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Finding Your Value Proposition

by | Feb 16, 2010 | B2B Copywriting, Collateral, Value Proposition | 0 comments

What’s the main focus of your lead-generation and sales-support content?

Is it the superior technology of your products? Their powerful features? Your market-leading expertise in the services you provide? Maybe it’s your company’s long, distinguished track record or world-class customer service.

Well, if it’s any of those things, I’ve got news for you.

Your campaigns are doomed to fail.

Period.

Why?

Well, quite frankly, because your prospect doesn’t care. He doesn’t care about your company. He doesn’t want your products or services.

Your prospect only cares about two things: his own business problems, and how to solve them.

So that’s where you have to meet him.

That’s not to say you don’t need to provide information on your company, products and services. You need that on your website for comparison shopping. And your reps need it for closing sales. You need it for the bottom of your sales funnel.

But for generating leads and converting those leads into opportunities…all that stuff is worthless. Like I said, your prospect just doesn’t care.

So how do you meet your prospect half way? How do you grab his attention before he’s ready to buy? In a moment, we’ll talk about an important tool that will help you do that every time, in all your marketing communications. This tool will also help you align with your sales team, so you can give them the kind of support collateral they really want and need. But to fully understand why it’s so important, we need to look at your prospect’s biggest problem.

His biggest problem? Too little time.

As technology marketers, it’s important for us to remember that our primary prospect, the business decision maker, has got way too much on his plate. He’s under severe, unrelenting pressure to increase productivity, reduce operational expenses, improve time to market, lower headcount…do more with less. But he’s so busy scrambling from meeting to meeting and putting out all the urgent fires that keep flaring up, he rarely has even two minutes to sit and focus on what’s truly important.

Sound familiar? I’m sure you can sympathize.

Plus, he’s under constant bombardment from hundreds of marketers, just like us. Thousands of marketing messages whiz past him each day, coming in from all directions. He’s practically numb from it all. So much so that he’s almost completely tuned them out. Being so pressed for time, he quickly deletes any email, tosses any mailing that looks like unsolicited product information.

He regards advertising claims with extreme cynicism. Your product or service may be truly unique – the greatest thing since the heated butter knife. But to him? It’s just a commodity. Available from any number of vendors. Probably at a better price.

The main reason your prospects ignore you

The fact is, today’s business decision maker simply has no time to consider just how valuable your product or service could be to his operation. You have to clearly spell it out for him. If you want his attention, you can’t talk in glittering generalities. And you can’t just talk in technical terms.

You have to translate your technical benefits into bottom-line benefits.

Too many technology companies mistakenly believe business decision makers will be able to intuitively grasp the business value of their products or services. They’re so impressed with their own technology, they think it’s value is obvious. So they focus their marketing almost exclusively on the technology – and thus on engineers – believing grass roots support for change will work its way up the food chain.

The problem is, most engineers at the operational level are not skilled at translating technical advantages into business benefits. They can see how your technology will improve quality, save time and generally make their lives easier. But they’re not used to quantifying those improvements in the financial terms that interest executives.

And don’t forget, they’re busy, too. They don’t have time to make a business case for your product or service. That’s not their job. It’s yours. You have to connect the dots for your prospect.

So how do you break through all the marketing clutter? How do you reach busy decision makers on their terms?

With a strong value proposition.

Most marketers are familiar with the term Value Proposition, but many confuse it with the Unique Selling Proposition, or USP. Your USP is what differentiates your product or service from all the others it competes with.

Salespeople often think their value proposition is their “elevator speech,” i.e., what their company does for whom.

But your value proposition is neither of those things.

In her excellent book, Selling to Big Companies, author and sales coach Jill Konrath clearly distinguishes a Value Proposition from both the USP and the elevator speech. She writes:

“A value proposition is a clear statement of the tangible results a customer gets from using your products or services. It is focused on outcomes and stresses the business value of your offering.

“A value proposition answers these questions for your prospective customers:

  • How can you help my business?
  • What difference do you make?”

In other words, your value proposition describes the value of your products or services in terms of the critical business issues facing your target audience. Here are a couple of examples:

We help avionics manufacturers cut testing time by as much as 32%, and testing costs by as much as 27%.

