There are lots of resources, conversations, and challenges out there about the “value” of a value proposition. It makes you wonder, given that the buyers have pretty much hijacked the sales process, do we really even need value props anymore? Or should we be focusing on delivering “insights” to a prospect instead, as some experts advise? I believe you need both and that they should be integrated into a value proposition. To serve it up the right way – it goes beyond just delivering a “pitch” or a statement – it has to be delivered in a buyer-centric manner.
So let’s get our definitions aligned. A Google search today on the term “value proposition” yielded about 3,290,000 results. HELP! Getting to a clear and consistent definition is almost impossible in the face of all that information. When working with B2B marketing and sales teams, I often find a very inconsistent understanding of what a value prop really is. I hear multiple definitions, lots of different ways to go about it, and disagreement over what a strong one looks like. The biggest challenge of all, however, is how to use it to best advantage in the field with the sales team. There is a role for a value proposition at every stage of the buyer journey, but it is rare to see one that delivers that. The rubber hits the road with your sales people. An elevator speech and a catchy tag line just doesn’t cut it the way it used to.
If It Isn’t Relevant, Go Home
In a study conducted by Knowledgence Associates and IDG Connect, 85% of the respondents reported relevance as being the most significant factor. They said that the vendors that offer the most relevant value propositions are the favorite during the purchase decision process. Seems obvious, right? But given that the majority of value propositions out there are product-centric, rather than buyer-centric, it’s possible that you may be selling your own value proposition short. Why? 49% of the survey respondents said the value props they see are just not relevant to their needs. As obvious as this may seem, achieving relevance with today’s super-informed buyers is just not easy.
Digging a little deeper into the relevance issue, most respondents said that poor alignment of value propositions with buyer needs significantly reduces a vendors’ prospects in being recommended for the shortlist (76%), as well their offer being purchased (68%).
Figuring out the story that speaks directly to buyer needs is not just for the early awareness stage of the buyer’s due diligence. A strong, relevant story has a definitive impact at the beginning, middle and end of the buyer journey. If you are not relevant when the buyer is starting to narrow down their focus, they will move on without you. Your sales people won’t even get a chance to engage or tell the story that was missed in the early stages. Relevance is an interesting thing – it’s not a “one-and done” approach. You need to be increasingly relevant as the journey progresses. That means that the value proposition has to key into the buyers’ world early. Then you can flesh out more of the relevant specifics through the buyer stages. This will provide tactical help for your sales person to earn their attention and work to move your company’s offer through their buying process.
Let Your Buyers Eat Cake
I believe that relevance has layers that can be baked into a value proposition platform to deliver what both marketing and sales needs as potential buyers engage throughout their journey. You’re earning their attention at each layer, which is why by the time they get to defining the short-list and beyond, your sales people need to know exactly what the value proposition cadence has been, and how exactly to continue and intensify it.
• Layer 1: Must be deeply targeted and specific – not one-size-fits-all.
• Layer 2: Focus on the external reality of the buyer’s world, and stay outside of your organizational context to be sure you really understand them – without bias.
• Layer 3: What is the buyer grappling with and what are their intentions?
• Layer 4: What intelligence can you bring to the table that adds to their thought process? No solution-speak here!
• Layer 5: How does your offer address this? Do not offer up everything – “more” is not always better. Often, it gets confusing or is irrelevant.
• Layer 6: What is a provable difference that matters? It has to be real, it has to be significant, and it has to be provable. If 5 of your competitors are making similar claims, it isn’t differentiating!
• Layer 7: How do you bolster this with facts? Net out the value points that drive a buyer’s decision, quantify them and provide third party proof to back it up.
We all have heard of that scary statistic about how much of the buyer’s journey is done without the seller. The numbers I have seen quoted range from 60-70%. Sirius Decisions did a great blog post that I think HUGELY clears this up and adds some common sense to what has become a mythical issue with the current buyer journey – Three Myths of the “67 Percent” Statistic.
But if you still believe that a significant percentage of buyers are engaging in the purchase process without you, value proposition alignment is important not just in the early stages of Awareness and Building the Business Case. After having conducted over 1000 content assessments for a broad range of companies, I’ve found that the majority of marketing content is delivered in just the first two stages. That means that value proposition delivery occurs early, and doesn’t really get addressed until your sales people get to engage – which may be too late, given current buyer behavior. So where else and how else can you deliver it in a meaningful and relevant way?
Tune into the Buyer Stages
Arming your sales people to offer value proposition relevance at every point in the sales cycle has never been more crucial. Why? Because while vendors offering the most relevant value propositions are buyer favorites during purchase decision process, lack of strong alignment with buyer needs later on significantly reduces their chance for success. It’s about supplying the right pieces of the value proposition story in a cadence that is similar to the buyers’ journey. The top five areas buyers are concerned about are really focused on their own need and organization and mapping your value proposition to these imperatives will make you stand out. Understanding what messages to deliver at every stage of the journey is key to a value proposition that really SELLS.
Build a Value Proposition Platform for Buyers
Designing a cadence of value proposition messages that move with the buyer through their journey is the best way to ensure that the right combination of value and insights is served up when buyers (and your sellers) need it most. In working with B2B marketing and sales teams over the past 25 years, we have developed a platform approach to value propositions that can map to the buyer journey in the manner that buyers want to be communicated with. This requires a modular approach to building a value proposition. If you’re looking just for that short elevator speech, you’re missing the point of what buyers really need as they progress towards a decision.
Maybe one of the reasons that buyers have hijacked the sales process is because they cannot rely on vendors to deliver relevance across the range of information that they provide. It all starts with the value proposition, which gives the first real indicator of whether you are tuned in and communicating in a way that resonates with their reality. Given that most value propositions have inherent weaknesses, you can clearly raise the flag on differentiation by crafting your value proposition with a platform approach.
• Move to buyer relevant, customer focused descriptions and language, rather than a feature-focused approach.
• Make the effort to tailor and personalize by highly segmented targets to enable you to drive relevant conversations.
• Get out there early and deliver your message to buyers before, during and after engagement with your sales people.
• Consider more thought leadership style content, rather than just promotional or transactional content, as it allows you to serve up insight-driven value proposition messaging. This doesn’t mean lots of white papers either!
• Finally, product development/management needs to evolve to help product marketing move off of the old feature/function orientation and work to align the value proposition to the buyer at every stage to drive relevance – the one major thing that all buyers are looking for.
Want to learn more about buyer preferences as they relate to value propositions? Download the infographic:
Are you Selling Your Value Proposition Short?
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.