Sometimes I wonder if the tried and true foundations of effective marketing and selling are still valid in a business environment in a constant state of change. The advances in marketing technology, and the range of sales methodologies available now – does it render the concept of a value proposition kind of “old school”? After doing primary research on buyer decision-makers – I concluded that it’s actually more important – but it needs to evolve. The pithy one sentence value proposition that is only product- or service-focused just does not work as well in our current business environment. Or, should we be focusing instead on delivering “disruptors” or “insights” to a prospect, as some of the current sales methodologies advise?
Hold on a minute. Let’s not panic. In some ways, there is more value in a well-crafted, buyer-centric value proposition today than ever before. The reason? Buyers are much savvier these days, simply because we live in the Information Age, and they can find out the nuts and bolts about anything we want to sell them, before we even get a chance to speak with them.
This “hidden sales cycle” has been much talked about and is still something we have to deal with, as we know buyers can and do access a vast amount of easily-available information. The thing is, we honestly have no idea which bits of that information matter the most to them, and if they understand the full story. Yet oftentimes, the buyer has already made a short list of vendors before ever actually speaking to anyone. This is where that well-crafted, buyer-centric value prop comes in very handy.
If you are lucky enough to have made your prospect’s short list, consider a couple of things. First, you can’t afford to insult prospective buyers by assuming they have not done any research prior to your meeting, as you deliver that good ol’ fashioned elevator-pitchy cavalcade of features & benefits that passes for a value statement. They may already know this stuff, and you could be wasting their time. But secondly, and more importantly, you also can’t assume that this buyer has already gathered and digested all the correct information needed to inform the buying decision. And this is your opportunity.
Your mission is to create a better value proposition, one that views the buying decision through the eyes of the buyer. This will immediately allow you to distinguish yourself from the features & benefits brigade of competitors. The best way to do this is to demonstrate a clear understanding of the specific business pain your prospect is feeling – and include that in your value proposition statement. You’ve got to earn a prospective buyer’s trust, and this is the first step. The fact that you take the time to learn about their business, and their “language,” will earn you points in their favor. Those points are often redeemable for valuable prizes, like second meetings!
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. You’ve got work to do before you worry about second meetings. Let’s go back to that hidden sales cycle, where prospects are swimming around in a sea of information, looking at, considering, and digesting the various bits of data around them. If you want to be on that short list of vendors they are making, you need to pave your way there with compelling value-based content marketing.
Wouldn’t it be great if the core message that introduces your business and products was totally aligned with the content on your website, as well as with the words that your salespeople spoke? And all this content was clear, concise, and verifiable? Why yes, that would indeed be wonderful. Does that seem like chasing a unicorn?! Well, that is exactly the scenario you will have once you create that well-crafted, buyer-centric value prop, and then integrate it into all your content and conversational assets. It has to start with a value-based message in order to engage a buyer. I often tell people that a value prop is a mirror – and you need to check to be sure your buyer’s face is reflected back if you want them to take a step forward.
Regardless of how well your salespeople can think on their feet, there is no substitute for having a well thought out and clearly articulated value proposition, backed by examples of proof and validating content.
This is not your grandfather’s Mad Men elevator-pitch-type-value-proposition. This is a toolbox of thought, understanding, empathy, and strategy to provide your business with what is needed to close the right deals. This type of value proposition will forever hold its value.
How can you tell if your sales team is “all in” with the value proposition that marketing has slaved over? Well, are they using it? Or are your sales reps throwing together presentations and asking for case studies at the 11th hour before a prospect or customer meeting? If so – you didn’t sell them! It’s also a strong sign that the value prop isn’t tuned for buyers. It’s a sign of a standard product or service focused message – which buyers aren’t buying into the way they used to. Businesses need a buyer-focused value proposition that is embedded in all of the company’s messaging, whether it’s presented verbally, digitally, visually, or in written form. Strong value propositions that engage the buyers’ attention are not easily or consistently improvised, regardless of how well your sales people can think on their feet.
