Many value propositions suffer from some key issues that can have both an impact on how they are perceived, and which can cause your buyers to yawn and move on. Earlier in my career, as product manager, a director of marketing, as well as leading a sales team, I have spent a lot of time trying to craft messages that would appeal to targeted audiences – both outside my company as well as inside the company. I’ll admit that it was hard. I had never actually received any training or taken any courses (none existed) to learn how to do it well. So it was trial and error, which is often how many of us today approach the value proposition challenge.
So how DO you tune your message for buyers so they don’t just yawn? The first step is understanding what buyers actually are looking for in marketing and sales messaging – and to understand what the real impact is on their decision making when they are faced with a value proposition that is average. There are a number of key factors and preferences that directly link to a buyer’s reaction to your offering’s communications.
Understanding What the Terminology Actually Means
I find there is usually a pretty mixed understanding between marketing and sales of what the term “value proposition” actually means. Everybody has a different definition. That causes the biggest challenge, which is how do I get a clear and consistent message out there if my sales people are saying this, marketing is saying that, and senior staff and subject matter experts are saying something different. Is that the experience you find in your own organization? I see it in many of the companies I work with. How confusing do you think it is for the buyers? Have you given your value proposition a check-up lately?
So let’s start with the first question to address: is everybody on the same page? It’s surprising how often that isn’t the case. I typically give a short quiz when I go into a new client. I ask everybody involved in the messaging project to write on a piece of paper their value prop. Then we share everyone’s answers. It is almost always an eye-opener to hear what comes back. Some of it isn’t even recognizable as really representative of the core offering. Most of it is really about the features of the offering – presented as if they were benefits in and of themselves. That is really the standard for value propositions today. And the sad truth is that the “standard” makes your buyers YAWN. Yes, the standard, product focused, feature/benefit approach just doesn’t cut it anymore. Frankly, I’m not sure that it ever really did. Why do I think that? Well, ask yourself this: how many of your sales people are changing your message on the fly trying to attract a buyer? Think back. Hasn’t that been the case historically in most of the organizations you have worked with? It isn’t because sales people don’t listen or don’t get it. It’s because they are trying to find something that really resonates with their prospect – and features and benefits are not enough.
Flip Your Perspective to Find the Right Message
So if the standard doesn’t work anymore, how do I go about finding the right value proposition message? It seems elusive if no one’s on the same page, and not everyone’s really sure how to do it. Typically, most value props are developed from the inside out. When you think about your own organization or your own business, you typically spend your time thinking about it entirely from your inside-the-company point of view. Your focus is often centered on the product or service first, and then on the buyer. Sound backwards? Yes! How many companies develop a product first, and find the buyers second? (Fill in the blank yourself). Exactly! It’s particularly backwards these days with buyers coming to the table already well-informed about your offering. They don’t want to talk so much about features/benefits – they know that already. They have looked at your website, downloaded your product sheets, talked to their peers, looked at industry information. When they are ready to talk, they want to talk about VALUE – how is your offer going to deliver value to their business.
If you net this out – it means simply that they care more about themselves than they do about you and all the features of your product or service. Yup – it’s true. What I’m saying here is that the focus of your value proposition has a real impact on buyer decision-making. So first, you have a decision to make (or remake) in terms of whether your value proposition is going to be all about the product/service or all about the buyer.
How Buyers Feel about the Value Propositions
My company, Knowledgence Associates, did some research in partnership with IDG Connect (the demand generation division of International Data Group (IDG), the world’s largest technology media company) which focused on how buyers view and use value propositions in their buying process. We surveyed 300 buying team members involved in technology/service related purchase decisions. 78% of the survey respondents were decision makers. To get the highlights, download the infographic here. Their responses show a real disconnect between what is delivered in value propositions and what they need to see.
Relevance Really Matters to Buyers
Buyers were asked for the vendors that they were considering, what was the lowest and highest value proposition relevance they experienced? The results were surprising. The highest level of relevance was only 71%, and the lowest was 30%. Wow, if the best that’s out there is only 70% relevant to me as a buyer, then there is a real opportunity for anybody who goes above that to stand out. Further, 85% of respondents said that a vendor that offered the most relevant value propositions become their favourite during the purchase decision process.
Alignment with Buyers Impacts Decision Making
We also learned that poor alignment of value propositions with buyer needs significantly impacts vendor prospects. 76% of buyers said that it reduces the likelihood of being recommended for the shortlist. This is important as it means that you may not even get a hearing or conversation with them, since many buyers today have built a shortlist from their own efforts before ever engaging with a vendor. You may be out of the running before you even get a shot! Furthermore, 68% of buyers say it reduces the prospect of the offer being purchased.
Where the rubber really hits the road is in understanding how much does poor alignment with buyer reduces you changes have having a real shot. According to surveyed buyers, it reduces the chances of being recommended for the shortlist by 35%, and reduces the chances of purchase by 47%. This really demonstrates how really important getting in tune with buyers needs and embedding them into a value proposition really is.
Stop the Yawning and Connect to Buyer Needs
So to net this out, while the product or service itself is important – what you say about it and how you say it to the buyer is crucial. If you don’t want to end up out of the running, you need to make every effort to shift your focus to the buyer. It means getting out of the way of your own product and service because they want to talk about value in their terms first, before they get into the details of your offering with you. It begins and ends with relevance.
What to hear more? Take a look at a short video of a recent talk I gave at Rev It Up – Boston 2016 put on by Women Sales Pros. I share more information about what the primary weaknesses are in today’s value propositions and what buyers really need to have included. Take a look for some great tips to help you develop a more compelling value proposition that will attract buyers like a magnet.
Lisa Dennis is president and founder of ValueProposition.expert and Knowledgence® Associates. She is an international marketing and sales consultant, trainer, writer and strategist. Her forte is in helping organizations develop and integrate customer-focused value propositions into the marketing and sales mix of B2B companies across a broad range of industries.