How to Get a Competitive Edge With Your Value Proposition

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Marketing Strategy

Why do people buy from your company?

Just FYI, they’re not buying from you just because of the awesome products you offer.

They’re not buying because of your product’s features, either. Or because of your customer service, or even your customer experience.

Nope. And it’s not your brand’s reputation that’s making them buy, either, you know.

Only 16% of executives cite “a vendor’s products, services, or capabilities to be the most important factor separating them from the pack.”

So why do people buy from you, then?

Short answer: because of the value.

If people buy at all, or if they choose to buy from you rather than from your competitors, it’s because of the value your company delivers them.

They buy because the end result ― of your products, those products’ features, your customer experience, your brand’s reputation, the whole kit ’n caboodle ― gives them more value than the money they’ll have to hand over.

The Many Facets of Value Propositions

Your company’s value means different things to different people. In fact, it will mean different things to different people in different situations, and for different products.

Even if you’re doing account-based marketing, where it might appear that there’s “only” one target, you’re actually talking to five or six or more different decision-makers.

Each one of those buyers will have a slightly different understanding and appreciation of your value proposition.

Say your target prospect/account is buying a car. Your company builds and sells this car.

The target’s account manager may value the leather interior and luxury details because they want to impress clients. But their operations manager may not care much about the cushy interior at all. The operations manager values the vehicle’s reliability record and the generous maintenance package you’re offering.

As you marketers know (and you salespeople know even better), we need to talk to those different people ― each with different value perceptions and priorities ― in a very different way. When we craft our value propositions we need to nail each buyer’s viewpoint.

Value Proposition Discussions Gone Bad

None of this is rocket science. It makes sense, and, if you’re in sales, you’ve understood all this for years. It’s why you still have your job.

But when we talk about value and value propositions in our companies, we often find it hard to articulate all of these concepts. We use different words to describe things. We jump too fast from what’s happening in front of us to how we’ll convert it into a trackable marketing action, and how we’ll demonstrate its ROI.

And if you try to research how to define value ― much less how to convey your company’s value to prospects ― you may find terms and writing that positively make your head hurt.

For some reason, it’s very easy to get stuck in the marketing-speak muck when we talk about value and value propositions.

Maybe that’s why there are hundreds of different definitions of what value and value propositions mean.

It may also be why, after so many failed and awkward conversations, people in your company don’t talk about value or value propositions as much as they should.

And yet, your company and products’ value propositions are mission-critical. They’re the why of the buy. And they affect many other things. For instance, having a strong, well-defined value proposition is one of the pre-requisites for success with marketing automation. Check out the other two must-haves that predict success.

So what, exactly, is a value proposition?

Here’s one excellent definition from Peep Lala, founder of the conversion rate optimization agency, ConversionXL:

“Value proposition is a clear statement that:

  • explains how your product solves customers’ problems or improves their situation (relevancy),
  • delivers specific benefits (quantified value),
  • tells the ideal customer why they should buy from you and not from the competition (unique differentiation).”

Who’s responsible for value propositions?

Value propositions are something copywriters often get tasked with defining. That’s reasonable; “value props” are word-based things, so it makes sense that word-based people should develop them.

But writers shouldn’t do it in a vacuum. If you aren’t bringing sales, your executive team, and your customers into the conversation, your value proposition is doomed. It’s broken before it’s done.

In fact, defining value and value propositions is one of the core elements of effective sales and marketing alignment. It’s also a fantastic way to get an edge. Because, according to recent research, a whopping 83% of marketers are neglecting their customer value proposition.

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That’s awful, right? But it can be good news for you. If you and a few people from other key departments are willing to sit down and try to talk plainly about how your customers and prospects perceive and value your products, you’ve got an edge.

Sit down a couple of times, and you’ll do even better. Heck, you might even want to do a little customer or prospect research (like a survey) to try to get hard data on how these groups view your company and products.

And then, you might even want to test some of your messaging.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

What’s the most memorable B2B value proposition of all time?

Before we get too far, let’s give you an example of a killer value prop. I bet a bunch of you know this value proposition so well that you could finish this sentence:

“Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.”

That’s a value proposition. Maybe not the de-sanitized, jargon-muddled sort of value proposition so many of us see, but a value proposition that goes directly to the heart of its audience: the enterprise technology buyer.

This particular persona (yes, you can ― and should ― define value propositions for each of your products and for each of the personas that buy those products), the B2B enterprise buyer, was ultimately concerned about one thing: screwing up.

Nobody wants to buy an expensive, complex technology package and not have it work. And yet, it happens all the time. And if the outfit the buyer is assessing ends up being incompetent, or the product doesn’t work, it’s on the buyer’s head. Their job is on the line.

So while the vendor/salesperson/marketing content may be talking about features and customer service hours, and training, and their latest big client shindig, the thing the buyer really, really wants to know, ultimately, is that one thing:

Is buying this going to get me fired?

(Or, more optimistically: Might it get me a raise?)

I especially like this example because it shows that if you can truly nail your value proposition, it will bond your buyer so strongly to you that even if there are snags in the process, they’ll continue to trust you. They’ll tolerate a few hiccups and stay with you. Because even if IBM made mistakes, nobody ever got fired for buying them. Right?

Notice a few things about this one simple sentence:

  • It’s not a tagline.
  • It doesn’t even mention a product or any product features.
  • It’s not a positioning statement.
  • It’s all about the customer ― and not at all about the company.

So that’s what it’s not.

Here’s what to aim for. These are the common attributes of a great value proposition:

It’s clear.

If people don’t understand your value proposition instantly, it’s a fail.

The problem is, how can you tell if your value prop is clear or not?

Answer: You test. Landing pages are particularly good for testing value propositions. Your entire landing page should have “congruence,” which means every element of the landing page either states or supports the value proposition.

Landing pages are usually the realm of creative types and marketers, but I urge you, again, to bring someone from sales into your landing page development.

Remember: Sales talks to your prospects day in and day out. Their job depends on how well they know your prospects and how well they communicate your company’s value proposition to each prospect. Maybe they aren’t copywriters, but it sure would be cool if you could do a brain meld between your best salesperson and your best copywriter.

Wanna know another place that’s great for testing value propositions? AdWords ads.

It’s powerful.

In other words, it’s “memorable.” But, more importantly, it’s powerful. This is the “convincer” element of a value proposition. Even if your value proposition is clear, if it doesn’t all but stop your prospects in their tracks, it won’t be effective.

Remember, you’re competing with every other company’s value propositions. Stand out or go home.

It’s laser-targeted for your prospect.

The single biggest shortcoming of most value propositions? They’re “not relevant to our needs,” according to 2014 research from IDG Connect and Knowledgence Associates. Your value proposition should answer these four questions (hat tip to Crazy Egg) – these questions are from their site:

  • Does your product or service show what product or service your company is offering?
  • What is the benefit of using it?
  • Who is your target customer for this product or service?
  • What makes your offering unique and different?

Turning Theory into Testable Value Propositions

Now that you’ve got a much clearer idea of what a good value prop looks like, your odds of creating your own are far higher. So gather up a few people from different key departments (namely sales, but also the executive team and possibly customer service) and start answering those questions.

Answer them for each one of your key products. And for each one of your key buyer personas.

Then test them:

  • in person, talking to actual customers
  • on landing pages
  • in advertising
  • in your email messages or marketing automation messaging.

Remember that a good value proposition is always a balancing act. It defines how your company is different from its competitors, states what you deliver, and meets the prospects’ pain points and needs.

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