Category Archives: Business

The Power of Buyer Relevance

Understanding that your value proposition must be relevant to your buyers’ needs is a long way from actually creating a value proposition that fulfills all the needs of all the buyers throughout all stages of their buying journey. Many variables come into play at different stages, and your sales team needs to be equipped with information about how it all works and what messages belong in the playbook at each stage. Your first job is to gather information on all the key areas of importance.  But before you start to put any words into the mouths of your sellers, you need to do some research.

You need to hear the buyer’s point-of-view – their words, right out of their own mouths.  But you also need to do some internal research. It’s a good idea to learn what your own people think your value proposition is right now. Talk with your marketing, sales, customer service, and product management people. I promise you, that will be enlightening! The combination of external and internal research will provide a solid foundation for you to begin developing your value proposition. Here is some more detail on each of these areas.

Interview Your Top Sales People

Hold a round table discussion with your sales leaders, to get their “selling” language and perspectives on the table. The better questions you ask them, the better answers you will get.  Here are some of the types of questions you should be discussing with your sales leaders:

  • What do customers say they need when they are talking about your products or services?
  • What do customers say they do NOT need?
  • What matters to your customers when they are considering your type of offering?
  • What are the words and phrases that they use to describe their business issues and problem symptoms?
  • How do they describe the outcomes or solutions that they are seeking?
  • What aspects of your product or service offerings do they like?
  • What types of things do they want more of, and which areas do they feel need improvements?
  • What is missing from your product or service offering?
  • Are there any areas where you think the company falls short?
  • In what areas do they seem to prefer your competitors?
  • In what areas do they give you high marks?
  • What do they simply put up with because they can’t get anything better?
  • How deep do you feel your existing customer’s loyalty is?
  • How do customers describe or define your products and services, and what words do they use?
  • What are they waiting for you to change or improve?

Answers to these questions may prove illuminating to all involved. You should capture all of this feedback from your sales team and be sure to share the results with them.  But don’t stop there – you’re just getting started! 

Mine Customer Service and Support

In many organizations, Sales gets the customers in the door, but Customer Service keeps them there.  So, it makes sense to do the same type of roundtable with some key reps from customer service and support, both inside and field support people, if you have them. Service staff often knows a LOT of information about the customer experience that sales does not. This can uncover common challenges they may be having, product or service misconceptions or issues, and much more.

Often customer service is overlooked for this kind of research because often there is a misconception that it may all be about bad news. Quite the contrary! Ask them for trouble tickets or chat room dialogs that reveal language customers use when describing your products and services. How do they describe their difficulties, and what kind of changes do the service people make for them? This will help you get closer and closer into the lives of your customers who actually interact with your products or services on a daily basis. Use those questions listed above, as many of them will also be relevant for conversations with your service people as well.

Conduct Focus Groups with Customers 

If you can afford it, focus groups are an excellent way to get at the business issues that your customers are trying to resolve. It’s not always a problem, you know. Maybe they are looking to solve problems, but maybe they come to you to gain advantages of speed or product innovation or fantastic customer service. A focus group allows you to listen in as they discuss their business issues. The interactions that focus group members have with each other can uncover a lot of very important and relevant attitudes, understandings, misconceptions, competitive insights, desires, needs and language that would be extremely helpful as you begin to construct your value proposition “story.”

Survey or Interview Key Customer Groups (New, Happy, & Former)

As an alternative to a focus group, or in addition to it, you can survey or do telephone interviews of your customers. It is most helpful to do this with a mix of brand-new customers, happy current customers, and former customers. This will yield a bounty of priceless information in the buyers’ own language. Understanding why a new customer just made a decision in your favor can give key insights into the actual buying decision while it is still fresh. Understanding what makes your longer-term customers happy is also crucial information to gather.

And finally, to achieve a 360-degree view of your customers’ experience and thoughts, it can be extremely revealing to get input from customers who have left you and moved on to competitors or to an internal solution.  Why exactly did they leave?  What was the compelling event?  How did a competitor convince them to move to a different option?  Or did we do something to chase them away?

