In a business meeting, no one really verbalizes this, but it’s always in the back of everyone’s mind when listening to a sales pitch. People are generally too polite to say this, however, one hears it in the sighs of impatience and the occasional objection.
The answer to “why should I care” is your company’s value proposition targeted to a specific need or requirement of a customer. The more specific it is to a customer the more interest they will have.
If not clear, specific and unique, you and your products appear as commodities. Marketing and sales propositions differ here. A value proposition useful for a salesperson needs to be narrowly focused on a specific need of their customer. Marketing or strategy value propositions can be vague, but an effective sales value propositions is narrowly focused.
In one study looking at B2B sales to enterprise accounts, “80 percent of managers said they believe their companies had strongly differentiated strategies and products, but fewer than 10 percent of these firms’ customers agreed.” Ironically there is a huge disconnect to what customers hear and what sales and marketing people communicate. Clear value propositions bridge this gap and answer this question very quickly and in a few short words.
The most effective ones can be said in 12 words or less. Articulating one’s value proposition in a clear and concise manner is hard work. It takes a lot of concerted effort involving multiple departments of your company and is best when originated by existing customers. Most companies struggle in this area.
Management emphasis is often focused on the company’s strategy or mission statement rather than why a customer should care. However, your front-line people (namely the sales force) are required to articulate the company’s value every time they meet potential customers. This should not be left solely to the sales force to create in the midst of all their other daily responsibilities.
A well worded value proposition articulates what value you bring and what is unique about your company/product from the alternatives available (including making no changes). In the absence of this differentiation, price is king. Why pay more when there are plenty of suppliers out there and there is always someone willing to sell for less?
The sales force is often blamed as margins erode. Frequently this is attributed to poor sales and negotiation skills. Frequently customers don’t see significant differences or differentiation that they would pay a premium for. Salespeople calling on large enterprises are representatives not product developers. They are tasked with representing what their company has produced as a product or service, they can’t add what was never there in the first place.
Differentiation with a clear value statement is a management responsibility. It is too important to allow your sales team to “figure it out”. As quoted above, it is amazing how customers see a company’s offerings differently than it is viewed internally.
Everything flows from your value proposition: your strategy, your product plans, your hiring, the timing for funding; just about all plans and tactics flow from this (your strategy should be founded on your value proposition).
From a sales point of view, if your value proposition is not clear to potential customers, your sales team will struggle with demand creation. When a sales team shows mixed results across multiple teams, it is often due to a poorly differentiated value proposition.
A value proposition is very much like a three-legged stool. Pull out one leg and the stool collapses. A good value proposition will articulate:
1. What is your offering?
2. What problem does it solve? (How important are these problems in the customers mind)
3. How does this compare to your competitors – how unique is your product (or how does it compare to doing nothing)?
The intersection of these three is your value proposition.
It can’t be emphasized enough that one’s value proposition needs to be articulated in as few words as possible; ideally 12 words or less. Some examples:
· In the world of ERP systems, load testing software provides “the assurance that the system will work as specified”.
· Toms shoes: “we’re in business to improve lives with every pair of shoes”.
· Alaska Airlines “low fares, great service”.
· For Zoom video “We help businesses and organizations bring their teams together in a frictionless environment to get more done”.
· Lemonade in the summer is “a cold drink for thirsty people”
A value proposition can mirror the company’s mission statement and for a one-product company focused within a narrow industry band, that is sufficient. For a company with multiple products and services selling to a variety of industries, a value proposition needs to reflect the product and the specific needs of a potential customer. Generic cross-industry messaging is usually ineffective in an enterprise sales endeavour.
Too often a sales force is sent to market with this not being well thought out. Some individuals manage to articulate a value proposition that captures the attention of a buyer, but many sales people flounder with demand creation and as a consequence struggle to meet quota. As the marketplace adds more competition with better skills this becomes an even greater challenge. The sales team is one of the most expensive investment your company makes, why leave this to chance?