It Takes a Team Brain
The creation of a great value proposition must be a team effort, requiring input from a variety of positions / viewpoints – consider including marketing, sales, product marketing, industry marketing, analyst relations and public relations. Who else in your organization has insights into your target buyers and the markets they are operating in? If you’re a smaller company and don’t have all those functions – you still need team input. So, make sure you have, at a minimum, a marketing person and a sales person, and a member of leadership in the room working along with you. Be prepared to do some homework up front on the markets and targets you are aiming for to make sure you get the “outside-in” view of the needs your offering is addressing. And then get ready for writing and re-writing and testing. Once you get to a final, tested version, get ready to integrate your message into all marketing collateral: website, email, social media, presentation slide decks, sales flyers, and call scripts. Provide sales people with conversational nuggets that they can use in their prospecting and meetings. The strength of a value proposition is only fully realized when it is used consistently and delivered confidently across all your communication channels.
What’s for Launch?
Are you done? Nope. There is a crucial step that often gets overlooked. Ready? Wait for it….your internal launch of the value proposition to all marketing, service, sales and delivery people - before you launch it externally to customers and prospects. Yup - the internal launch is where you sell the value prop to the key players in your organization who are prospect/customer facing and are responsible for carrying the message out of the building. This is not just a “reveal” – it needs to be a training on how/where/when to use the new messaging to conduct the right kind of conversations with your audience. It matters just as much to existing customers as it does to attracting and engaging prospects.
This seems like common sense, but the reality is that it’s a crucial, yet too-often overlooked, detail in the creation and utilization of the company’s value prop. You’ve got to make certain you have the understanding and buy-in of your sales team. Because if they don’t buy into it, they won’t use it. Or, they’ll try to pull pieces of it that they like and fill in the gaps with their own interpretation of the message. Having your business’ value prop message “hacked” by your own sales team because they weren’t bought in up front is a sure-fire way to fracture your message and confuse buyers. It’s an invitation for them to look elsewhere.
The sales process is no longer about focusing primarily on features and benefits. Don’t get me wrong – you will need them in the market and sales cycle. But today’s buyer is on a journey that is all about themselves – and they have already done the research, knows the stats, and have compared themselves with your competitors’ offerings. What today’s buyer really needs is an intelligent discussion on how this product will positively impact the issues that buyer is facing, now and going forward. This is your sales person’s job. So, the importance of getting value proposition buy-in from the sales team is key to making this all work.
Where to start
Start by understanding that the value proposition may have more meaning to sales people than you might initially think. By virtue of how most sales people are compensated, the full adoption of a new value prop is a major commitment to something that can impact their earnings. So, in their eyes, it better be good, or they’ll be inclined to just handle messaging on their own. After all, this is their living we’re talking about!
When creating the value prop, to what degree was the sales team urged to contribute their experiences? What supported tools have you provided for sales people to use in live conversations? Done correctly, the value proposition is something that is created with the sales team, not something bestowed upon them.
The combination of industry research that marketing compiles, with the anecdotal information that sales people regularly receive from the people they speak with, instills the right mixture of thought-leadership and street credibility in your value proposition. One without the other makes for a weak sales presentation.
A great value proposition statement is not enough -- on its own -- to help a sales person successfully navigate the entire sales journey. That is why your Value Proposition Platform™ must have a roadmap for the buyer’s journey. This should provide relevant content and messaging for every step of the way, aimed at each of the different titles / roles that your sales person will meet with, and the aspects of your offer that appeals to each of those people. These kinds of value prop support tools will go a long way in gaining the trust and enthusiasm of your sales team.
Do not overlook this part of value proposition development. Without the buy-in from your sales team, it will be difficult if not impossible to get buy-in from your customers.
Every day in marketing and sales, it’s a challenge to land on the right message that will engage a prospect and spark a real conversation. The attraction of account-based approaches – selling more into the most important accounts – can often overtake the real intent of Account-based Marketing (or Revenue or Selling). Zeroing in and pitching more stuff to more targeted individuals is only the beginning – but these days there is a risk of it ending there too.