In each of these groups, be sure to sample people from each of your decision-maker titles as well as a couple of key influencer titles.  In every engagement with my clients, I always conduct telephone interviews with several of their customers from each group as a core component of value proposition research. I’ve included a list of the questions I use with each specific group — feel free to use them yourself!

Client Interview Questions

For NEW clients:

  1. Can you share with me why you were considering a new vendor in this area?  What needs or challenges were you focused on?
  2. What were the main drivers of your decision to select our company?
  3. How did they compare with the other companies you considered?
  4. What was the most important factor for you that made them your choice?
  5. In your opinion, what truly differentiated our company from the other vendors you considered?
  6. How did you become acquainted with our company?
  7. If it was a referral – from whom, and how did your experience compare to what the referring party shared with you about the company?

For CURRENT HAPPY clients:

  1. What do you feel are the main areas of value provided by your relationship with our company to support your needs?
  2. What are the core reasons that your partnership with them works for your organization?
  3. Can you share with me what you think their value proposition is, from your point of view?
  4. If someone you knew was looking for a vendor to provide [PRODUCT OR SERVICE AREA] – would you recommend our company?  If yes, why?  If no, why not?
  5. What should other companies who may be looking for a vendor to provide [PRODUCT OR SERVICE AREA] absolutely know about our company during the decision process?
  6. In your opinion, what differentiates our company from other similar vendors out there?

For FORMER clients:

  1. How long did you work with our company?  What value did they bring to your organization during that time?
  2. Given that you made a choice to move to a different vendor, what changed in your thinking or experience that made you switch?
  3. What are the most important drivers of value to you in working with a vendor who provides [PRODUCT OR SERVICE AREA]?
  4. Can you share with me what you think your current provider’s value proposition is for your organization?
  5. What makes them different or stand out from our company in your opinion?
  6. What would have made the difference for you to consider keeping our company as your vendor?

So, to recap, we have internal interviews, external testimonials, customer questions, and a competitive messaging scan.  This gives us a great deal of solid information for us to use as we are starting out to build our value proposition. It’s not everything that we need, but it’s a lot! The final type of external research that you should have is plain old market research on your target market(s). If you haven’t updated that recently, now’s a good time to do so.

Overall, when it comes to building a buyer-focused value proposition, I strongly believe you should never start with a blank piece of paper.  If you do, you will end up with only an “inside-out” value proposition which has a very low likelihood of resonating with an “outside” prospect. Instead, start with everything you know about what’s already in the buyer’s mind. Speak their language. Address their concerns.

I have more to share! Take a look at my Value Prop Masterclass BrightTALK session: The Anatomy of a Buyer-Focused Value Proposition.
I think you’ll find some great info to help you refine your approach. Want to talk it through with me? Contact me at Ldennis@knowledgence.com.

Your Value Prop Needs a Platform

Most of us experience a value prop as essentially a tag line or an elevator pitch. Short, sweet, to the point. Because that is our daily experience as buyers, the assumption is that this IS what a value prop should look like. The challenge is that it’s really, really hard to create content and sales conversations when the source material is only 3 or 4 words long or just a single sentence. A tag line and an elevator pitch are just a distillation of the overall message. There is a large amount of information involved in creating a complete value prop. To capture and organize this information, I created the Value Proposition Platform™, a two-page summary of all the key elements needed to fully develop and enable a strong and consistent message. It serves as both a blueprint and a framework for successful interactions with prospective buyers.

How Many Value Props Do I need?

Typically, businesses require a main value proposition, focused on a flagship product or service offering with a primary target audience. But there is a very good chance that we may also need to fine-tune that message for other targets, and for different industries as well. The business issues could be different; the language or market imperatives could be different. Therefore, we need to be prepared to take our “foundational” value proposition and create additional versions as needed. We don’t want (or need) to recreate the wheel each time. We’ll produce a similar format for each version that we need. The Value Proposition Platform helps keep us on point and organizes our approach to interaction – verbally, digitally, and in print – with prospects.

