Author Archives: knowledgence associates

Putting the “Value” Back into Your Value Proposition

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 us 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?

No, 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:

  • What is the buyer trying to achieve, or solve, or fix?
  • What is the offer that your company presents to address the buyer’s specific needs? 
  • Why would a buyer select your company over the other possible market alternatives (real and perceived)?

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 There Still Value to the Value Proposition?

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.

Want to learn how to get there?  Get a copy of my book,  Value Propositions that Sell available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Get your Sales Team SOLD on Your Value Prop

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.

The Speed of Twenty Years

 

The Speed of Twenty Years

In the blur of travel, multiple projects, and life in general, I recently realized something that was right in front of me but didn’t notice.  It started from a basic question asked of me by a fellow passenger on plane ride back from Baltimore.   “How long have you been in business?”   I thought about it for a minute.  Let’s see, I started in 1997 and….oh wow….it’s been twenty years. Wait, twenty? Twenty years?  Wow. I really had never thought about it and it totally crept up on me.

In 1997, I did something I had never done in my entire career.  I quit an extremely stressful job without another one lined up. Thanks to my husband, I had the luxury of being able to take a badly needed time-out.  I took 6 months off to figure out what came next.  To say I was burned out would be an understatement.  For the first 3 months I just went to the gym and slept a lot. The last 3 months I worked with a career coach and had many job interviews.  But I was not interested in any of the opportunities.  Several people began suggesting to me that consulting would be a good fit for me – but I couldn’t see it.  Who would hire me if I didn’t have a company attached to me?  It really made me think about my identity and how it was so attached to my career.  Was my identity owned by the company I kept?  Or could I claim it and make my own way?

Striking a Bargain

After a lot of thought and many conversations, I struck a bargain with myself.  I would try consulting for one year with a goal of matching my salary.  If I didn’t succeed, I would go find a job.  I never even considered what would happen if I was successful.  Funny to think about that now.  Year one went quickly and I surpassed my goal! So, I gave myself another year.  That year was even better – so I did it for a third year.  Again, a great experience.  At that point, I realized I had a business here if I wanted it.  And so I changed my entire career orientation permanently – and twenty years literally FLEW BY.

Needless to say, I have not even planned how I will celebrate this milestone.  I’m still marveling that I have done this work for so long on my own.  I need to figure out a way to celebrate for sure.  I also want to share some things I’ve learned along the way that have been pivotal for my growth both personally and professionally.  Each quarter of my 20th year, I will share them with you.

First Quarter Theme:  THANKS

Thanks to the people who really helped me see what was possible.  Because I didn’t see it at all.

Thanks to Nancy Haynes, a former co-worker who told me something that has been true for every one of these 20 years.  “You will be the best and worst boss you have ever had.”  She was and is so right! She has just started a new career and vocation herself – and it is going to be amazing.

Thanks to Nancy Hegarty, another former co-worker who told me that consulting would be a good fit given how I had operated at work on the different projects I got involved with in addition to my regular responsibilities.  She helped me understand what skills I had that would make a good consultant. My respect for her allowed me to trust her judgement, even though I was not sure I could do it.

Thanks to my mother, who taught me about ‘re-careering” – a woman who had multiple careers, all of them successful.  At the time I was considering my options for work, she was a career counselor (career #3 I think), working with a couple of people who were building very successful consulting practices after many years working in corporate.  She shared what they were doing and how creative and lucrative it could be.  I could have both?  She tempted me to take a risk because she had done so herself over and over.

Thanks to Jim Ballway, a consultant I had hired a few times to do some work for me when I was employed.  I took him to lunch to pick his brain about consulting and he advised me to keep my costs low, and “whatever you do, don’t rent office space until you have to.  Stay in your house as long as you can.”  Great advice – and he was right. In twenty years, I only had an external office for about a year – and it was a waste of money!

Thanks to Kathy McAllister, one of my first big clients and collaborators.  She taught me the power of socializing ideas in advance of rolling things out, and refining and re-refining (and re-refining) output to get it just right. It used to drive me a little crazy, but the results were always great.  I wanted to get the work  done quickly and then show it – but the power of having people bought in beforehand was really important.  Thanks, Kathy for teaching me that valuable lesson.