Think if it like this: you’ve been invited to go to lunch with a colleague. You get a word in here and there – but for the most part, they keep talking and talking. Finally, they take a breath, and say: “Enough about me. Let’s talk about you...what do YOU think of me?” We all have been in situations where the conversation (digital or live) is one-sided – and it doesn’t take long for us to tune out. ABM can end up there almost automatically without a solid strategy, insight research, and real buyer-focused messaging.
I have been doing ABM consulting and training with ITSMA – a pioneer in ABM since 2003 – working with companies like Adobe, Verizon, and Microsoft. In my own business, Knowledgence Associates, I have been helping create buyer-focused value props for mid-market and enterprise companies. What I know for sure is that the real strength of, and effort needed for true ABM and a resonating value proposition is a real “outside-in” approach. This means talking about customer issues in customer language that lead to achieving customer goals. Rather than an “offering” orientation, it needs to be an account insight driven orientation. While my conversational example above may seem a bit exaggerated, it does underline some of the “quick and dirty” ABM activities going on out there.
Here are 3 key points of failure to avoid if you are implementing account-based marketing and sales programs (and here is a hint – value props and messaging bear the brunt):
Failure 1: A lack of a true account-centered view – a strong and clear understanding of what the accounts are experiencing or facing in their own markets that drive their business decisions. This is bigger than just your inside-out view of how your company is doing in the account or what is in the pipeline, or where the whitespace is that you want to sell into.
Failure 2: A value proposition that is feature/benefit based, rather than communicating value-based outcomes that an account really wants to talk about – in their own language.
Failure 3: Pivoting to standard product and service messaging that doesn’t address and validate the account’s own initiatives, needs, challenges, and pains.
In this account-based world, value propositions have never been more important. Why? Because everyone is aiming at the big, strategic, important accounts. So, what are YOU going to say to them that is MORE RELEVANT than the alternatives that are also chasing them?
Figuring that out isn’t easy, and it isn’t automatic, no matter how much technology you throw at it. But I keep hearing stories where a CMO, or VP of Sales, or the CEO goes to the marketing group and hands them a list: “Here are the accounts we want you to ABM.” They may be strategic accounts, or key target accounts, or big white-space accounts. Hopefully there is some rigor in the criteria used to select them, as most organizations find out sooner or later that not all accounts are a good fit for ABM.
How do you avoid those three potential failure points in ABM? Start by asking yourself this question: What are we going to say to these specific, targeted, hand-selected accounts that is more relevant and more personalized than what we are already saying about our products and services to everyone else? Because it should be different. It should be about THEM. If you translate the true business needs, issues, challenges, and goals of your ABM accounts, and bake them right into your value proposition, you have an opportunity to be both different enough and relevant enough to build a longer-term account relationship that drives ongoing revenue growth.
I did a BrightTALK webinar recently that I think will be helpful. Most people think that a value proposition has to be short, short, short. I don’t necessarily agree. Brainstorming a 1-line value prop rarely results in a message that is extendable across communications platforms and is buyer-focused. Focusing on just a tag line or elevator pitch short circuits developing a Value Prop Platform that is both complete and flexible enough for marketing content and sales conversations.
Watch my video to see how to create a Value Proposition Platform that gives you everything you need to embed your value prop into ALL kinds of marketing and sales content.
I have been a huge fan of Fast Company magazine from its earliest days. It’s “Free Agent Nation” issue (with the lead article written by Dan Pink) validated my then recent decision to leave my corporate job and strike out on my own – 20 years ago. I started one of Fast Company’s earliest readers networking groups “The Company of Friends” when Fast Company was headquartered in Boston’s historic North End. So, I’ve been really dialed into to Bill Taylor, Founding Editor, Fast Company Magazine, and Author of two great books: Practically Radical and Simply Brilliant for a long time.