There are three sections to the Value Proposition Platform. The first section defines your target, the second articulates your value proposition statement, and the third shows quantification of your claims with documented proof. Each of these sections have important, well-defined sub-sections. It is this type of organization that gives your value proposition its strength.

Section 1: Defining Your Target

The first section begins with a focus on the business SECTOR at which we are aiming, and it identifies our prospect’s primary industry and industry segments for the value proposition.

  • For the purposes of this article, let’s call the overall sector “Technology.”
  • Within that sector, there is a plethora of industries; we’ll call our primary industry “Information Technology / B2B companies.”
  • Under that industry’s huge umbrella, there are an enormous number of segments; we are aiming directly at segments such as:
    • Technology
    • Software (SaaS)
    • Storage & peripherals
    • Manufacturing

If you have product or service offerings aimed at additional industries, it is imperative to create additional versions of the Value Proposition Platform to ensure that your messaging is still industry- and segment-relevant. But by being that specific, you are demonstrating your company’s knowledge of the industry that the prospect is in. This is the first step in engagement – by demonstrating that you know and understand their markets.

The next part is focused on the TARGETS at which we are aiming, identified by the titles of key decision makers as well as those who typically influence their decisions at companies in these industry segments. For example, at the top of any such list will be the person “in charge,” be it the CEO or the business owner. Then, there are the VPs & Directors of the departments that your product or service impacts. The influencers? Certainly, the head of Finance will want to weigh in on any significant purchase. IT managers and production managers may also be involved, whether overtly or covertly. It is important to understand that your value proposition is just not aimed at the person who signs the contract. You are communicating with a team of people. This means that you will need to potentially tweak your value prop when you are aiming at widely different targets.  Think CMO and CFO as an example.

The next piece identifies key BUSINESS ISSUES that we know are significant to the decision-makers and influencers, and that are also relevant to our offering. All business issues must be discussed from the point of view of the target audience. This section is not about the issues that our product or service solves. An outside-in perspective is needed here – outside of our company, from inside of their world, and in their language. These issues can be as basic as “Our sales results aren’t good enough” or as complex as “We lack a standardized and automated process to collect mentions in media – we currently use multiple systems and individual research.”  The point is, you have to know exactly what hurts in order to address their pain.

Combined, the Sector, Targets, and Business Issues help us identify the value proposition audience. To achieve true relevance, we must be crystal clear in this section, and we must learn the nature of the issues, goals, or problems this audience seeks to solve.

Section 2: Value Proposition Statement

Now we get to the Value Proposition Statement itself. This section is also in three parts.

First is The Buyer Objective. This is a statement (in the words of the buyers) about something that they hope to accomplish, or are struggling with, or need to address in their own business. First brainstorm the needs, issues, challenges and problems they face.  Keep in mind that this has to be from their point of view. Beware of trying to solve those problems by listing them as things “they need to do.” This must be completely from the buyer’s viewpoint, in the buyer’s language. This statement is entirely about them.

But the next section is our turn! Time to articulate The Company Offer, a clear and concise statement of our product / service that specifically addresses the Buyer Objective statement. The offer is a response to the needs stated in the Buyer Objective statement. This is our first opportunity to connect the buyer’s needs to our offer. It is also very important that our offer is communicated in their language, rather than using internal company-speak.

The “kicker” to your offer should be The Differentiator, at least one provable point of differentiation from your key competitors that is both relevant and important to your buyers’ objectives. At the same time, keep in mind that more differentiators do not automatically equate to greater value.  Quality over quantity; relevance and proof are critical to this section.

