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:
- A product’s features and benefits, alone, were not enough to convince our salespeople that it was worth their time, and their customers’ time.
- 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:
- Sales wanted 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.