Among the many marketing challenges and choices that must be made to effectively communicate your company’s “story” is the defining of value. What value does your company deliver? To whom do you deliver it? How is your company’s value communicated? These are key questions that we strive to answer in the best way possible. But the real question that needs to be answered is:
From whose perspective is the value described?
There is only one right answer to this last question. Unfortunately, because we are all in love with our product and services, it is frequently answered incorrectly. The answers to all of the questions posed above are often couched in “me” language instead of “you” language. The result: a value proposition that is just a thinly disguised advertisement of your product or service. The core message is centered on “here is what we have to sell and here is why you need to buy it,” rather than a clear customer-focused statement that demonstrates your knowledge of the customer situation or experience, followed by a specific offer to help them address it. Let’s look at an example:
We provide a full range of skills needed to direct and deliver a successful solution, including strategic direction, business analysis, management, system design, directory implementation, security assessment, application development and systems integration.
We have developed a comprehensive, proven methodology based on hundreds of engagements with Fortune 1000 clients in a wide range of industries. And our consultants average more than a decade of experience with the relevant technologies.
Look at this value proposition critically and try to answer the following questions:
For this proposition to be meaningful in a customer interaction, all of these questions should be answerable in specific terms. Put yourself in a pair of customer shoes as you try to answer these questions. What is the solution they are referring to here?
Hard to get traction with this description, isn’t it? The reason it’s hard to get at specific answers is that overall the statement is very general. And it’s all about them – they are talking about themselves first, and the customer second. One quick test of a value proposition I often recommend is taking the company name off of it and have someone else look at it and try to figure out what the company does. Can they? A prospect could recognize the company name, and then fill in the blanks with their own knowledge or perceptions of what the company does. They could be right or they could be wrong. Either way – you’re making them do the work here. By taking off the company name, you can test if your value proposition is doing all the necessary work in communicating value to a prospect. They should not have to come up with the missing pieces. And if they are not familiar with your company, they won’t even try.
So what are the missing pieces? The most critical omission in the value proposition is a clear view of the customer’s objectives. What are they trying to achieve or solve? Once you’ve nailed that, then you can communicate your offer to address those objectives. This is a very different approach than presenting from a product/service centric view, which introduces your product/service first, and then tells them why they need it. What works better is a customer-centric view. This approach derives from the prospect or customer’s experience. Experience, in this context, means the current environment they are operating in including their goals, objectives and challenges. A customer-centric view has a much better chance of getting their attention.
So what are the components of an actionable value proposition? There are three pieces that need to be crafted:
|Customer Objective||What specific objective(s) are they trying to solve – in their language?||This is about THEM|
|Your Offer||What is your offer that will assist them in achieving that objective?||This is about you in relation to THEM|
|Differentiators||How does your offer stand out from other options?||This is about you in relation to OTHERS|
Notice that the first section is ALL about them. You aren’t in there at all.
But if you get this section right, you are demonstrating that you understand what they need, instead of “telling” them what they need. The second section is still about them – but you introduce your offer in their context. Don’t be fooled. It still isn’t all about you! The third and final section is about you in the context of available alternatives. Why does your offer present the best solution for their needs? You are still looking at their universe, and positioning yourself relative to other possible choices. Again – this is about their perspective. Again, it still isn’t all about you. Here’s a hint: saying that you have the best solution available in the marketplace isn’t compelling or credible in this final section. Anyone can say it. And frankly, many companies end up saying just that. The differentiators must be relevant to the customer objective.
So how about some better examples than the first one we saw? Try these on for size:
Helping you reach your goals
One of XYZ Company’s primary objectives is to bring you value. From innovative products and services that accelerate the loan closing process to cutting-edge technology that provides you with a more efficient way to work, we’re committed to enhancing your ability to be a competitive industry leader.
Our Value Proposition is centered around strong leadership, a National Sales Force dedicated to serving you, and a firm focus on quality.
This strong support, combined with a nationwide team of knowledgeable sales professionals and a stringent quality control program, come together to bring service and quality that makes you a winner.
A scientist desiring to commercialize a breakthrough technology can benefit greatly by working with XYZ Corporation. We enable scientists to have active input and to capture significant upside through equity.
For seasoned CEOs, our involvement provides the structure and support that maximizes value and allows experienced CEOs to leverage their time and focus their efforts on strategic and business development activities.
Our hands-on approach and expertise dramatically increase the likelihood of commercial success.
What’s great about these two value propositions is that they lead with the customer. We can also tell what the customer’s objective is. Another real plus! The offer is stated in both examples via the context of the customer objective. And the differentiators are specific and relevant to the offer.
I’m resisting the urge to improve the last section of each – but needless to say, tuning a value proposition is an endless task. The real companies that are using the two examples above are definitely in the game. In order to win the customer, you have to have a winning value proposition that connects a customer to you, rather than attempting to connect you to the customer.