[Part 2] Execute on Account-based Marketing: Value Propositions for Specific, Account-Centric Sales

by | Sep 7, 2018 | Sales

Account-Based Marketing (ABM) can only fulfill its potential if it delivers consistent content that is useful for Account-Based Selling (ABS).  The best B2B sales teams already utilize ABS, having realized that one-dimensional, product-centric selling is not enough.  These sales teams address the challenge of greater buyer information by taking a customer-centric approach, but they are in the minority.  A Forrester survey of buyer executives highlights the shortcomings of most sales teams.  Despite substantial knowledge of their own company and their own products (62%), vendor salespeople rarely (12%) add value from the perspective of these buyer executives.  Few vendor salespeople (22%) understand buyer business issues or communicate effectively where they can help.

Part 1 of this blog series on customer audiences focused on Value Propositions as the most important piece of content for Account-Based Selling. Good Value Propositions provide the 3 key ingredients of ABM for differentiated solutions by being helpful, specific and relevant, but the best Value Propositions for ABS are also robust to the challenges of live sales interactions with sophisticated customers.

ABM and ABS: Accounts and Stakeholders.  The term “ABM” is applied in different ways by different teams and different team members. Sometimes it refers to content specific to an account and sometimes it refers to content specific to stakeholders within the account. In part 2 of this series, we focus on ABM and ABS content for accounts, where great Value Propositions fit helpful, relevant and robust content to the specifics of the account as an organization.  In this blog we highlight the ways that Value Propositions can be made specific with examples across a number of industries and business situations.  Although there are many potential account perspectives, starting with a few will improve the quality and specificity of the content ABM provides to sales for ABS.

Our next blog (part 3) will be directed toward stakeholders within an account and how to address them as audiences using high quality ABS content.  Part 4 of the series will highlight the benefits of ABS for sales effectiveness while Part 5 will focus on the benefits of ABS for pricing strategy and execution.

Value Propositions as ABS Tools.  By their nature, great Value Propositions are Account-Based Sales tools. Value Propositions provide helpful, specific, relevant and robust content to engage in conversations with buyers about what your solution can do for them.  Value Propositions Address Sales UncertaintiesThis content should be designed to focus on value without needing to talk about price, but it should also empower price discussions where appropriate during the course of a sales cycle.

Good Value Propositions are helpful and relevant by providing clear answers to central customer questions:

  • Can you deliver meaningful, reliable business results to customers like us?
  • What are the 2 or 3 impactful differences between your solution and the alternatives?
  • What is the business case we can make internally to support our recommendation to buy?

High quality Value Propositions are robust when they provide support for assumptions and claims.  Interactive changes in assumptions support the case for positive results that are robust to changes in business conditions, business performance and uncertainty.  The ability to adapt and respond to buyer questions with specific answers builds trust and credibility.

As the sales process advances, great Value Propositions become more specific, adapting to customer assumptions, business objectives and interests. In the hands of good sales teams, strong Value Propositions evolve from Flexible Case Studies early in the sales cycle to Customer Value Analyses during a customer evaluation to a Shared Business Case to Buy that helps sales teams speed the time to closing.

Account-Specific Conversations.  Great Value Propositions support account-specific customer conversations. B2B accounts differ in three dimensions:

  1. Account identity and business
  2. Account problems and objectives
  3. Account decisions

The best Value Propositions make it possible for sales to tailor their conversations to relevant buyer specifics and buyer differences.  Let’s look at how buyer specifics can be incorporated into Value Propositions in each of these dimensions.