We help high-tech companies generate more leads, improve lead quality and shorten sales cycles with precisely targeted marketing content. One recent aerospace client realized an ROI of over 2400% on a project that resulted in 17 new customers and more than $368,000 of business in just one year.

Formulating a strong value proposition is the critical first step in reaching business decision makers.

Your value proposition must act as the keystone of your lead generation and demand generation efforts. A strong value proposition is crucial to getting busy executives to read what you have to say. It connects your product or service to their concerns, needs and interests.

Does your marketing literature talk convincingly to the business needs of your prospect? Is your value proposition as strong as it could be?

Here are some tips to help you formulate or strengthen your company’s value proposition:

Eight Tips for Formulating a Killer Value Proposition

1. Talk with your sales reps

To formulate a strong value proposition (VP), you need to know what your prospects deem most important and valuable about your products and services. Your best salespeople can probably tell you that straight off. Because they’ve heard it firsthand from your customers.

Ask them what customers say in meetings. Ask for anecdotes on customer reactions to features and benefits. Ask about positive after-sales feedback they’ve received.

Find out what gets customers excited about your products or services.

Sales should want to work with you on this. It’s in their best interest. You’ll use your VP to generate more high-quality leads for them. And to produce more effective sales support materials.

Sales needs a strong VP to gain entry to targeted accounts and access to key decision makers. They may even have formulated a solid value proposition for your company on their own.

2. Ask your best customers

If you need more specifics to beef up your VP (and you probably will), just ask your customers. They are unequivocally your best source of information regarding the business value of your products and services.

Ask sales to conduct interviews with several of your best customers. These should not be sales calls, however. Ask reps to stress to their contacts that these are fact-finding calls meant to help your company serve them better.

Have them find out:

  • How did the customer handle things before adopting our solution?
  • What prompted them to make the change?
  • Why did they select our solution over others?
  • What important benefits have they obtained as a result?
  • How would they quantify the value of those benefits?
  • Did they realize any positive results that surprised them?
  • What did our solution enable the customer to do that they couldn’t before?
  • What has that been worth to their organization?
  • Do they have any metrics that have shown significant improvement since they implemented our solution?
  • How have other areas in their company benefited as a result of our solution?
  • What has been the payoff they’ve realized from using our solution?

Your objective here is to quantify your data and get as many specific examples as possible. Reps should be persistent and try to drill down when customers offer hard-to-measure results. They’ll probably have to re-ask questions some of the questions above in different ways. And then probe further, with questions like:

  • “Can you be more specific?”
  • “Can you give me some specific examples?”
  • “How is that a benefit?”
  • “Can you help me quantify that?”

3. Speak in business terms.

When you write your value proposition, you need to use the financially-oriented business terms that prick up the ears of business decision makers. These include:

  • Increased revenue or profitability
  • Faster time-to-market
  • Decreased costs
  • Improved operational efficiency
  • Decreased operational expenses
  • Minimized risk
  • Improved time-to-profitability
  • Reduced cycle time (for design, testing, manufacturing, etc.)

Expressing your value in these terms and similar, you stand a much better chance of grabbing the attention of business buyers.

4. Quantify, quantify, quantify.

Use the data you’ve collected from your sales staff to quantify your claims. Cite numbers and percentages whenever possible, like the following:

  • …generated an additional €503K of revenue the first year
  • …help avionics manufacturers slash time-to-market by an average of 26%
  • …reduced average test cycle time by 17 working days.
  • …realized ROI of 774% in just the first 18 months.

The more precise your data, the better. As always, specifics sell.

5. Use stories or examples.

Citing the best achievements of specific customers is especially powerful. Borrow results from case studies, if you have them. If not, be sure your sales team asks for this kind of data in their customer interviews.

Without mentioning company names, you can use phases like:

  • One of our recent aerospace testing clients, for example, realized sales increases of 17% last year, after adopting our…
  • An aircraft engine manufacturer we’ve been working with has already slashed testing costs by 23%.