Identify Value Drivers

The final segment of the platform lists three – five primary Value Drivers, conceptual points that are typically top-of-mind for the buyers which drive them to action. Every potential buyer has some drivers that will guide their purchasing behavior. We’re talking about very basic concepts that typically become very important issues to business leaders. Some examples are:

  • Ease of use
  • Increased revenue
  • Faster time to market
  • Decreased cost
  • Increased profitability
  • Improved efficiency
  • Increased market share

Rest assured, there will also be other value drivers that are directly related and highly specific to their business needs that you may not have yet discovered. One or more of these drivers will most likely affect the target’s thinking about what they need to accomplish, and how they are going to get there. Always be on the lookout for the ones that make your buyers tick. Using this information wisely allows us to get directly to the heart of a reason to buy. It also demonstrates that we “get it,” in terms of the buyers’ needs, which gives us credibility. These drivers allow us to extend, validate and demonstrate our differentiation.

As we build our offer around these value drivers, we need to provide Quantification of our claims. Buyers will pay attention and respond when there is clear and objective back-up to our claims. No vague or nebulous terms here! None of this “We’ll save you money!” crap… No, if you want to make a claim, back it up. How about “We’ll save you 25% over the first 12 months.” Formulate a way to truthfully quantify the impact that the prospect can expect after signing up with your company. If you can’t quantify it, then the claim is generic and not impactful enough for a buyer to consider.

And most importantly, show some Proof. Without proof, your claims are empty. Phrases like “We’re the only one in the market” ring kind of hollow unless you can point to some reputable testimonials, expert sources, and other credible and objective third-party validation. Industry awards, positive media recognition, sponsorships, that kind of thing. This is not a place to be blowing your own horn; you want other people blowing their horns for you.

Perhaps one of the reasons that buyers have commandeered the sales process over the past several years is that they have not been able to rely on vendors to deliver relevance across the range of information that they provide. It all starts with the Value Proposition Platform, which gives the first real indicator of whether we are tuned in and communicating in a way that resonates with the buyers’ reality. Given that most companies’ value propositions have inherent weaknesses, you can clearly shine a light on differentiation by crafting your value proposition using this organized, buyer-centric platform approach.

You want to know more about it?  Reach out! I’d love to talk!

Is Your Value Proposition a Cure for Insomnia?

Throughout my career in marketing and sales, I have spent considerable time trying to craft messaging that would appeal to targeted audiences, both internal and external. And I’ve got to admit, it is not always easy to make some of this stuff interesting!  In fact, I often read some old value props when insomnia hits – works like a charm.

Unfortunately, they were not written to put people to sleep. So how DO you tune your message for buyers so they don’t just yawn?  The first step is understanding what buyers are seeking in marketing and sales messaging – and to understand what the real impact is on their decision making when they are faced with a value proposition that is average.

To begin with, there is typically a mixed understanding between marketing and sales of what the term “value proposition” truly means. This is our first hurdle: how do we get a clear and consistent message out there if sales people are saying this, marketing is saying that, and senior staff and subject matter experts are saying something else?

First Do a Reality Check on your Message

When I kick-off a messaging project, I ask everybody involved to write on a piece of paper their version of the organization’s value prop. Then we share everyone’s answers. It is almost always an eye-opener to hear what comes back! Some of it isn’t even recognizable as representative of the core offering.  Most of it ends up being about the features of the offering – presented as if they were benefits, in and of themselves.  That, my friends, is the standard for value propositions today.  And the sad truth is that this “standard” makes your buyers YAWN. It’s only been done by every business for the last forever. I think it is way past time for a better approach!

If the standard doesn’t work anymore, how do we go about finding the right value proposition message? As marketers, our focus is often centered on the product or service first, and then on the buyer. I mean, the company that provides the product or service is the one that pays our salary, right?

The thing is, nowadays, buyers don’t want to hear so much about features/benefits – they know that stuff already! They have already looked at your website, downloaded your product sheets, talked to their peers, looked at industry information. When they are ready to talk to you, they want to talk about VALUE – how is your offer, with all the afore-mentioned features/benefits, going to deliver value to their business?  And exactly what is the nature of that value.

Because buyers are human, they care much more about themselves and their concerns than they do about you and all the features of your product or service. So, unsurprisingly, a parade of features and benefits is going to induce yawns from your prospects and doodles on their notepads. Now you, as a marketer, have a decision to make in terms of whether your value proposition is going to be all about the product/service, or all about the buyer. Hint: this really should not be a tough decision.

