The 5 Step Value Proposition Check-Up

Not sure that your value proposition is really delivering the message that you intend?  So many of us in marketing and sales are expected to create value propositions, but the majority of us have never received any kind of training on how to do it effectively.  Here’s a quick check-up that can help you identify points at which you can refine your value proposition so that it is truly ready for customer engagement.



Step 1 – What is it about?

Does the value proposition focus on your product or services, or is the focus on the potential customers’ need, challenge or pain?  Your targets are short on time and patience, so putting the focus on your own company, rather than their issues leaves them to figure out for themselves if you are relevant.  I’m sure you can guess which of the 2 choices above will be more attractive to them.

Step 2 – Who is it addressing?

Many value propositions try to cover multiple target audiences.  Yet, one-size-fits all usually fits no one. So if I was your prospect, could I easily tell by reading or hearing your value prop if it is addressed to me specifically?  If you are thinking that you have to have a broad one because you have multiple targets, think again.  Consider developing a core one, and then multiple targeted value propositions that speak to key players in the buying decision.

Step 3 – Is it Understandable?

Use of acronyms, technical language, internal jargon, and “marketing speak” can completely derail the clarity of the message you are trying to drive home.  This is a frequent issue that many value propositions fall prey to.  Keep it clear, crisp, and in customer language.  If your prospects have to translate it to understand – they won’t.

Step 4 – Is it Provable?

The very essence of a value proposition is about making a “claim” of value.  Given that the claim is coming from your company, most buyers will automatically be skeptical.  You’re trying to sell them something, after all.  So consider offering objective, third party (i.e. not YOU) proof that the value delivered is real.  Testimonials, case studies, survey results, research results, analyst reviews. No proof?  Get some or your value proposition will be just words on a page.

Step 5 – Is it Quantifiable?

Many value propositions include key attributes such as increased productivity, lowered costs, additional revenue, and the like.  There are a handful of key buyer imperatives that your prospects are typically looking for.  The sticking point is that if you include an imperative, you need to put a stake in the ground and tell me by how much.  The amount or % that your offer delivers is key to putting the oomph into your statement.  Afraid to actually use a number or %?  Then reconsider the inclusion of that imperative.  If you can’t make it specific and real, then it’s just a claim like millions of others.

By now, you should be getting a good idea on the strengths and weaknesses of your current value proposition.  Resist the urge to start over from scratch.  Instead really think through where you can make improvements that will speak directly to the customer.  The value proposition as a marketing and sales tool can be thought of, metaphorically, as a mirror.  When your prospect looks in that mirror – make sure it’s their face they see, and they will step forward.  Differentiate yourself as a vendor by making it all about them.

— Lisa Dennis

Sales VPs Have to Know How to Work with Their CEOs

thinkingI found this article the other day, and felt it was worth sharing with you.

It discusses a great guide for both new and existing sales leaders on how to build the right relationship with their CEO.  Thanks, Greg Alexander, of Benchmark Index for putting this out there.

If your CEO is from finance or operations – you need this guide!

Gaining the CEO’s Trust

Just read an interesting blog post on about why CEOs don’t trust marketing.

Netting it out, they trust sales and finance exponentially because they are measureable – and speak the language of CEOs.  Marketing needs to be able to do the same. business-metrics

So how does one go about that?  KISSmetrics offers 7 Keys to Success in 2014 that marketing can use to up the ante and deliver the information CEOs need to hear.  In particular, there are 3 keys that I think are really relevant to increase credibility and effectiveness in communicating with your CEO.

The 3 Keys that I really like are

#1 – Create a Plan that includes digital marketing,

#6 – Set and Maintain a Strategy, and

#3 – Set manageable objectives and KPIs (in that order).

Sales and finance have got it nailed when it comes down to developing, delivering and articulating a plan with relevant and timely updates.  We in marketing need to bake in that same approach to how we internally communicate with the CEO and the rest of the senior management team. I believe building a marketing operational framework that integrates with Sales’ approach, and ties into how finance reports revenue is key to increasing trust and credibility.

All 7 keys are good – but if you focus on these 3, I think you’ll make headway with your CEO in 2014.

— Lisa Dennis

The Bard of the Boardroom

Last week I attended a Vistage event in Boston, the annual All City event.  For those of you not familiar with the group, Vistage provides professionally facilitated, private advisory groups for CEOs, executives and business owners.  The event was held at The State Room (formerly the Bay Tower Room), a great venue with one of the best views in Boston.  One of the speakers was David Whyte , a poet, author, and organizational thinker.  He is the leader of the Institute for Conversational Leadership.

shakespeare_businessWhat is intriguing to me is that he is a poet, through and through.  And he has not only been successful at the craft, but he has been able to extend it into other things, and into the business world.  Mostly, I’m jealous – because what I wanted from a very early age was to be a poet.  I started writing in elementary school, and sent out my first poem to a publication when I was in 7th grade.  I was a poetry major in college, co-edited the college literary magazine, and wrote a volume of poetry for my college thesis.  I’m jealous because he took his poetry and extended it. I wasn’t confident enough, or clear enough, about what my life should be to keep the poetry front and center.  So I got a “real” job, got into marketing, went to business school, and basically wrote poetry behind all that for years and years and years.

