Sales are Impossible in the Valley of Death

People ask us all of the time “what is Client Success?” Terms like client success and customer success get thrown around as buzzwords an awful lot, but that doesn’t mean they have no value or meaning. Quite the opposite.

I’ve worked with over 50 clients in the past 4 years. I was primarily responsible for selling and onboarding clients. My teammates were often responsible for project delivery and client success. The concept behind client success is that instead of treating the post-sale as a customer service function (a reactive approach), companies should place attention on making sure the client achieves their desired outcomes and has high perceived value. Well, does it work?

I started thinking about this client journey as crossing a number of key milestones (see diagram).


This is the first moment your prospective client becomes aware of your brand. It might be in a conversation with a friend. It might be through your website. It could be through social media or press. There are hundreds of places where your brand can make a first impression. At this point, the client has a neutral perceived value of your company. If the first touch point is negative, this will push the client below the line of equilibrium. If it is positive, you can begin to build trust. Chances are, it’s not going to be easy to sell to the client after only one touch point. The higher the net perceived value, the easier it will be to sell.


At this second critical milestone, you have your first real conversation with the client. This is where the dialogue goes both ways. You listen and begin to understand their needs. You may offer some free insights, or simply ask great questions. For most consultants and coaches, there is a give-first offer here. This means you offer to help the client in some way — making an introduction, sending an article, or giving a free consultation. By giving first, you put the client ahead, and now they have a higher net perceived value. If you have weak rapport with a client or lose touch with them over time, they will fall back down to the line of equilibrium.


When the client has a high enough net perceived value, they are ready to buy. Up to this point, they probably haven’t paid you a dime. They are way ahead of the count! If the right offer is presented and the client is above the line of equilibrium, they are much more likely to buy.

A good friend of mine had this funny saying —

“Cheap products make you feel great when you buy them and bad every time you use them. Premium products make you feel bad when you buy them and great every time you use them.” -Sam Harris

The shape of the curve for a cheap product (or service) looks different than a premium product. A cheap product requires less perceived value to sell in the first place. It will have less of a dip in net perceived value right after the purchase, but it will fall steadily over time. A premium product will require more perceived value buildup before a sale is possible. It will fall closer to neutral or negative when the client parts ways with their money, but it will steadily climb as the client uses the product more.


There is a point after the purchase, when the honeymoon period is over, where every client evaluates the service and decides if it was ultimately worth it. If you’ve ever done project-based consulting, there is a measurable slump in the client’s satisfaction after they have paid and before the project is complete. If you have a product, this assessment milestone might occur 14–30 days after purchase. In some enterprise environments, it can take longer. Either way, the relationship can go two ways at this point. Either the client can slide below the the line of equilibrium and into the Valley of Death, or they can slingshot out of the fall and end up on an upward trajectory. When you hear the term “buyer’s remorse,” this happens during the assessment stage. The outcome here is the responsibility of Client Success.


When Client Success is done well, the slump after the purchase is either eliminated or mitigated, and the client stays well above the line of equilibrium. When it is done poorly, the client slides into the Valley of Death. It is impossible to sell the client anything when they are in the Valley of Death. They are well below the line of equilibrium, which means that they have net negative perceived value. They paid $5,000 and have received less than $5,000 of perceived value. Your product or service wasn’t worth it (yet). The only thing you can do to save the relationship and move forward is to increase the perception of value. This might mean finishing the project, or giving free services, or advancing through the program, or any number of other value-add activities.


If you stay above the line of equilibrium or pull yourself out of of the Valley of Death, you reach the expansion milestone. Congrats! At this point, the project/service/product has a positive perceived ROI. They got their money’s worth! When a client reaches the expansion milestone, they are ready to either buy again, provide a referral, or give a positive testimonial. For many consultants and coaches, this is where the vast majority of their profit lies (beyond the expansion stage). The first engagement is not typically the most lucrative. It is an opportunity to prove value and build trust. Long-term relationships that involve retainers, upsells, and referrals are the real value drivers.

At Tribe, we have spent years understanding this client journey and how to use it to grow your business. We offer give-first tools to help build trust and high perceived value before the sale. These allow your prospective client to engage with your training programs before making a large financial investment. They also allow you to better understand the client’s needs before making an offer.

After the sale, we provide engagement tools that help you assign action plans and measure progress. This helps you keep a close eye on the client health, so you can stay well above the line of equilibrium. We help you efficiently provide frequent touch points, so you never go too long without feedback.

Lastly, we make it easy for you to show your clients what they’ve accomplished with you. This is a critical resource during the expansion stage, when your client is ready to take it to the next level.

To learn more about Tribe Coach, click here.

Here are a few great ways to measure client happiness and net perceived value

• Email response rate and time (using tools like Yesware)
• Marketing campaigns open rate and click through rate (Intercom, Mailchimp)
• Customer success team qualitative feedback
• Product engagement levels (Google Analytics, Looker)
• Invoice history, did they pay on time?