When many people think value proposition, they think oh, that’s easy. You pick some target audiences, then start writing about features and benefits. And then you write some more about features and benefits. Then make a nebulous claim that this is the only solution of its kind, or the best in its class. Then add something nice about customer service. BINGO, you’re done.
Of course, reality is nothing like that. An effective value proposition must stand up both in marketing communications and sales conversations. This is no small challenge. It’s all well and good to create pithy, on-point marketing pieces that present your product or service in a manner that resonates with buyers, but what if your sales person is delivering a different message, or stressing different points? A confused prospect rarely turns into a customer.
Salespeople will often claim that the messaging they get from Marketing lacks the punch needed for an engaging sales conversation. The marketing collateral’s language and message may be fine for people who have the time and inclination to read stuff, but oftentimes, business needs to be worked on-the-go. Salespeople are looking for messaging that will pique the buyer’s interest and curiosity, and lead to subsequent meetings.
In lieu of that type of messaging coming from Marketing, many times a salesperson will take matters into his or her own hands and try to spin that engaging message on their own. A noble effort, perhaps, but one that is fraught with potential problems. In an attempt to attract a prospect’s attention, the message gets dinged a little bit here, bent a little bit there. Each time the message is tweaked, it veers further away from the original brand strategy.
Now, how big is your sales team? If each salesperson is creating his/her own messaging, how many variations of your company’s core message are out there? And what if a salesperson’s improvised messaging includes something that is untrue, or unproven, or even impossible? That is not a good look for your business!
As you begin to create your value proposition, keep the voice of your salespeople in mind. The messaging must sound compelling out of their mouths, not just on paper. Ask them how they would phrase certain things, in an effort to make the messaging as easy for them to deliver as it is for the prospect to hear. The value proposition messaging must be consistently on point.
There are three main types of value propositions that the business world has seen over the years. Probably the oldest of these is the Offer-Driven one. This value proposition says:
As more and more businesses began creating similar types of products and services, many value propositions became Competitor-Driven. This approach acknowledges the top competitors in the industry, then draws distinctions based on some hand-picked attributes:
Then, some enlightened businesses decided to explore what exactly prompted customers to buy their products or services, which gave rise to the Buyer-Driven value proposition. This option put the focus totally on the buyer by demonstrating:
Each of these types of value propositions contain significant and relevant information that should not be overlooked or under-appreciated. Yes, it is imperative to understand all the features and benefits of your product. But that alone is not a true value proposition! And yes, you must acknowledge your competition and have a thorough understanding of their offerings and how they compare to your own. Given that buyers are driving the bus these days, this type may not be the most effective value proposition, either!
The Buyer-Driven value proposition understands that all the features and benefits and bells and whistles are only relevant if they provide a positive result to the buyer. It’s really that simple. The word “value” is defined each time by the prospect, not the seller. Never lose sight of that fact. Bigger and better and more do not always translate to the right solution for each prospect. Furthermore, competing on similar offerings by pointing out their differences is a never-ending task of keeping up – you’ve got to scramble every time a competitor makes a change. And competing on price differences is rarely a good idea for anyone. So, while knowledge of product and competition are important, they don’t mean a thing unless viewed through the eyes of a prospect who has a specific matter that needs addressing.
The best thing about a Buyer-Driven value proposition is that it enables a salesperson to engage the prospects in a compelling discussion about their specific needs, and to contribute ideas to the conversation without pushing a specific solution or product. Only after demonstrating that we “get” the prospect’s business challenges, do we then begin to offer some solutions that are specific to those challenges. By that time, we’ve demonstrated understanding, and gained some trust. This is the best approach to get better engagement through consistent and clear messaging, differentiate the buyer experience, and land sales.
Want to learn more about Value Propositions? Download the first free chapter of my book Value Propositions that SELL.
In businesses around the globe, marketers are feverishly working on creating value propositions that positively impact the sales process. But how well have we equipped our sales people to deliver this messaging?
The creation of a value proposition that speaks directly to buyer needs is a cornerstone project, and requires a great deal of input, drafting, and testing. It’s a big deal, and once we are happy with our proposition, we typically focus on figuring out how to connect it with actual buyers. We craft all new messaging for the website, as well as the product and sales collateral, and social media. We embed it into presentation decks, online webinars, and call scripts. It’s really great, we think!
Of course, now we need to share this with sales! If the sales team is decentralized, this may mean tracking them down individually, or maybe getting a slice of time during a weekly sales conference call. But regardless of the location of the sales people, what marketing essentially says, “here, we did this for you, hope you use it.” It’s like tossing it over the fence, and hoping they catch and run with it.
