Without a strong value proposition, it’s much harder to sell your products or services in today’s economy, and to even get in the door of big companies.
But what exactly is a value proposition? And how is it different from other commonly used terms?
Avalue proposition is often confused with an “elevator speech” or a “unique selling proposition.” It’s essential to under- stand the difference between these terms because their purposes and sales impact are very different.
An elevator speech is a short, 1-2 sentence statement that defines who you work with (target market) and the general area in which you help them. About 10 seconds long, it’s used primarily at networking events to attract potential clients and stim- ulate discussion. The following ele- vator speeches show you how some people describe what they do:
• I work with small businesses who are strugglingtoselltheirproductsorser- vices into large corporate accounts.
• We help technology companies effec- tively use their customer information to drive repeat sales.
• I help small-to-medium sized manu- facturing companies who have difficul- ties with unpredictable revenue streams.
An elevator speech is the founda- tion of a value proposition without the specifics that are needed to sell into the corporate market.
A unique selling proposition (USP) is a statement about what makes you and your company different from other vendors. Its primary value is to create competitive differentiation. A USP is often used in marketing ma- terials or in talking with customers who are ready to buy.
Here are a few good USP examples:
• We specialize in working with finan- cial institutions. (speciality)
• We guarantee service in 4 hours or your money back. (guarantee)
• We use a unique tool called SureFire! to analyse your critical needs. (meth- odology)
Helping customers understand your USP is imperative when they’ve already decided to make a purchase decision. But USPs have absolutely no impact when cus- tomers are satisfied with their situ- ation or when they’re frustrated but haven’t yet decided to change. USPs are far more effective in the business-to-consumer market than in business-to-business sales.
Both the elevator speech and the USP are cousins of the value proposition, but lack the punch of a value proposition when selling to the corporate market.
A value proposition is a clear statement of the tangible results a customer gets from using your products or services. It’s outcome focused and stresses the business value of your offering.
A strong value proposition is spe- cific, often citing numbers or per- centages. It may include a quick synopsis of your work with simi- lar customers as a proof source and demonstration of your capa- bility.
Here are several examples to stimulate your thinking:
• “We help large companies reduce the cost of their employee benefits programs without impacting benefit levels. With the spiraling costs of health care today, this is a critical issue for most businesses. One of our recent clients, a large manufacturing company similar to yours, was struggling with how to reduce spend- ing in this area. We saved them over $800,000 in just six months. Plus, they didn’t cut any services to their employees, nor did their employees have to pay more.”
• “I help technology companies who are launching an important new product into the marketplace – and need it to be successful to achieve their sales forecast. Where I help my clients is in the often dropped hand-off between marketing and sales. As a result, they’re able to more easily meet projected sales goals and sig- nificantly shorten time-to-profitability.”
Again, notice the specificity of the value proposition and the use of business-oriented language. Pro- spective customers should be able to visualize exactly what value you could bring their organization.
The epidemic of Weak Value proposiTions
If you’re selling to the corporate market, one of the biggest chal- lenges you encounter is getting face time with decision makers.
Stressed Out Buyers
Corporate buyers, after years of continual downsizings and reorgan- isations, have way too much work to do and not nearly enough time to do it in. Under constant pressure to deliver “results,” they zealously pro- tect their schedule, refusing to meet with anybody who can’t help them achieve their business objectives.
Busy decision makers screen all callers, using an administrative assistant as a gatekeeper or their ubiquitous voicemail. And, if you’re selling something – you’re an undesirable interruption. Cus- tomers don’t have time to update you on their company, sit through an extended needs analysis or ex- plore the possibilities of working together.
They don’t want to learn about your products or services just so they can know what’s out there. With every dollar they spend being scrutinized by higher-ups, wast- ing money on frivolous products or nice-to-have services is out of the question. So unless something can be cost-justified and provide a significant return on their invest- ment, they don’t want to take time to hear about it.
Not only that, but they’re also bombarded with people and com- panies trying to get their attention. It’s not unusual for corporate de- cision makers to average over 100 emails per day. Their voice mail- box is flooded with calls from co- workers, customers and outside vendors.
And what do they usually hear from people like you who are trying to get in and sell their products or services? A typical phone message sounds like this:
“Hi Mr./Ms. Decisionmaker. This is Tony from Super Duper Products, Inc. We specialize in leading-edge financial soft- ware applications and have been rated as having one of the best software by Krum- stock Research.
“The reason I’m calling is that I’d like to set up an appointment with you to introduce myself and to tell you more about how we might be able to help your company speed up your reporting capabilities.
“I’ll be in your area in two weeks and was hoping to sit down with you for about a half hour. Please let me know if that will work for you. My number is ...”
Why in the world would corpo- rate decision makers take time out of their already overcrowd- ed schedule to meet with this seller? They wouldn’t. Pure and simple. Even though the seller mentioned a benefit, it was weak – very weak.
Ineffective and Unappealing
One of the biggest reasons busi- nesses struggle in today’s market is because they have weak value propositions. Over and over again, I hear people who sell deliver inef- fective statements about the value customers get from working with their organization. It doesn’t mat- ter if these sellers are from big companies, small firms, or are independent professionals. They just aren’t saying things that get prospective buyers to say, “Come on in. We need to meet.”
And the worst thing is that many of the products or services these people sell have extremely high value to corporate accounts! But their failure to articulate it in words that appeal to corporate decision makers is their downfall. Instead, they limp along trying to drive sales but unable to even get in the door.
For example, in discuss- ing their company’s prod- ucts, many people use weak value propositions such as: • It’s the most technology-advanced
system in the market today.
• We offer the most robust enterprise system with the widest range of capabilities available.
• Our system was rated best-in-class at the recent Big Deal Conference.
• We are the low-cost provider of this kind of product/service.
• We offer one-stop shopping.
• We have a full range of products to meet your every need in the manufacturing area.
Service firms and independent professionals often say:
• I’m an OD consultant. I do team building and process re-engineering.
• We design brochures, web sites, and packaging materials.
• We help improve creativity and in- novation in organizations.
• I do sales training.
• I help companies decide which tech- nology best meets their needs.
• I’m an attorney. I do corporate tax work.
BORING! If you’re like most people, you’re saying, “So what? Why should I waste my valuable time talking to you?”
Plus any time people hear words such as best, leading, superior and so on – they immediately dis- miss them as self-promoting ag- grandizement. These words are simply not believable and detract from your message.
So now that you know what doesn’t work, it’s time to figure out what does attract the attention of busy corporate decision makers.
Jill Konrath’s career is defined by her relentless search for fresh sales strategies that actually work in today’s business environment. Jill is a frequent speaker at sales conferences and kick-off meetings. Sharing her fresh sales strategies, she helps salespeople to speed up new customer acquisition and win bigger contracts.