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A New Way of Thinking about Value Propositions

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Written by Bob Croston
Vice President, RAIN Group

Confused why your value prop doesn't work? You shouldn't be.

“We build brands…”

Back in the late 90's when I was a running a marketing firm, this was the beginning of our value proposition. We thought it was brilliant… until we started using it.

This was how we were going to engage prospects. The only problem:  nobody found it all that engaging. You can’t sell what you can’t describe, and in prospecting situations, where you may have just seconds to make an impression, if you’re not engaging and easily understood, you’re toast.

I now know we were expecting too much from one simple statement.

Viewing your value proposition as an all-encompassing statement is an all too common mistake. At RAIN Group, we define value proposition as the collection of reasons why a customer buys from you. Notice how we don’t reference a statement. The fact is you can’t possibly capture what needs to be captured in a few sentences or even a paragraph or two.

To develop a winning value proposition, first think about why customers buy. These reasons typically fall into three buckets – we call these the three legs of the value proposition stool:

  1. Resonate: Resonance is all about cutting through the never-ending chatter of the marketplace and speaking to prospect needs and wants. A buyer must quickly understand how to fit you into the “how can they help me” bucket or they move on. You have but one chance to capture someone’s attention, so avoid describing what you do or the tasks you perform. To resonate, make it all about them, and speak to the needs of the marketplace. Be straightforward, clear, and concise. It’s not time to get cute with clever language as you want to be quickly understood.
  2. Differentiate: You want buyers to see you as the best possible option in your space. Your area of distinction may be many things: your products and services, customer experiences, operations, point of view, or even the way you are structured. As you work to distinguish yourself,  be sure to position yourself as the best possible resource for solving the prospect’s need. This may lead to different areas of distinction for different prospects, so don’t think in terms of just one differentiator. Think of the prospect first and how what you do and how you do it benefits them.
  3. Substantiate: You made the claim; now it’s time to show your cards and prove you’re not bluffing. Prospects are inherently skeptical, so walk them through a case study, show them research you’ve published, schedule a demonstration, or discuss likely results based on work you’ve done with similar customers. Proof mitigates risk and erases skepticism, two major obstacles in any sale.

Unfortunately, many companies spend months – and in some cases years – struggling to develop and refine their two-paragraph value proposition. What they don’t realize is that it takes more than a brief statement (or even a paragraph) to capture the market’s attention and convince prospects of their value.

When you think of a value proposition as the collection of reasons why customers buy from you, you begin to get a sense of what it really takes to truly resonate, differentiate, and substantiate.

If you structure your conversations to drive interest over time, you don’t need to rely on a canned two-paragraph statement. In fact, as you learn more about the prospect, you can use the information gained from each conversation to reinforce your value proposition, working new insights into subsequent conversations.

When you begin by investigating the underlying reasons why customers choose you, you can then craft key points to use in your conversations. If you follow our approach, you will truly understand what constitutes value from the prospect’s perspective, speak to specific needs, stand out from all available options, and deliver proof that you can deliver exactly what is promised. This is much more powerful than a canned statement.

Best of all, you can avoid delivering generic messages that sound like everyone else’s—and avoid the mistake that I made years ago.

Last Updated August 21, 2023

Topics: Consultative Selling