Category Archives: Business

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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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.

Is Your Pitch Pitchy? Why Reading Aloud Works

ReadingAloud

Please check out my new blog post regarding the importance of reading your writing aloud before putting it front of your customer’s eyes, recently posted on Pipeliner CRM’s blog.

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.

customer

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.

4 Reasons I Sell #LikeAGirl

This past week I read an amazing blog post from my colleague Jill Konrath:  I Sell #LikeAGirl and I’m Proud of It.  As always, she is both insightful and SPOT ON with the truths about selling in today’s environment.LikeAGirl

It got me thinking about where the discipline of sales is going, and what we as #likeagirl sellers bring to the table. Not only do I think this is a very important statement for women sellers, but it has the potential to be a wake-up call for the rest of sales people out there. Are you ready?

My introduction to selling started when I was a product manager.  I had the bad luck of being in charge of the “dog” product in my company – the product that no one cared about, or understood, or thought was valuable.   Except me.  If I was going to be successful, I needed to shift the sales team’s attitude about the product.   In my head, the “dog” product needed to become “the little product that could.”   (For the uninitiated, this harks back to one of my favorite children’s stories:  The Little Engine That Could).  To get my sales team to sell this product, I needed to do two things:

  1. Figure out and clearly communicate why it was valuable to our top clients who bought it religiously every year (most of our top 100 client list).
  2. I had to sell those concepts to our sales force. Every quarterly sales meeting, the product managers (all women) trooped in and usually got challenged (and sometimes beat up) by the sales team.  This was my opportunity every three months to sell to my hardest audience – my own sales guys.
I sell #LikeAGirl because I’m CURIOUS.  (TWEET THIS!)

I knew that I had to make the sellers believe in the product’s potential. I also knew that it was going to be heavy lifting.  What would it take?  So curiosity became the first step in my strategy.  I picked a couple of sales guys I knew I could talk to, and asked them about their challenges out there.  What was missing? How could we do a better job of helping them sell?   I didn’t even mention my product in those early conversations. I had already pitched my brains out to them previously with little result.   It was time to walk in their shoes and see it from their point of view. I learned a lot from these two guys.  I asked them questions, then I shut up and listened. Then I listened some more.

I sell #LikeAGirl because I’m OPEN.  (TWEET THIS!)

One of my clients called and wanted to meet to talk about how to use the product for a few different initiatives they were considering.  They were based in New York, so I set up the meeting and invited our New York sales executive to join me.  I met him on Fifth Avenue, and up to the client’s office we went. I asked the client to share their ideas with us – so we could get a feel for what they wanted to do.  Ten minutes into it, the sales executive interrupted them and asked, “Why do you use this product anyway, we have much better options that would meet your needs better.”  Everyone in the room was quiet.  This was the moment to be open, not defensive.  So I said, “It might be a good idea to look at other options, but let’s be sure we hear everything that you’re thinking about first.”    The client looked at him, looked at me – and picked up where he left off.  Let me just sum up the situation:  My own sales guy threw my product under the bus…with me sitting there…in front of the client. Then once the client finished talking about their needs, they started explaining to my sales guy why the product was valuable for them.

I sell #LikeAGirl because I’m RESILIENT.   (TWEET THIS!)

After the client was finished speaking, I moved the discussion to how my product, and others we offered might best address their needs.  My sales executive focused on higher ticket, sexier products. Still managing the urge to get defensive or adversarial, I focused on being resilient.   I let him pitch other options and participated in comparing and contrasting them to see which would be the best fit.  We figured out next steps and closed the meeting.   On the way out, the sales executive said to me, “Yeah, they need something much better than what they have been using (my product).  I’ll follow-up with them and take care of it. You can take it off your plate.”  Then he walked away and left me there. I flew home discouraged but not finished. I needed to think through the situation some more.  Two days later, I got a call to come to our president’s office.  I walk in, and there is the sales executive.  The client had called the president and told him that he did not want  that guy in his office ever again.  He said he was arrogant, rude, and clearly didn’t know anything about his business.  I had to participate in a debrief on what actually happened in that meeting – with the sales guy in the room. I laid it out diplomatically, and didn’t flinch when the sales executive trashed my product in the course of the discussion. The president ultimately sent a letter of apology and made the situation right.

I sell #LikeAGirl because I’m TIRELESS.   (TWEET THIS!)

The client kept my product, and also purchased a subscription to one more from another product line.  I fielded several calls from them about how to use both products together.  I went to the support team for the other product and asked for their help.  They spent about an hour with me on what the product did, but told me they couldn’t go any further because they didn’t provide support for my product. So I sat down, and figured it out myself – what was the best way to balance and integrate the use of both so the customer’s specific and unusual needs could be met.  I put together a process and a demo and did a webinar for the client’s team to show them the possibility.  And it worked.  Later that quarter I got a customer service award based on the letter that the client sent our president outlining the entire set of experiences they had in both the sales and service of their account for these two products.  Net results:  we increased their purchase from one annual subscription to a second subscription, more than doubling monthly revenue for 12 months – and we kept the client happy.

So here it is:  customers today want a partner, not a sales person, not an adversary, not a stalker.  Think about selling #LikeAGirl even if it is outside of your traditional comfort zone.  It will not only impact your sales results, but also increase customer satisfaction in a big way.

Lisa Dennis
Email:    LDennis@knowledgence.com
Twitter: @Knowledgence

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