I have heard hundreds of speakers, so it’s rare that I’m blown away by someone.  I had heard about Whyte many years ago, but had never had the opportunity to hear him speak.  He began his talk by reciting a piece of Shakespeare – and then he repeated it – beautifully, and powerfully delivered.  Then he broke it down sentence by sentence and provided the organizational context.  The room was full of CEOs, senior executives, and business owners – and you could hear a pin drop.  Everyone was riveted!  I love Shakespeare, so not an unnatural reaction for me.  But to see the entire room hang on his every word was incredible.   Poetry and business….really?  Yes.  Really.

A dynamic speaker, Whyte doesn’t lecture but recites dozens of stories and poems, including some of his own, to help bring to life the experience and emotion of change. Whyte says such poems help managers and other employees to rethink their daily habits and assumptions, thus stirring up some creative juices. One senior executive: “My first reaction was: What a waste of time,” he says. “I thought to myself, what could a poet possibly contribute?” But the executive now says that Whyte “helped us to think differently than we ever had before. We had to look inside ourselves.”

                                                                                            -Business Week

Check out this Harvard Business Review article, “A Larger Language for Business,” which is an interview that shares his approach and how poetry enlarges and simplifies the conversations we all need to have.  One of the things Whyte said during his talk was,Poetry is often the art of overhearing yourself say things you didn’t know you knew.”  That really resonated for the poet in me.

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There is nothing quite like that kind of discovery when you write. In a clear, honest, open, collaborative conversation the exact same thing can happen.  I think that’s the connection point between Whyte’s orientation and leadership.  And for the first time ever, I am envious of someone else’s career – in a good way.

— Lisa Dennis

Enabling Selling with Thought Leadership

I attended the ITSMA annual conference last week in Cambridge, MA.  One of the major themes across the event was sales enablement, and how Marketing can play an important role there.   As a senior associate with ITSMA, I had the privilege of participating in a series of 1-on-1 meetings with various ITSMA members.  I was able to participate in some great conversations about challenges and opportunities across a broad range of technology companies!

One of the recurring challenges I heard was about the use of thought leadership content by sales teams.  The key question that came up multiple times was “How do I get the sales team to engage and use the thought leadership content that we create?”

Using thought leadership as a tool for sales is a multi-pronged effort.  Just creating the content and sending it over to them is largely ineffective – as many of these folks shared with me.  There is too much content already out there, and the most limited resource that a sales person has is time.  So, if you think they are going to read it, and figure it out on their own how and when to use it, you’ll be very disappointed.

Here is a great graphic done by Profitable Channels about “How Content Supports a Modern Selling System.”  (click on link for larger view)

Where I think this question gets answered is on the top half of the diagram.  What we ended up talking about in each of the conversations I had was the topic of Delivery.  My question back to them was: how are you delivering this content to the sales force?  Are you giving them what they need to actually engage and use the content?

Some of the key questions that need to be addressed are as follows:

  1. Can they find the content asset quickly and easily, or is it buried in a network portal somewhere?
  2. Is the content asset enabled across multiple devices (projector, flat screen, tables, smart phones, laptops)? One size fits no one!
  3. Have you provided an ABSTRACT of the content that gives them the following:
    • Short summary of the top 3 major points in the piece
    • 2 – 3 good discussion questions that a rep can use to engage the prospect or customer about the piece
    • Links to a follow-up content asset so a sales rep can serve up what comes next (i.e. webinar, invite to an event, additional piece of content, podcast, video, etc.), and continue to provide value and drive further conversation.

For every piece of piece of thought leadership content you create, I bet you have a program or campaign planned to get it in the hands of your prospects and customers.  Marketers should also include creating a quick and easy campaign aimed directly at Sales to arm them with the three enablers listed above. Make selling with thought leadership easy.  Remember, they are not the consumers of your thought leadership content – but they can deliver it directly to a customer if you make it easy for them to use it.

— Lisa Dennis

“I’d Like to Add You to my Professional Network on LinkedIn”

sales handshake

Does that statement sound familiar?  I bet that you receive a number of these requests every month.   I got a handful of these this week – all using the exact same words and nothing more. The majority of requests were from people I did not know.  It’s great that they wanted to connect with me, but there is one major challenge with it.  I don’t know why.  I can look at their profile and decide if I want to be connected to that person or not – but I still don’t have any context for their request.

