Throughout my career in marketing and sales, I have spent considerable time trying to craft messaging that would appeal to targeted audiences, both internal and external. And I’ve got to admit, it is not always easy to make some of this stuff interesting! In fact, I often read some old value props when insomnia hits – works like a charm.
Unfortunately, they were not written to put people to sleep. So how DO you tune your message for buyers so they don’t just yawn? The first step is understanding what buyers are seeking 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.
To begin with, there is typically a mixed understanding between marketing and sales of what the term “value proposition” truly means. This is our first hurdle: how do we get a clear and consistent message out there if sales people are saying this, marketing is saying that, and senior staff and subject matter experts are saying something else?
First Do a Reality Check on your Message
When I kick-off a messaging project, I ask everybody involved to write on a piece of paper their version of the organization’s 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 representative of the core offering. Most of it ends up being about the features of the offering – presented as if they were benefits, in and of themselves. That, my friends, is the standard for value propositions today. And the sad truth is that this “standard” makes your buyers YAWN. It’s only been done by every business for the last forever. I think it is way past time for a better approach!
If the standard doesn’t work anymore, how do we go about finding the right value proposition message? As marketers, our focus is often centered on the product or service first, and then on the buyer. I mean, the company that provides the product or service is the one that pays our salary, right?
The thing is, nowadays, buyers don’t want to hear so much about features/benefits – they know that stuff already! They have already looked at your website, downloaded your product sheets, talked to their peers, looked at industry information. When they are ready to talk to you, they want to talk about VALUE – how is your offer, with all the afore-mentioned features/benefits, going to deliver value to their business? And exactly what is the nature of that value.
Because buyers are human, they care much more about themselves and their concerns than they do about you and all the features of your product or service. So, unsurprisingly, a parade of features and benefits is going to induce yawns from your prospects and doodles on their notepads. Now you, as a marketer, have a decision to make in terms of whether your value proposition is going to be all about the product/service, or all about the buyer. Hint: this really should not be a tough decision.
Do Value Props Still Matter to Buyers?
Not long ago my company, Knowledgence Associates, did some research in partnership with IDG Connect (the demand generation division of International Data Group, 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, out of which 78% of the survey respondents were decision makers. (You can see highlights of the research by downloading the infographic here.) Their responses demonstrate a palpable disconnect between what is frequently delivered in value propositions and what informed buyers need to see.
Here is one specific point that jumps out– most value propositions invoke indifference because they don’t focus on what the buyer is focused on. Most value props are geared to sell what the seller wants to sell, not what the buyer wants to buy. Let’s examine that strategy a bit.
Regarding specific vendor offers that they were considering, buyers were asked to assess the lowest and the highest value proposition relevance they encountered. The results were eye-opening! The highest level of relevance was a mere 71%, while the lowest was 30%. Wow. Think about this. We, as marketers, are putting buyers to sleep with cookie-cutter val props!
But chew on this…If the best thing that’s out there is only 71% pertinent to an interested buyer, then there is a golden opportunity to stand out for anybody whose value proposition hits above and beyond that average level of relevance! To underscore that point, a full 85% of the respondents said that those vendors offering the most relevant value propositions become their favorites during the purchase decision process. This is proof of the importance of knowing your target’s business and challenges before trying to sell them something.
Shifting Message Focus is Step One
You want to get on the buyer’s short list? Focus first on relevance! You want to put the buyer to sleep? Then continue to prattle on about your features and benefits. Of course your product or service itself is important. But what you say about it, and how and when you say it to the buyer, is crucial. From the get-go, you need to shift your focus from your product to the buyer. It means clearly presenting value in their terms first, before describing details of your offering. Relevance is the jolt of caffeine that makes the most bored buyers snap to attention!
While this may sound obvious, I can tell you from first hand experience that is hard because by definition our focus as marketers and seller is on our offering. Making the switch is not easy.
Wondering how to flip that switch?
Book a short call with me and I will share some ideas to help you get started. My calendar is here, and there is no obligation at all. I’d love to see your value proposition and chat about it – it’s all part of my mission to help marketers and sellers speak more impactfully to their buyers. Hope to hear from you!
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.