  1. Account identity and business. Logos, branding and financial reports provide useful signs and information about an account’s identity. B2B account targeting starts with account fundamentals.  Accounts differ by the businesses they are in, their positioning within those businesses, their demographics, their geography and by their operating practices, scale and metrics.Value Propositions can be useful as case studies in customer conversations without customer-specific data.  Previous customer experience of success provides a central message supported by benchmark data.  But having the flexibility to adapt to customer specifics improves the relevance of sales content and enhances the ability of sales teams to connect with buyers.  Well-designed Value Propositions enable sales users to adjust specifics in a number of useful ways:
  • Specificity in business line and business positioning. Your solution may provide different benefits and have different applications in different verticals. Your solution may have different impacts on businesses positioned differently within a vertical. As your team builds out its customer understanding and experience, tailoring your Value Proposition with increasing granularity to a potential buyer’s business continually improves ABS content. Some examples:
    • “I would like to show you how we improved diagnostic testing for another food manufacturer.”
    • “You said your average production batch for testing is produced over an 8 hour shift. What would it mean if you got test results 4 hours earlier?”
    • “With your dominant market position, the improved product durability our material provides should support a price increase. What if you could raise prices by 2%?”
    • “With 3% market share, a price increase may be tough to implement but higher quality should support an increase in market share. What if you added half a share point?”
    • “Here is a study of the hospital economics of our drug in patients undergoing interventions and surgery. Another study shows how it performed in medically managed patients.  What is the case mix in your hospital?”
  • Geographic specificity. Geography has an impact on many businesses, ranging from currency to market conditions to climate conditions.  Adapting sales content to geography translates value into more directly relevant terms for the customer.
    • “With Portuguese wage rates of €28 an hour, nursing time savings should be worth €x per year.”
    • “With Oregon growing conditions, you might spray your orchard 2 times a year instead of 3 for a cost of $y. Does that sound right?”
  • Specificity in operating practices. The ways that customers realize value may differ depending on technological choices they have already made, whether they are vertically integrated and other aspects of their current business.  Value may be different depending on their situation and practices.
    • “Do you use a burndown program? What is your usual approach to pre-emergent herbicides?”
    • “Tell us more about your stage-gate process for product development.”
    • “With an integrated pulp and paper mill facility, cleaner pulp operations will also improve your paper production.”
  • Specificity in operating metrics. Illustrating what your solution delivers with representative or benchmark data is a good start, but adjusting and adapting to a customer’s scale and operations using a Value Proposition builds trust and collaboration.
    • “How many FTEs do you have in this plant?”
    • “I didn’t see this line of business broken out in your financials. What are your revenues?”
    • “Added productivity for 200 FTEs should generate savings of $x.”
    • “Our solution in an €800 million revenue business is potentially worth €”
  • Sensitivity of the size of a customer’s problem and the value of a customer’s results. Discussions of sensitivity of key answers is a good way to build buyer trust and to persuade a buyer of the robustness of the results your solution can deliver.
    • “If you cut your work force next year by 10%, the total cost of your downtime is still $x.”
    • “Even if changing to our higher quality component only delivers a 1 point growth in market share, you still generate extra profits of €”
  1. Account problems and objectives. The best approaches to solution selling focus on identifying buyer problems and objectives before customizing a solution to buyer needs.  Keeping a conversation centered on solving customer problems and achieving customer objectives directs the conversation to what you deliver and its value instead of allowing it to drift into a discussion of price.Value Propositions are often as useful in highlighting the magnitude of a buyer’s problem as they are in quantifying or dollarizing the results you can deliver.  By engaging in a conversation about problems that are top-of-mind for the buyer, sales connects with buyer executives early by understanding their pain points.  By highlighting under-recognized buyer problems that are significant but not currently at the top of a buyer’s priority list, sales challenges the buyer to reframe their problems and look at potential solutions in a different way.Buyer problems and objectives are often different.  Tailoring customer conversations to the problems that resonate most for a business is common sense.  Highlighting the specific ways your solution helps a buyer achieve its important objectives aligns buyer and seller.
  • Buyer problems. Connecting with pain points is a tested sales approach.  Value Propositions connect with account-specific buyer problems.
    • “If capacity constraints are slowing your revenue growth, you may want to consider what our product’s impact on productivity did for Business XYZ’s top line.”
    • “You said your biggest problem is cutting costs to improve profitability. Increasing throughput by 10% from our solution should translate into a cost reduction of at least 5%.  By our math, that would be worth $x”
    • “You said your union contract leaves no flexibility to cut headcount. Let’s take labor cost savings out of the potential benefits.”
    • “With recent data breaches, what are you doing to increase security? Have you thought about what that costs?”
    • “Did you realize that 15% of sales’ time is spent looking for material? For your team that would mean a cost of $y.”
    • “Sick days are the number one reason for downtime in the average dental practice. Have you thought about what better hygiene would mean for your revenues?”
  • Buyer objectives. Buyers frequently have a problem to solve, but sometimes they have specific objectives as well.  Value Propositions help to identify objectives and frame the conversation in those terms.
    • “Is this investment partly to replace old equipment in your current facility? Our installation program typically saves 2-3 weeks in downtime.  Our equipment’s design is space-saving as well.”
    • “Is this equipment going into a new facility? We are compatible with the latest downstream machines. We see significant improvements in throughput as a result.”
    • “You said your objective is to increase surgeries 5% this year. By automating delivery of supplies, we have helped other hospitals decrease OR setup time by 15 minutes per procedure.  Based on your numbers, you could add 2 procedures a day.”
    • “You said cutting pharmacy spend this year is important. Our new drug may be more expensive, but studies show that the cost savings by sparing other drugs are 3 to 4 times the extra cost of our drug.”
  1. Account decisions. Advances in technology embedded in new solutions makes B2B buying an increasingly complex set of choices.  Complexity creates a need for buyers to connect with sales as they evaluate solutions.  Buyer needs are rarely confined to technical questions. They usually want practical experience-based advice on how to use new solutions, where to start and which solution to choose.  This creates an opportunity for sales and presales teams to engage more deeply in a buyer’s business and problems as they build relationships as trusted advisors.Customers differ in deciding how a solution will be used initially, in the timing and commitment of their implementation, in the reference alternatives they may be considering and in the potential version of your solution best suited to their situation and objectives. Value Propositions can help a buyer make decisions by being specific to any or all of these buyer differences.
  • Product application or use case. Increasingly, B2B products and solutions are customized to fit the relevant needs of a buyer.  But even if your team sells a one-size-fits-all product, that product may have a number of use cases.  Sales teams often face the challenge of determining the best place for the account to start in using its product.  The benefits and value you deliver are likely to be specific to the application or the use case.
    • “Our database solution is useful across a variety of commercial activities. From what you said, two marketing use cases seem to be top-of-mind for you, so let’s focus on those first.”
    • “Our testing systems are useful both to test product quality and to test conditions in your facility. What is most important for you?”
    • “The greater durability of our new compound improves part performance for a variety of auto parts. Should we focus on lighting components first?”
    • “Our outsourced services have been deployed in your sector both for transaction processing and for customer support. What would you say is your organization’s biggest efficiency challenge?”
  • Timing and framework for commitment and decisions. Every B2B solution is different in how it is implemented, installed and comes on stream.  A good business case accounts for these differences, partly to demonstrate the full benefits of a solution and partly to manage buyer expectations.
    • “With a typical system life of 10 years, our solution generates an ROI of x% over the life of the equipment.”
    • “By the second year post-implementation, you should be seeing savings of $y per year.”
    • “You have decided to make a change. Look at the savings on a 5-year commitment versus 3 years.  Over the contract life that means net value of €”
  • Reference alternatives. All rational decisions choose between alternatives.  All buyer decisions have at least one explicit or implicit competitor or reference alternative in mind. Some buyers are more focused on whether to change at all – their reference alternative is the status quo.  Other buyers have decided to change and are comparing your solution with its direct competitors.  Some buyers consider both at the same time or consider each of these decisions at different points in their buying process.   Tailoring a Value Proposition to the buyer’s relevant decision for a specific conversation is essential if sales hopes to influence the buyer before the decision is made.
    • “Changing from your current system can generate ROI of 2x on the investment in the first year.”
    • “Our system’s greater energy efficiency and lower maintenance costs compared to brand X should be worth $y per year in facilities cost savings.”
  • Choices among your offerings. With technical complexity and multiple use cases comes the need and the opportunity to offer choices to B2B buyers.  These choices range from simple menus (platinum, gold, silver, bronze, basic) to complex custom configurations of components and capabilities.  The best offering strategies invariably have elements of design that align specific offerings with specific segments based on value provided and value perceived.  Advising buyers through these choices is often facilitated effectively by using a Value Proposition.
    • “Our bronze solution costs 10% less, but it doesn’t provide the same labor savings as silver.”
    • “Combining the software with this service package delivers double the productivity benefits for 15% extra.”