Thanks to Joan Groleau who hired me after sitting in one training class, and has since worked with me at 5 different companies.  She has been the most creative client/partner I have ever had the privilege of working with.  With her knack of having vision just before a need presents itself, we’ve been able to create some amazing outcomes over the years. She helped my business be better and more creative than I could have ever  imagined without her.

So that’s my first take on twenty years of Knowledgence.  This year I am finishing up writing a book which will be out in the spring.  Who would have thought this is where I’d be?  Not me!  But the best is yet to come, and I feel that anything is possible.  What a gift all of my clients over the years have given me.  Next quarter I will share some specific things I learned on some key projects that may help you in your own endeavors.  Thank you.  That’s what I want to say most of all.  Thank all of you.

 

Lisa Dennis
President, Knowledgence Associates
Ldennis@knowledgence.com
@knowledgence

 

Value Propositions That Actually Sell

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?

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Making the Right Choice: Dive in or Engage with a Market-of-One

Major accounts, be they global or national, require special handling for organizations to develop a deep enough understanding that drives business across the organization. Thinking about the account as a market of one and approaching it from that standpoint by both your marketing and sales team is the best way to uncover, tailor, and deliver value that deepens the relationship and drives revenue.

Typically, an account plan is developed by sales, with some small piece provided by marketing. It typically has an inside-out focus: what your organization has to sell first, and who we are going to sell it too second. The weakness in this approach is directional. It should start from the outside-in: focusing on the account’s market imperatives and business drivers, its goals, objectives and initiatives first. Then moving to step two: thinking about how your organization can provide assistance and value in addressing those factors, and how to message your relevant solutions and capabilities to just those individuals within the account that have responsibility for the initiatives.

Given the mandate to drive quarter by quarter results, the plan for major accounts typically focuses on the here and now – without a full, 360-degree view of what the account could develop into over a longer time horizon, with a defined joint sales and marketing strategy. So many organizations who decide to adopt a major account initiative, create a list of their biggest accounts and just dive into the nearest account planning process.

There are multiple processes and templates available that can help you cobble together a really impressive account plan document. Yet, senior management is often disappointed when they discover that this isn’t really enough to create a sustainable path to long-term growth. The crucial component of a major account strategy is co-development by your account team and your marketing team. Do this piece first, and then review it and refine with the customer themselves.

The real key to reaching and engaging a market of one, your account, is to make the investment of time and effort to craft the right solution set that is driven by customer initiatives – a sales “play” that is customized by a deep understanding of the customer’s situation. To drive it home, there is another extremely crucial input that many account teams don’t take into consideration: the secret sauce provided by marketing. For an approach that really delivers customer engagement, an account-based marketing approach should be included to create a value proposition and story to message directly to the key decision makers, recommenders and influencers for the initiative(s) you are planning to target in the account.

An account plan that is all tactics without a clear cohesive strategy and direction, socialized with and contributed to by the customer, is just a basket of hopeful tactics. And hope is not an account plan that drives deep engagement and revenue. When you have an account plan that is all about tactics, it is also highly likely that the tactics are not connected to each other in a meaningful way. They are almost always short-term in nature (read as “this quarter” or “this year”). The account will just rise and fall from year to year – as opposed to moving forward in a way that fosters both your company and your account become increasingly valuable to each other for long-term success.

Key Steps for Successful Large Account Engagement

1. Go Deep

a. Analyze their market including current state, issues, changes (current and future), and any disruptors on the horizon.

b. Learn how they are currently handling these market/business imperatives. What initiatives are in play to address the most important ones?

c. What are the top 3-5 main strategic objectives/initiatives the account has set for itself?

2. Orient Yourself

a. Conduct a review of the account’s buying patterns and installed products/services to determine trends, pattern and gaps you might fill that directly address the account’s key imperatives and initiatives.

b. What kind of opportunities are currently in the pipeline for this account? More of the same, or are there any new or strategically significant factors that you might build on?

3. Get Personal

a. What key account relationships exist and can be leveraged going forward?

b. What relationships need work or are damaged and need repair?

c. Who are the decision makers, recommenders and influencers for the initiatives you are aiming at? Are you connected to all of them?

d. What new relationships do you need to build within the account to help further the account’s objectives?

