you have to call your sales technique anything at all?

This is one of the biggest problems with the word "value-add." It’s used to dress up a product or feature to seem sexier or for a person to try to make themselves sound smarter.

Prospects don’t need you to use shiny language to convince them to buy, so why do you need to use shiny language to describe what you do?

You should be in the business of solving problems through sales. As a result, why don’t we call this problem-solved selling?

Here is how it will go:

1. Accept that you are part of the value equation

To start, you’ll need to become part of the value equation. That might sound odd — as if you’re selling yourself along with the solution. But you kind of are, right?

By taking them through the process of solving a problem, you no longer are a phone call or email they dread receiving.

For example, this would be the difference between picking up the phone and saying:

“Hi, my name is Josie. I’d like to sell you my software.”

And picking up the phone and beginning a relationship with:

“Hi, my name is Josie and I’m with [company name]. Are you Sam, the owner of [company name]? Great. Well, if you have a few minutes, I’d love to ask you a few questions about your business.”

By the end of this, they should view you as an ally, not as a salesperson.

2. Do your research

Don’t just brush up on the target buyer. You should know your actual prospects — who they are, what their pain is, and why it’s there.

The more you understand about what hurts and why, the better you’ll be able to craft a solution that brings true value to their lives — either with your solution, with upgraded features, or with the quality of service you yourself provide.

This is information you’ll gather as you guide them through the sales pipeline. To start, you’ll collect whatever details you can find to qualify them as a prospect — information about them online, details shared by another one of your clients, etc.

Then, with each new exchange you have with the prospect, you’ll learn a little bit more. This isn’t about talking at them. Your goal is to ask thoughtful questions so you can pitch them the perfect solution.

Just don’t forget to capture all these details in your sales CRM for safekeeping. You’ll want to walk into every conversation ready to connect on a personal level.

3. Ask open-ended questions

You still want to maintain control over the conversation, so an open dialogue is out of the question. However, don’t make your sales pitch and future discussions all centered around your voice.

Ask open-ended questions so that they become an active part of the conversation. You won’t be able to learn what the core of their pain is without getting them to open up.

Encourage them to talk by avoiding the following kinds of questions at the beginning:

  • Ones with “yes” or “no” answers
  • Anything concerned with money (what they earn, what they spend, etc.)
  • Anything about what they want to happen in the future

At this early stage, you want them to tell you their story and you can’t do that if you pose questions that don’t give them the chance to do that, that make them uncomfortable, or that they flat-out don’t know the answer to.

You’re supposed to be the problem-solver. So guide them with questions that help you gather their story first.

4. Diagnose their problem

Once you’ve begun a relationship with a prospect and have gathered information on them, you should confidently diagnose their problem.

This isn’t the time to say:

“Your software sucks. Buy ours instead.”

What they want to hear is:

“You lose four hours to copy-and-pasting each week, which costs you $X. You need to automate this process immediately.”

Demonstrate that you understand the real issue and show empathy for their situation.

If you’ve been in a similar position as a consumer, share your story. You want them to see you as a human with a real problem, who gets that it’s not just hard dealing with the problem, but also having to fix it on your own.

If you haven’t been in a similar spot, share someone else’s story. You don’t even need to be the hero of the story. You just need to show that they started in the same position as them and that, through the solution you offer, their life was changed. If you have statistics to show how drastic the improvement was, even better.

5. Educate them on their options

This is your chance to demonstrate your worth as their advisor and save them time and trouble as they aim to find a solution to their problem.

What you’ll want to do is bring all options to the table (not just your own). By doing this:

  • You give them a reason to get all their information from you instead of seeking it out from a competing sales rep.
  • Get them thinking about how well each solution caters to their personal situation.
  • Help them to see how each solution would play out over the long-term instead of just fulfilling a need right now.

This means knowing your competition inside and out. You should also know what your product’s unique selling proposition is, so that, when you do this side-by-side comparison of the options, yours stands out as the clear winner.

For example:

“Option A will prevent the need for copy-and-paste. However, I’ve heard from customers of theirs that they still had to review the results since they didn’t always copy over correctly.”

You’re telling the truth about what the product can do while offering insider information to help them make a well-informed decision.

“Option B will save you four hours of copy-and-paste each week, has 99.9% accuracy, and includes premium support. However, most customers don’t end up using the support. I don’t expect you would either considering how much data you have. Because of that feature alone, you’d end up paying $X over your budget.”

There’s no need to lie about how great other products are since they can get that information on their own. What you could do, though, is help them see how all of those “amazing” features don’t actually do anything to help them in the long run.

“Option C [your solution] includes the copy-and-paste tool we discussed. However, I know you’re also spending two additional hours doing [another tedious task], which is why this bundle is perfect. You get all three of our tools, 99.8% accuracy, and a dedicated transition assistant to take your data out of your worksheets and into the platform.”

Notice here how you’re actually talking about “value-added” features without having to describe them using those not-very-popular words. You’re sticking to the facts to help them solve this question of which solution to choose.

6. Stay in touch

If you don’t sell them on your solution right away, that’s okay. If they go poking around to see what the other solutions offer, they’ll soon realize you were right.

In the meantime, be prepared to follow up — but don’t just focus on the sale. Ask them if their situation has improved at all, if any new issues have arisen, if they have more questions.

For example:

"Hi [name],

I hope all’s been well since we last spoke.

How did last week’s report go? I know you said you were nervous about the amount of data you were going to have to process in that batch. Did it go off without a hitch?

I don’t want to take up too much of your time since I know you’re about to launch a huge campaign. However, if you run into any more problems with your reports or have further questions for me about [this software], don’t be a stranger. I’m always here!


In other words, it doesn’t matter if you already captured the sale. Continue to be there as their trusted advisor.

7. Follow up after the sale

Assuming you did ultimately get the sale from the prospect whose problem you solved, don’t let it end there. Follow up to make sure they’re still fully satisfied with the purchase.

"Hi [name],

I noticed that you’ve been using our software for 30 days now and that your users have logged in four times during that period.

Are you guys still generating your monthly reports or has [this software] helped you move to weekly reporting? I know that’s something we had talked about, so I’d be interested to see how smoothly the transition worked for you.

How is everything else going? You have that big campaign coming up, so I hope [this software] has given you back some of the time you needed to run it!

If you have any questions or concerns at all, you can always reach me here.


If you ask how it’s going and they respond by talking about the solution and the improvements it made, then you’ve done an excellent job of problem-solved selling.

When a customer forgets about the money they spent to solve their problem, that’s true value.

As you go on to refine your sales technique — it doesn’t matter if you call it value-added selling, solution-based selling, or problem-solving — keep this in mind.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to add value to your customers’ lives. You just have to make sure that the approach you take actually does it.

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