And be sure to mention the type of company that achieved those results. Business decision makers are very interested in hearing about the kinds of positive results their peers gave gained.

6. Avoid superlatives and clichés

There’s nothing that turns off business people faster than using the same worn-out adjectives and buzzwords that every other marketer is using.

Phrases like “best-in-class solutions”, “innovative technology”, “breakthrough performance”, “seamless integration” and “outside the box thinking” just make prospects’ eyes glaze over. They’ve become tired and have lost their meaning. They cause resistance in business decision makers – dooming your collateral to the circular file, your emails to the Trash folder, your pdfs to the Recycle Bin.

The one exception to this rule is in endorsements and testimonials – where you have specific evidence to back up such claims. If a J. D. Powers survey calls your solution “best-in-class,” for example, then by all means, go ahead and cite it.

The whole point of quantifying your value and formulating a strong value proposition is to free your marketing from such worn-out, “me too” phrases. So both it and your company can stand out from the crowd.

7. If you don’t have metrics, improvise

You may be saying, “But…we help companies lower risk (or improve collaboration, etc.). It’s hard to measure that value directly.” Or, “None of our customers track metrics we can trace to our products and services.”

Don’t despair. Even if the tangible value of your offering is difficult to track or you lack metrics, you still have options for crafting a killer value proposition.

Above all, talk in business terms…i.e., terms your prospect can quantify. Emphasize the problems you’ll solve and the extra revenues, savings and profits they’ll gain as a result.

Do some calculations. Create some estimates of how much customers might save or gain over a given period of time using your solution, compared to how they likely do business today. Then share those calculations in your value proposition. Use phrases like…

  • …help increase profits by up to 12%
  • …can lower operating expenses as much as 34%.
  • …eliminate 8 hours or more of downtime each month.

Another option is to ask customers if they’ve made gains in any metrics since they started working with you. Perhaps your solution impacts those metrics indirectly. See if you can trace those gains back to your offering.

Do you have any published industry statistics that point toward a need for your solution? If not, look for some. These make great proof sources, even if you have other metrics.

Finally, to strengthen your value proposition down the road, ask sales to try engage new customers in measurement. Have reps ask their new accounts what they hope to gain by using your solution. Talk to them about putting metrics in place to measure those gains. Emphasize that such tracking will allow the customer to calculate their ROI and justify their investment. Then if the numbers look good, not only can you leverage them in your value proposition, but you might be able to get buy-in on a case study and joint marketing effort, as well.

8. Create multiple value propositions.

Most products and services provide customer value in more than one way. Identify all the differences you make and create a number of value propositions for your company.

Use your various value propositions in different places in your marketing literature. The more solid “reasons why” you give your prospect, the better your promotions will perform.

Bonus tip: Maintain a Value Proposition File

Be sure to keep a file of your value propositions and all the value data you collect. It will come in handy any time you want to revisit and strengthen your value proposition.

Most importantly, provide that file to your writer at the start of every marcom project. Not only will it make each piece more powerful and boost response. It will help cut research and writing time, and shorten review cycles, as well.

Take Away Points

Your prospect couldn’t care less about your company, your products or your services.

The only things your prospect cares about are his own business problems and how to solve them.

Your lead generation and demand generation (sales support) efforts have to concentrate on your prospect’s problems, not your products or services.

A strong value proposition helps you link what you offer to what’s truly important to your prospect. It describes the tangible results your customer gets from using your products or services.

A value proposition answers these questions for your prospective customers:

  • How can you help my business?
  • What difference do you make?

Your value proposition must be expressed in financially-oriented business terms.

A Little Extra Added Value

While aimed at sales professionals, the book I mentioned in this article, Selling to Big Companies, by Jill Konrath, is a worthwhile read for marketers as well. It vividly describes how selling to big companies has changed in the past few years, what salespeople are up against today, and what sales (and marketing) can do to overcome and even take advantage of these changes.

If you need help formulating a killer value proposition, or if you just need someone to put yours to work in an upcoming marcom project, call me at (+39) 011 569 4951. Or drop an email to info@CopyEngineer.com. I’ll be happy to provide you a no-obligation quote.

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