He has started a video series called “Briefly Brilliant” that I want to share with you. His second episode is called “It is as Important to be Kind as it is to be Clever”. While I am always inspired and intrigued by everything that Bill writes – this episode spoke to me in two important ways:
1. A new and much needed spin on value propositions
2. A success factor that sets excellent companies apart
Enjoy Bill’s video – “Briefly Brilliant” – episode 2
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?
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.
As the B2B sales process becomes ever more complex, marketers are working overtime creating new and (hopefully) more compelling value propositions. But are your sales people really equipped to deliver them?
Creating a value proposition that speaks directly to buyer needs requires a lot of input, drafting, and testing. Once we’re happy with the proposition, we typically focus on figuring out how to connect with the actual buyers. We craft new messaging for the website, for product and sales collateral, and for social media. We embed it into presentation decks and call scripts. And then we throw it all over the wall to sales!
How are you delivering to sales?
Throughout my career, I’ve seen marketers spend enormous amounts of time crafting their value propositions but relatively little to ensuring that they become meaningful and useful tools to actually sell. I have been one of those marketers myself.
In order for sales people to utilize the full strength of a value proposition, they must first understand and buy into it themselves. If you just throw it at the sales team, it might come right back at you like a boomerang.
Ensuring sales buy-in
One of the most important jobs a sales person has day-to-day is communicating value to prospects and customers. Buyers already know the features and functions of your solutions. They’ve downloaded your content and talked with their peers. They do still want to talk to your sales people but they want a real conversation about value.
This means that creating effective strategies for delivering value propositions to sales requires addressing three essential questions:
Absent strong alignment with sales on the answers to all three questions, the boomerang is likely to come back quickly.
Making Time for Input
As part of the initial gathering of information, research, and ideas for value prop development, gathering input from sales is critical. What are sales people hearing from customers and prospects about the most important challenges and concerns? How are customers and prospects actually talking about the issues? What value props for similar offerings are they seeing in the field?
Marketers generally appreciate all this, but too often say: “We’ll never get them to participate because it takes them out of the field. They won’t have time, they won’t respond, they won’t cooperate.” But when I’m working on value props I always push anyway for three important reasons.
Testing with sales…and customers
Before going live, it is really smart to test the value proposition message with two audiences who have a stake in what you’re trying to communicate, sales and customers.
Start with your sales people. Hand pick a group and ask for quick phone calls with each of them. One-on-one conversations are valuable and respects sales peoples’ mobility. Send content in advance and then review on the phone. What works? What’s missing? What doesn’t make sense? How would you say it? Even a few of these conversations will give you a clear and field-based view of what you need to know as you’re readying the launch. Along the way, you’ll often pick up some great conversational nuggets that can really help bring the value prop to life.
Of course you’ll want to test with customers, too. Ideally this includes both customers where you have a strong relationship and newer customers or prospects to ensure difference perspectives. Make it clear you’re trying to learn, not sell (at least not yet!).
But start with sales. No matter how strong your value prop, it’s not going to sell itself. With high value services and solutions, sales people are as important as ever.
Delivering the right tools
The value proposition statement alone is rarely enough to give sales people what they really need for effective, value-centered conversations. Map out the buyers journey and the primary sales scenarios to guide you in defining the priorities for an integrated tool set that sales really needs to sell.
Typical kits may include value prop materials adapted for several key personas, industries, and stages in the purchase process. Cheat sheets that include industry insights, value drivers, approaches to value quantification, and verifiable proof points are especially important to support effective sales conversations. These can surround the core value prop and help sales people demonstrate that they understand the customer situation, appreciate their requirements, and have relevant examples and evidence to address customer concerns.
Taking the time to get real input from sales, test the propositions before finalizing, and build out the proper toolset may seem like a lot to add when you’re rushing new offers to market. But it’s all essential in creating propositions that actually sell. And that’s obviously what counts in the end.
This post is adapted from an earlier version that I posted on Value Propositions That Sell. Check out my workshop with ITSMA’s Julie Schwartz on “Developing and Using Persona-Based Value Propositions” at our upcoming annual conference, Marketing Vision 2016.