Where to Start with Account-Specific Value Propositions.  There are enough dimensions to account-specific Value Propositions that good ABS may look difficult.  In practice it comes naturally. Most organizations evolving their go-to-market strategy learn gradually about the relevant differences in account types, buyer personae and buying approaches.  Here are a few steps that get to great specific content without a large upfront investment:

  1. Start by quantifying value for one account type.  The specificity of that quantification helps to highlight both the right messages and a few key business parameters that have an impact on value.
  2.  

  3. Maintain a list of differences between account types that seem relevant to variations in the differentiated value your product creates. This happens naturally as teams quantify value for one account type.  Take notes on account types that you overlook initially. Keep track of relevant differences as the team discusses them.
  4.  

  5. Test a Value Proposition specific to one account type as often as possible even if the fit with a potential buyer is not perfect. A focus on value delivered to customers improves the sales process whether or not your Value Proposition is not perfectly tailored. Testing the Value Proposition helps to improve the quality of your messages and helps to identify account type differences that are most important for Value Proposition refinement.
  6.  

  7. Rank account type differences by customer relevance given what your product does. Then make Value Propositions increasingly customizable for account specifics based on those rankings.  Good value quantification implies that changes in numerical assumptions are already built-in.  Adding a few key what-ifs based on account identity, account problems and account choices make the Value Proposition increasingly account specific and increasingly effective.

Good Value Propositions should be developed and improved using agile methods, refining content and functionality based on learnings in actual use. If your team takes an agile, collaborative approach to continuous improvement, a few months should be all it takes before important account differences are readily included in customer conversations.

Value Propositions as Platforms for Account-Based Sales Collaboration.  With all the effort going into ABM, what related ABS content are you developing to deliver sales results?  Your sales teams should compete with your competitors and partner with your customers.  Partners understand each other specifically.  Helpful, specific, relevant and robust Value Propositions are the cornerstone of an effective ABS program.  The best B2B enterprises deploy Value Propositions to improve B2B sales performance, addressing sales challenges in a way consistent with an organization’s sales training, throughout the B2B sales cycle.  It isn’t hard to start value selling or to generate value selling momentum.  Value Propositions provide core sales content that helps sales teams engage in specific, relevant conversations about what your solution does for your customers. Value Propositions are a shared basis for collaboration that help sales teams win.

For additional perspectives on sales use of Value Propositions see Using Propositions as an Effective Sales Tool


For more information on designing Value Propositions see Designing Value Propositions for Sales Conversations

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