Let’s look at it another way.  Would you leave a voice mail message that simply stated “I’d like to add you to my professional network” and then just hang up?   Probably not!   So why do that using LinkedIn?

The highest and best use of LinkedIn is all about building professional relationships, not just playing a numbers game and collecting connections.  If I know you already, then just sending me the standard request is fine because we already have a relationship.  But if we don’t, then the standard request doesn’t deliver enough information to make an informed decision to connect.  The context of the request is actually very important.

So, let’s put our sales, or business development, or job seeker hat on and think about it from the point of view of the person you are trying to connect with.  What’s in it for them to connect to you?  If you let them answer that question by themselves, they could either guess or just dismiss it. Neither of  which is a great outcome.   If it isn’t important enough for you to spend a little time crafting a relevant request, it’s probably not important enough for them to try and figure out why you asked.

Here are some things to think about to craft a more engaging connection request:

  • Why specifically do you want to add me to your network?
  • What mutual interests might we have?
  • Have you read anything or heard anything about me that caused you to reach out?
  • Do you have any information, content, ideas, or referrals that might be of interest to me?
  • How would this connection benefit us both?

So before you send the standard request, step into the other person’s shoes. If they have to ask themselves why you want to connect, you’ve missed an opportunity to start a real conversation.

— Lisa Dennis

Business Models for Start-Ups Should be Grounded in Some Old School Principles

I read an interesting article the other day, about business models for start-ups.  While start-ups are not my typical client, I saw some ideas that I think could use a bit more fleshing out.  For instance, the article reads:

“The central area is the Value Proposition. In this section you must enter a value that you are determined to create and spread in the market, as well as the value you want to generate for your audience…”

I agree that the center of any new business model is a value proposition – but the reality is that there is a very mixed understanding of what that truly is.

valueIn particular, I’d like to suggest that figuring out what value you want to create FIRST, without identifying in advance the value needed/demanded from your audience is putting the cart before the horse.  Many a technology start-up has burned through their cash and shut their doors because they had a value proposition that spoke to the offer they wanted to sell, and not to what the buyer needed and was willing to buy. It’s the old “build it and they will come” theory which simply doesn’t work.

The value that the audience needs and desires comes before anything else in crafting a value proposition.  Then it should be translated into a modular platform that defines the value the audience is looking for, the specific offer(s) your organization delivers on the desired value, and finally, you need to define 1 or 2 rock solid differentiators that are quantifiable (with proof).   Smart start-ups will verticalize the value proposition into their different market segments as soon as possible so that it speaks in industry buyer language to specific industry issues, objectives, challenges.

So I agree that  business model  central area is the Value Proposition.  But it actually hinges on  a clear, well-articulated, customer-focused value proposition that is tailored by market and by audience.  Without it, the rest of the your business model canvas ends up being just busy work.

My best start-up advice is this:  start with customer, start with the customer, start with the customer.  Haven’t got a customer yet?  Vision who they should be – and work to define the value proposition they care enough to spend money on – then define/refine the offering.  Don’t waste your time and theirs on a cool idea that chases customers, rather than engages them up front.

So, what do you think is the rock that start-ups should be built upon?

— Lisa Dennis

How to Make B2B Content More Shareable

See on Scoop.itKnowledgence: Marketing and Sales

When it comes to creating content for a company blog smart social media promotion of your content is key. Here’s how to do it.

Lisa Dennis‘s insight:

Creating the right content has its challenges – and if you manage to deal with that, make sure you don’t shoot yourself in the foot by making it hard for your audiences to share it.  Part of creating good content is including in the design of the piece how it will be consumed and to offer a set of options for sharing to increase its reach. 

See on

Relationship Stages and Buying Stages

ImageSome thoughts after reading an interesting discussion of the challenges of relationship marketing in the B2B arena:

Putting the relationship back into B2B marketing for real means balancing the imperatives of both customer relationship stages and buying stages.

Often these two things are regarded as the same when in fact they are connected but quite different. A customer relationship develops over the course of multiple buying cycles. It is not driven by an individual deal, or a stream of nurtured content. It is the sum of a range of relevant and relationship stage-appropriate activities and actions.  It moves across a continuum of states: from attraction to cultivation, then engagement, and finally collaboration.

The strategy for driving real customer relationships requires a relationship marketing framework that delivers a means for assessing/benchmarking the relationship, and a strategic and tactical set of maps to plan the optimal mix of both marketing and sales activities, content, and approaches to drive movement across the lifecycle of the customer.

 Lisa Dennis

Great Saleswomen, Past and Present


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