As sales people, do we ever feel that the messaging we get from marketing doesn’t quite have the punch that we need to have a really great sales conversation? If you’re from sales, the typical answer is YES! If you’re from marketing, the challenge and frustration is that the messaging is created after making sure it reflects the product or service accurately, takes industry trends into account, and can tell a strong, repeatable story.
So marketing keeps pushing the message via lots of content and sales tools, and sales keeps changing it up to find something that sticks.
Did you ever feel like you were trapped in your company’s value proposition and couldn’t get out?
Given that the majority of value propositions are primarily focused on communicating the features and benefits of the product or service, it’s no wonder that it feels like you’re trapped in there! I was a product manager for several years, graced with the “dog product line” of the company, or as I liked to call it, “the little product line that could.” It was a great experience – hard, frustrating, challenging – but it taught me two things that are very very important.
Turning the Value Proposition Outside-In
Needless to say, as a classically trained marketing person, I was focused on identifying likely targets for my product, crafting a message that I thought would interest them, and pushing it out there. My focus was on my product – first and foremost. I was looking at things purely from an inside-out approach and my value proposition and messaging clearly reflected that. I led with the product, talked about the product, pushed the product, sent samples of the product, talked to the sales people about the product, and on, and on, and on. I can tell you that “the little product line that could” was seriously huffing and puffing up the hill with this approach.
So I needed to figure out another way since the product line wasn’t growing, and it was getting harder to stay even. What didn’t I know that was potentially contributing to the challenge of selling this? I went individually to all of my audiences and asked them a key question:
Surprisingly enough, the answers from all three were almost the same.
Sales wanted to understand what challenge, goal or problem the product addressed, and be able to communicate how the product solved or addressed it – in customer language. Some examples of how other firms were using it would also help out a lot to paint the picture.
Prospects wanted to understand what challenge, goal or problem the product addressed, did it match up to their own needs, and how to use the product to accomplish it.
Customers wanted to understand how the product was still relevant to their needs, and if there were any upgrades or changes, how that would impact how they used the product currently.
The answer was that I had to take my product value proposition and turn it OUTSIDE-IN, creating one that entirely focused on the external point-of-view as it related to my target audience’s needs, experience, goals, challenges. By doing that, I met all of my three audiences’ requirements for a value proposition that actually was relevant and meant enough to them for consideration and evaluation of my offer. My sales people gained an understanding of the product that dispelled a number of misconceptions about what the product could do, and how it was being used by happy customers. Their misconceptions were a clear barrier to taking the product on – and I wasn’t even aware of it up to that point!
At the end of the day – turning value propositions, and the sales messaging that goes with them, outside-in is all about buyer relevance. If you can develop a strong and clear message that is relevant to your buyer, it will also get your seller’s attention too. If you feel like your message isn’t getting the traction you want, consider going outside!
Want to find out more about what buyers need in value propositions to make them worth their consideration? Download the infographic HERE.
As B2B selling gets more complex by the day, and buyers move through their purchasing process, on their own, until much later in the game, the need to make sure that sales people are well-prepared to deliver the value proposition to prospects has become even more important.
But have you considered HOW you plan to deliver it to your sales people?
Creating a value proposition that speaks directly to the needs of a buyer requires a lot of input, drafting and testing. Then we start the process of getting it to the buyers through our marketing channels. We work through how the value proposition will be communicated on the website, in product and sales collateral, and on social media. We embed it into presentation decks, and call scripts. It has to be integrated into all the marketing content.
Throughout my career, I have frequently seen value propositions simply thrown to sales people via marketing content, without enough thought of how to ensure that it is a meaningful and useful tool for sales. I have been one of those marketers in the past! In order for sales people to utilize the full strength of a value proposition, they must first understand and buy into it themselves. If you just throw the value prop at the sales team, it might come right back at you like a boomerang.
One of the most important jobs a sales person has day-to-day is communicating value to prospects and customers. It’s become significantly more important than focusing on just features and benefits. Why is that? Because most buyers already know those details – they have already been all over your website and downloaded product sheets, and white papers or other content assets that you have offered them. What buyers want from sales people now is a real conversation about value.
