What are you good at? What can you do better than your competitors? Why should I buy something from you? Many companies think they know the answers to these questions but often they don’t or cannot communicate them clearly. Technology companies in particular often emphasise a list of unique product features without clearly tying these back to a business problem they solve for their customers. According to the Forrester Research paper “Six essential elements of an effective technology marketing pitch”, only 34% of business professionals indicate that their best IT providers are able to articulate the business value of their solutions.
Another common problem is lack of a single definition within a company – if you ask two different sales people you get two different answers as to what they do and why they’re the best. Is this a big problem? Well, yes if you want to sell anything. From the outside, a lot of companies look the same to their potential customers. The more complex the product or service, the harder it is for buyers to understand how to differentiate between the available options. You have to make it easy for buyers to quickly understand how you can help them and why you are better than your competitors. You do this by defining a clear and compelling Value Proposition.
Your Value Proposition describes what you do differently, and how this helps your customers achieve a business goal or overcome a business problem. To quote Jill Konrath, author of “Selling to big companies”:
“A value proposition is a clear statement of the tangible results a customer gets from using your products or services. It’s outcome focussed and stresses the business value of what you have to offer”
To develop your value proposition you first have to clarify what’s unique about what you offer. You must then connect this to a real need of your intended audience. Finally, you have to quantify the value you provide in concrete terms.
So, starting with the first part, can you define what is unique about what you can do, what makes you better than anyone else? Next, make sure this unique capability is useful to your intended customers – what value can you deliver to them because of this unique capability? Is it something they are going to care about? Will it make a big impact in their business? Don’t position your company or product on a unique feature that is irrelevant to most of your customers (this may seem to be stating the obvious, but it happens). One good way to assess the value you deliver is to ask your existing customers. Why did they choose you and why do they continue to work with you?
Finally, try to quantify the value you can deliver – put a number on it and make it tangible. Can you provide concrete examples from recent case studies? Does your unique capability help customers to increase revenue, reduce costs, shorten time-to-market, increase profit? By how much? Can you be specific? Do you have evidence you can show to a prospect? As Mike Schultz notes in his white paper ‘Making lead generation work for professional services’,
“the value a client eventually realizes from your firm’s services might well be your “efficient and effective solutions that helped them grow their revenue and strengthen their business.” However, before they work with you, most buyers don’t have the first idea of what that means, or how it applies to them.”
The Forrester paper makes much the same point:
“Marketers frequently make broad claims of improved efficiencies, faster time-to-market, lower cost-of-ownership, and other catch-all value metrics without reference to what’s really being measured and who in the user organization owns those metrics.”
There’s an interesting Harvard Business Review article on the importance of value propositions, ‘Customer Value Propositions in Business Markets’ (HBR March 2006). They describe how South Carolina based packaging supplier Sonoco requires that each of its product value propositions must be:
• Distinctive – it must be superior to those of the competition
• Measurable – all value propositions should be based on tangible points of difference that can be quantified in monetary terms
• Sustainable – the company must be able to execute this value proposition for a significant period of time
As you try to develop your value proposition you’ll see that it isn’t easy, but it gets better with each iteration. You are trying to create a statement that clarifies “what you want to be famous for” – what you want your prospects to remember about you, the “mental shorthand” you want them to associate with your company. The eventual goal is a simple statement that’s easy for anyone in your company to deliver each time – what you do, why it’s important, and how you do it.
So keep asking these dumb questions until you get to a satisfactory answer. What exactly are we trying to sell? Who is this for? Who will want to buy it? Why will they want to buy it? Why won’t they continue to use whatever they currently use? Why won’t they use a competing or alternative solution?