4. Gather the Village

a. Define and include all your staff (not just sales and marketing) that will directly impact the account’s experience with your organization and include them in the planning process.

b. Give team members a clear path on how they can participate and where/how you want their insights. You need both their experience with the account, their brains for ideas and solutions, and their buy-in.

5. Plan for Success

a. Give each participant in the account team some advance work/research to bring to the table at a planning event. The work done out of the room has a direct impact on the work that will be accomplished in the room.

b. Invest in an objective facilitator who can get your account team through the process efficiently, and stop you from drinking your own Kool-Aid, or worse yet, spilling it all over your plan.

c. Make sure that the strategy has been fully developed and agreed to, before moving to the tactical elements of the account plan.

d. Include the account’s key players in the process. It doesn’t necessarily have to be from the very beginning – but before the strategy gels, get them involved.

5. Plan the Work & Work the Plan

a. Develop a targeted value proposition and story for each key initiative you select for the account. A market-of-one means making sure the story that you tell is addressed directly to those individuals in the account with ownership of the initiative(s).

b. Create a campaign plan that will serve up this new messaging with the right set of tailored content assets at each stage of the buyer’s journey. Tailored content with a story that to the key is directed at the right people makes for campaigns that directly impact account activity.

c. Be sure to build in all the steps of an real account plan launch and roll-out, and regular account reviews with a process that drives action and is not a drag on execution.

d. Make sure that the account plan moves with you through the plan period. If you have to dust it off even once, it’s clear that you are winging it again. Go back to the plan – does it need an update or do you have to get everyone back on track – or both?

e. Include plan reviews as a key part of your regular monthly or quarterly business reviews. Is your strategy in tune with current trends and customer direction? Any changes needed? Make sure you weave them in, or rip and replace where necessary.

So instead of just diving in to your major account planning process, consider an integrated marketing and sales approach to really drive account engagement. Finally, don’t just review revenue results to determine if the account plan is working. Look at progression along several elements – in relationships, opportunities, and direct engagement within the account. A 360-degree view of the account’s progress turns into a road map that drives account satisfaction and repeatable revenue growth.

Find out more about what buyers really want in a targeted value proposition to really set the stage for large account success. Download the infographic here.

KA blogMajor accounts, be they global or national, require special handling for organizations to develop a deep enough understanding that drives business across the organization.  Thinking about the account as a market of one and approaching it from that standpoint by both your marketing and sales team is the best way to uncover, tailor, and deliver value that deepens the relationship and drives revenue.

 

Click here to read more…

The Twelve Days of Prospecting

partridge-in-pear-tree-fi

To keep your business pipeline healthy all year long, prospecting for new gigs is a necessity.  In keeping with the holiday season, KiteDesk.com has posted my article, The 12 Days of Prospecting.  In it, I discuss a variety of processes, tips, and suggestions for successfully building your customer base.  These are twelve strategies that you can begin to incorporate today, which will serve you well in the upcoming year!

Read the entire post here!

Sales Leads: 3 Great Paths to Conversion

KiteDesk1

                                              (image: KiteDesk.com)

 

The path to closing a deal with a big-time prospect is never a sure thing. However, the probability of converting a sales lead increases the more qualified, simplified, and decision proof you can make your buyer’s journey.  For some tactics on how to make this happen, please read my recent post on this topic, on KiteDesk’s blog!

Click here to read more…

The Missing Piece in Content Marketing

Lisa Dennis Content Marketing“While content marketing is one of the most effective and interesting marketing tactics to come down the pike, I have to confess that I have a bone to pick with it.  Content marketing isn’t only about marketing.  While marketers have all the responsibility for strategy, creation and execution, which is no small thing, there is another very important aspect that’s missing…”

I recently wrote this while pondering the strengths and weaknesses of content marketing, and why it has not been fully embraced by sales people.  I came up with a few ideas on the matter that I’d like to share with you.

Click here to read my entire article on TechTarget’s Mktr2Mktr site.  Thanks!

How Social is Your Value Proposition?

We are told not to “sell,” per se, on social media.  What we are supposed to do is use it as a means of influencing, educating, informing and broadening the conversation.

Please read my recent blog post on this topic on Tech Target’s Mktr2Mktr page.

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