This means that the strategy of delivering a value proposition to sales requires thinking through the following questions:
Make Time for Input
As part of the initial gathering of information, research, and ideas for value prop development, reaching out to sales for their input is key. What are their thoughts on what to say, and how to say it? What value props of similar offerings do they hear out in the field? What are the biggest challenges or issues or complaints that prospects and customers are sharing with them?
Whenever I am working with a marketing team on this type of messaging, I always suggest that it is crucial to have sales be part of the development team. The typical response is “we will never get them to participate because it takes them out of the field.” They won’t have time, they won’t respond, they won’t cooperate. But I always push anyway, because of two important reasons.
First, they actually DO appreciate and respond to having their opinions asked. Nothing is more engaging than being asked your opinion. Most of us dive right into sharing it! Secondly, their input provides a critical part of what is needed to develop a customer-focused value prop – the real, feet-on-the street experience of dealing daily with prospects. And here is a bonus reason: you can prevent your value proposition from becoming a boomerang and your sales people making up their own because it doesn’t resonate strongly enough. Here’s what buyers think about your value propositions.
Test with Your Two Best Audiences
Before going live, it is really smart to test the value proposition message with two audiences who have a stake in what you’re trying to communicate. Start with your sales people. Hand pick a group of individuals from your sales team and ask to do a quick phone call with each of them. One-on-one conversations here can be valuable, and respects the sales person’s mobility. Send the content to them in advance, and then go over it with them on the phone. Ask for their impressions are of it. What works? What doesn’t make sense? What’s missing? How do you think a prospect or customer of yours might respond to this? What would you say? This may be an opportunity for an additional nugget that might make all the difference. At the very least, it gives you a clear view of what you will need to be aware of as you launch a new value proposition out into the market.
The second audience is your customers. Surprised that they are second? Here’s the thing: your sales people are a key channel for getting the product or service message out there. Make them first – because a value proposition does not sell itself – no matter how good it is. It must be communicated when it counts with a customer. For B2B companies – that most often is done by sales.
That having been said, reach out to 5 – 10 customers and ask them if you can run this by them to get their input. Make sure that at least 50% of them are customers with whom you have a strong relationship. For the other 50%, consider newer customers, and even a couple of customers who switched to another competitor. If you can get them to talk with you, their input is often enlightening, and can be very constructive, provided that you make it clear that you want to learn from them, not entreat them to come back.
Deliver a Value Proposition Toolset
The value proposition statement alone is often not enough to give a sales person what they really need to embed it into a sales conversation. A tag line or elevator speech is just a slice of what is required to drive a value-centered sales conversation. By mapping out the flow of the buyer journey, you can create a platform that puts all the pieces into one page to make it easy to use across all types of sales conversations, be they face -to-face, over the phone, or over the web. Here is a cheat sheet that covers all the bases a sales person may need to touch.
When you look at this cheat sheet, you might notice a crucial point: the Offer Statement is at the center, but it’s not enough on its own. If you’re smart, you will have a version of a value proposition for all your key markets. That means you need to be sure that your sales team is clear on the titles and the business issues that each market is composed of. There can be wide variations from one industry sector to the next for the very same product. Being able to clearly state the prospect objective IN the value prop is sure to get the buyer’s attention. It says that you are knowledgeable about their situation and their potential goals. It demonstrates that you “get” them – which is powerful for a sales person to convey. Here are some other great tips from Jill Konrath that really focus on value.
And finally, in order to deliver a true differentiator that has teeth, you should also provide a set of key value drivers – those values that most impact a buyer’s decision process. Follow that by quantifying the value in a meaningful way and then back it up with verifiable proof points. With this toolset, your salespeople will be completely prepared to deliver a consistent, impactful and customer-focused value proposition in any situation. This is how to really deliver a message that sells to your sales people first – and ensures that it will get to your prospects successfully.
LEARN MORE: ARE YOU SELLING YOUR VALUE PROPOSITION SHORT?