Marketers spend vast amounts of time constructing their value propositions, but relatively little or no time ensuring that they become the meaningful and useful tools they were designed to be. Isn’t it Sales’ job to figure out how to use it? The thing is, in order for sales people to utilize the full power of a value proposition, first they must understand it, and buy into it themselves.
This is no slight or put-down of the sales team; far from it! We know that the most important job a sales person has day-to-day is communicating value to prospects and customers. What buyers really want is a real conversation about value. And so does Sales as well.
So, let’s rewind here. Let’s return to the start of your value proposition project. As part of the initial compilation of information, research, and ideas for value prop development, gathering input from sales is imperative. Without that input, your Value Proposition is more theoretical than realistic. Let’s get some realism.
Unfortunately, far too often we simply assume that we’ll never be able to get the sales team to participate because any time spent on internal projects is time that takes them out of the field. We think, either they won’t have time to give their input, or they won’t respond (hoping the request for input will just go away), or they just won’t cooperate (in which case the marketers are back on their own). Hey, I didn’t say this was going to be easy, but I can assure you it is well worth the trouble!
Think of it as mining for gold. Go where the gold is. Do what you need to in order to get that input. That input provides a critical component of what is needed to develop a customer-focused value proposition: the real, feet-on-the street experience of dealing daily with prospective customers. Their likes, their dislikes, their language. This is your gold; it brings the whole value proposition together and makes it shine. Using the best input from your field sales (as well as from inside sales and customer service teams) provides authenticity and street-cred, and it allows us to frame our content in the language of the prospect and their industry.
Besides gaining relevant first-hand insights from the field, the fact that you are purposefully integrating real-world input from sales in the new value proposition dramatically increases your chances of having said value proposition taken in and utilized by the sales team! (Without sales input in the creation, I’d say the whole thing has a good chance of not being used properly — or at all — by the people it was meant to help.)
OK, now let’s fast-forward back to when you are just about to launch that new value proposition. But before going live with this baby, it is a smart practice to test the value proposition message with an audience who has a stake in what you’re trying to communicate, your sales team.
Hand pick a group of your sharpest sales people and request quick phone calls with each of them. One-on-one conversations are valuable as they encourage unfiltered communication, and they respect sales peoples’ mobility (as opposed to requesting in-person or written responses). 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 proposition to life.
No matter how strong your value proposition statement is, it’s rarely enough on its own to give sales people all they really need for effective, value-centered conversations. It doesn’t sell by itself. Your sales people, equipped with the proper tools, will address that.
Map out the buyer’s journey and the primary sales scenarios to guide you in defining the priorities for an integrated set of tools that sales needs in order to sell. These tool kits may include value prop materials adapted for a variety of 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 in supporting effective sales conversations. They help sales people demonstrate their understanding of the customer situation, appreciation of their requirements, and provide relevant examples and evidence to address customer concerns.
This all may seem like a lot to add when you’re rushing new offers to market. But trust me, it’s all essential in creating propositions that actually sell. Sell like you know what you’re doing!
When you have studied the number of value propositions that I have, some common issues seem to play over and over. The sad fact is that most value propositions are primarily focused on touting the features and benefits of the product or service. I want to be very clear on this: no matter how great / amazing / efficient / powerful / fast / comprehensive the thing you are selling is, its wonderful features and benefits alone doth not a value proposition make.
When Your Product Turns Into a Dog
Early in my career, back when the business world was getting excited over digitizing every bit of information everywhere (yes, we did have electricity and indoor plumbing back then!), my product line consisted of print versions of this data that my employer had digitized. The “Future of Information” had pretty much dictated to the world that online access to digitized information is the way to go. Great news for pretty much everyone, right? Except for someone (me) managing a print product line in this Digital Awakening. I mean, yeah, the world is changing and all that, but I’ve still got revenue targets to hit!
Our sales team wanted to sell things that would sell (obviously), and the company was pushing the online digitized options, so all the sales people jumped on that bandwagon, because digital access to information was hot Hot HOT! To the company’s sales team, the print products were the last vestiges of an earlier time, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, and people got their information from books. Who’s gonna buy that?
Well, most of our top 100 clients, that’s who. They bought and then renewed – year after year - tangible proof that the print products still have value. This led to an epiphany for me: if I could find out from clients who were already happy with the product exactly WHY they were loyal to it, especially in this digital era, that might be a good angle to share with the sales team, and maybe land a few more clients. The reality was I had to convince my sales people the product still had a lot of value.