Do Value Props Still Matter to Buyers?

Not long ago my company, Knowledgence Associates, did some research in partnership with IDG Connect (the demand generation division of International Data Group, the world’s largest technology media company) which focused on how buyers view and use value propositions in their buying process. We surveyed 300 buying team members involved in technology/service-related purchase decisions, out of which 78% of the survey respondents were decision makers. (You can see highlights of the research by downloading the infographic here.) Their responses demonstrate a palpable disconnect between what is frequently delivered in value propositions and what informed buyers need to see.

Here is one specific point that jumps out – most value propositions invoke indifference because they don’t focus on what the buyer is focused on. Most value props are geared to sell what the seller wants to sell, not what the buyer wants to buy. Let’s examine that strategy a bit.

Regarding specific vendor offers that they were considering, buyers were asked to assess the lowest and the highest value proposition relevance they encountered. The results were eye-opening! The highest level of relevance was a mere 71%, while the lowest was 30%. Wow. Think about this. We, as marketers, are putting buyers to sleep with cookie-cutter val props!

But chew on this…If the best thing that’s out there is only 71% pertinent to an interested buyer, then there is a golden opportunity to stand out for anybody whose value proposition hits above and beyond that average level of relevance! To underscore that point, a full 85% of the respondents said that those vendors offering the most relevant value propositions become their favorites during the purchase decision process. This is proof of the importance of knowing your target’s business and challenges before trying to sell them something.

Shifting Message Focus is Step One

You want to get on the buyer’s short list?  Focus first on relevance! You want to put the buyer to sleep? Then continue to prattle on about your features and benefits. Of course your product or service itself is important. But what you say about it, and how and when you say it to the buyer, is crucial. From the get-go, you need to shift your focus from your product to the buyer. It means clearly presenting value in their terms first, before describing details of your offering. Relevance is the jolt of caffeine that makes the most bored buyers snap to attention!

While this may sound obvious, I can tell you from first hand experience that is hard because by definition our focus as marketers and seller is on our offering. Making the switch is not easy.

Wondering how to flip that switch?

Book a short call with me and I will share some ideas to help you get started. My calendar is here, and there is no obligation at all. I’d love to see your value proposition and chat about it – it’s all part of my mission to help marketers and sellers speak more impactfully to their buyers. Hope to hear from you!

 

What Flavor of Value Proposition is best?

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:

  • this is what we make
  • it has a bunch of cool stuff
  • we can make you a good deal

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:

  • they give you that, but we give you this
  • they charge that, but we charge less than that
  • they make promises, but we deliver results

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:

  • strong knowledge of prospect’s business & industry
  • an understanding of prospect’s business “pain”
  • a focus on solutions rather than details of an offer

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.

Here’s the Value Prop – Now Go Talk to Prospects!

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.

  • What are the sales people hearing from customers and prospects about their most important challenges and concerns?
  • What are customers and prospects really saying about those issues?
  • What sort of value propositions for similar offerings are they seeing in the field?

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!

Inside-Out or Outside-In

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:

  1. A product’s features and benefits, alone, were not enough to convince our sales people that it was worth their time, and their customers’ time.
  2. The prospects and customers were more interested in how a product could help them directly address their problems or issues, than they were in its newest features and benefits. They wanted to talk about what the product “does” for them – how it changes their business or improves their results, how it impacted them positively.

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:

  • Saleswanted to understand what challenge, goal, or problem the product addressed, and to be able to communicate how the product can solve or address it, using the customer’s terminology.  Some examples of how other firms were using it would greatly assist in painting that picture.
  • Prospects wanted to understand exactly what challenge, goal, or problem the product addressed, how does it match up to their own needs, and how to use the product to accomplish it.
  • Customers wanted to understand how the product was still relevant to their needs, and if there were any upgrades or changes, how that would impact how they used the product currently.

The 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.

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 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:

  • 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 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!

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

 

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