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?

Creating a value proposition that speaks directly to buyer needs requires a lot of input, drafting, and testing. Once we’re happy with the proposition, we typically focus on figuring out how to connect with the actual buyers. We craft new messaging for the website, for product and sales collateral, and for social media. We embed it into presentation decks and call scripts. And then we throw it all over the wall to sales!

How are you delivering to sales?

Throughout my career, I’ve seen marketers spend enormous amounts of time crafting their value propositions but relatively little to ensuring that they become meaningful and useful tools to actually sell. I have been one of those marketers myself.

In order for sales people to utilize the full strength of a value proposition, they must first understand and buy into it themselves. If you just throw it at the sales team, it might come right back at you like a boomerang.

Ensuring sales buy-in

One of the most important jobs a sales person has day-to-day is communicating value to prospects and customers. Buyers already know the features and functions of your solutions. They’ve downloaded your content and talked with their peers. They do still want to talk to your sales people but they want a real conversation about value.

This means that creating effective strategies for delivering value propositions to sales requires addressing three essential questions:

  • How can we get meaningful input from sales when we’re developing a new value proposition?
  • How can we effectively test the value proposition with sales before we finalize it?
  • What tools do we need to create to help sales people use the value proposition in live conversation?

Absent strong alignment with sales on the answers to all three questions, the boomerang is likely to come back quickly.

Making Time for Input

As part of the initial gathering of information, research, and ideas for value prop development, gathering input from sales is critical. What are sales people hearing from customers and prospects about the most important challenges and concerns? How are customers and prospects actually talking about the issues? What value props for similar offerings are they seeing in the field?

Marketers generally appreciate all this, but too often say: “We’ll never get them to participate because it takes them out of the field. They won’t have time, they won’t respond, they won’t cooperate.” But when I’m working on value props I always push anyway for three important reasons.

  • Sales people actually do appreciate and respond to having their opinions asked. Nothing is more engaging than being asked your opinion. Most of us dive right into sharing it! 
  • Sales input provides a critical part of what is needed to develop a customer-focused value prop: the real, feet-on-the street experience of dealing daily with prospects.
  • Going without sales input too often leads not only to the boomerang but also to sales coming up with their own because the marketing-generated ones don’t resonate strongly enough with customers  

Testing with sales…and customers

Before going live, it is really smart to test the value proposition message with two audiences who have a stake in what you’re trying to communicate, sales and customers.

Start with your sales people. Hand pick a group and ask for quick phone calls with each of them. One-on-one conversations are valuable and respects sales peoples’ mobility. 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 prop to life.

Of course you’ll want to test with customers, too. Ideally this includes both customers where you have a strong relationship and newer customers or prospects to ensure difference perspectives. Make it clear you’re trying to learn, not sell (at least not yet!).

But start with sales. No matter how strong your value prop, it’s not going to sell itself. With high value services and solutions, sales people are as important as ever.

Delivering the right tools

The value proposition statement alone is rarely enough to give sales people what they really need for effective, value-centered conversations. Map out the buyers journey and the primary sales scenarios to guide you in defining the priorities for an integrated tool set that sales really needs to sell.

Typical kits may include value prop materials adapted for several 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 to support effective sales conversations. These can surround the core value prop and help sales people demonstrate that they understand the customer situation, appreciate their requirements, and have relevant examples and evidence to address customer concerns.

Taking the time to get real input from sales, test the propositions before finalizing, and build out the proper toolset may seem like a lot to add when you’re rushing new offers to market. But it’s all essential in creating propositions that actually sell. And that’s obviously what counts in the end.  

This post is adapted from an earlier version that I posted on Value Propositions That Sell. Check out my workshop with ITSMA’s Julie Schwartz on “Developing and Using Persona-Based Value Propositions” at our upcoming annual conference, Marketing Vision 2016.

lisa dennis value proposition messaging strategisit

About the Author Lisa Dennis

Lisa Dennis is president and founder of Knowledgence® Associates. She is an international marketing and sales consultant, trainer, writer and strategist. Her forte is in helping organizations develop and integrate customer-focused value propositions into the marketing and sales mix of B2B companies across a broad range of industries.

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