The two most important things I learned from this experience were:
As a classically trained marketing person, I had been focused on identifying likely targets for my product, crafting a message that I thought would interest them, and pushing that message 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 took all the inside information I had on the product line and pushed it out to pretty much anyone who would listen. Yet, the product line wasn’t growing, and in fact, it was getting harder to stay even with previous years. What’s a product manager to do?
Turning My Thinking and My Messaging Outside-In
After a few key conversations and a lot of thinking, I realized that:
The result of these findings was the realization that I had to take my product value proposition and turn it OUTSIDE-IN, creating one that focused entirely on the external point-of-view as it related to my target audience’s needs, experience, goals, challenges, and questions. This meant absorbing the outside knowledge and understanding of the client’s business, market space, and existing needs, and then turning that information inside, to match those needs with our products.
By doing that, I met all three of my audiences’ requirements for a value proposition that was relevant and meant enough to them for consideration and evaluation of my offer. Turning value propositions, and the sales messaging that goes with them, outside-in is all about focusing on buyer relevance. And successfully focusing on buyer relevance is the name of the game in today’s business world.
Determining what the value proposition is for your product or service can often be an elusive pursuit.
What value does your company deliver? To whom is the value delivered? How is your company’s value communicated? These are some of the crucial questions that require research and competitive review. But there is another fundamental question that should always come first, yet often gets skipped:
From whose perspective is value best described?
I think the answer to this should be obvious. Unfortunately, far too frequently, it is not. We tend to focus on the value of our offering – from the perspective of the company we work for. Does that make sense? Sure – but let me ask you, does it make sense to lead with a product or a service before you’ve confirmed with the buyer what their needs are?
Let’s start by taking a look at the standard accepted definition of a value proposition:
A Value Proposition is a clear and succinct statement indicating the specific value of a service or product or offer to a specific audience in order to differentiate its value.
OK, tough to argue with that. But maybe we can improve it by making it a buyer-focused value proposition:
A Buyer-focused description of value that demonstrates our knowledge about the Buyer’s experience or challenge and our specific offer to address it, underscored by what differentiates our offer from any other.
The major distinction is the point-of-view that is embedded in the Value Proposition. It’s not about you or your offering. It’s all about the buyer. It’s about showing that you understand the buyer, that you have a clear picture of their experience (i.e. their challenge, issue, objective or goal). Your response to that experience is specific and relevant. It is differentiated by what truly makes your offer stand out from market alternatives. It is buyer-centric, which is a far more engaging way of attracting and retaining their attention.
What side of your value prop is showing?
Unfortunately, value propositions typically are developed from the “inside-out,” with their primary focus on the product or service itself, trumpeting its greatness. Many people believe the value proposition should be from the perspective of your own company and focused on your own products and services. Why do we think that? Because it’s our job to market and sell that.
Thus, the core message is centered on “here is what we have to sell and here is why you need to buy it” (as the old-school marketing types nod their heads in agreement). But you still have a big challenge here, even if you are offering up the single greatest product or service ever.
This type of product-first messaging puts the potential buyer in the position of having to figure out on their own if your offer is a match, instead of making it easier to recognize your solution as the one they were looking for. Don’t make buyers have to come up with the missing links on their own. And frankly, if they are not already familiar with your company, why would they even bother?
Does your value prop answer the right questions?
In today’s market, a halfway intelligent prospect most likely already knows the relevant facts and figures. So, put that features & benefits dog-and-pony show of a value proposition aside. It no longer works. Replace it with one that presents your wares through the lens of the customer you are trying to attract. Buyers want to hear about the value that your offer delivers to them, not the value of your offer. The discussion must be outcome-based (theirs), not offer-based (yours).
Every buyer-centric value proposition needs to answer the following three key questions:
For this proposition to be meaningful in a customer interaction, these questions need to be answered beforehand, accurately and honestly, and in specific terms. Don’t ballpark. Don’t “guesstimate” (ugh, I hate that word!). Don’t even trust your experience/intuition. Do the extra homework and be sure of your answers. Know thy prospect!
This is the “value” of a value proposition that sells. The better you understand your prospects’ needs, the better you’ll be able to deliver that value right where they need it. And they will love you for that!
Is your value proposition ready for 2019? Need help? Start with my book, Value Propositions that sell - check it out here. Or drop me a line at Ldennis@knowledgence.com to talk about it. I have lots of tips that might help!
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?