“What do you do for your customers?” B2B sales teams should be able to answer that question the same way that our CEO or our VP of Sales would answer it. “We deliver value,” with 2 or 3 clear ways that we deliver it, is a better answer than a company overview, a description of our product’s features or an affirmation of our commitment to serving customers. The better answer is a shared Value Proposition.
Why don’t more sales teams answer the question with a Value Proposition? Even with a strong qualitative Value Proposition, sales reps are often reluctant to focus on value, because they know that the first question they are likely to get is quantitative: “What is that worth?”
A Value Proposition is more effective when it is both qualitative and quantitative. But a quantitative Value Proposition is often useful only to its creator, whether a product manager or a presales professional. If the value spreadsheet’s author has the time, the travel budget and the skill set to present effectively to customers for every big deal, that is better than nothing.
But often enough, analytical spreadsheet authors are not that great at presenting simply and clearly. Often enough their strong suit is not interactive engagement with customer stakeholders. Often enough, experienced account managers are reluctant to take the risk of putting a spreadsheet geek in front of customers. Almost always, spreadsheet authors will be more effective if they get leverage from other members of the customer-facing team.
Broadly usable Value Propositions deliver sales results by providing a tool for effective customer conversations. The content and the layout of these Value Propositions should be designed to support sales conversations with customer economic insights. Designing Value Propositions that are useful for B2B sales makes leverage possible and improves sales effectiveness.
In our last blog, we looked at the best summary numbers and graphs for usable Value Propositions. In this blog, we look at the best ways to provide further detail on “how we deliver value” in a Value Proposition. These more detailed discussions invariably touch on our quantitative value drivers, the ways we improve customer business performance by reducing cost, increasing revenue or reducing risk.
How We Deliver Value: 3 Sales Conversation Objectives. The best sales reps use our Value Proposition in early customer calls and meetings. In many presentations, an earlier conversation or an upfront summary may have set the table for a more detailed discussion. When it is time to provide further substance on how we deliver value, customer stakeholders are likely to have an impression about the bottom-line answer.
The three key sales objectives at this point are to:
- Validate. By the middle of the sales cycle, the best sales reps have qualified the customer for a more in-depth discussion. That said, any product or solution delivers value to customers in different ways (our “value drivers”). Some value drivers resonate with some customer organizations or some customer stakeholders better than they resonate with others. An objective of a substantive value conversation is to validate that some of our value drivers resonate with the customer and to assess which ones resonate most strongly.
- Engage. Good sales and presales professionals invariably seek to draw the customer into a conversation. Just because a few numbers are involved, a substantive value conversation is no different for other discussions. A good Value Proposition should be designed to get the customer to engage in a memorable conversation about how our product will create value for them. The greater the engagement we create with a specific, quantitative Value Proposition, the more likely it is that key customer stakeholders will own our Value Proposition for themselves. Their ownership supports our success as they present the internal business case to buy, seek senior sponsorship to drive change and get other stakeholders onboard to implement their recommendation to buy our solution.
- Prove. This objective goes without saying to most analytical authors of Value Propositions. But if they think proof is the only objective, they don’t understand that achieving the first two objectives, validation and engagement, also improves sales performance. If they set too high a standard of proof for Value Proposition content, they often get bogged down. The proof standards for a Value Proposition are never those of a mathematical proof or an FDA drug approval. The goal is to get the customer to buy at a reasonable price. The substantive part of a value conversation, focused on the degree to which our product’s claims will be realized, will be successful if it: (i) satisfies the customer’s challenges, (ii) refines specific assumptions the customer sees as relevant and (iii) earns the customer’s trust in our understanding of them and their business.
The underlying content of each Value Proposition tends to have its own strengths and weaknesses in supporting each of these three objectives. Designing a Value Proposition to capitalize on the strengths of its content provides the greatest customer impact in validating, engaging and proving.
Business Assumptions vs Value Drivers. Providing well-laid out numbers and assumptions is easy for the average spreadsheet-aholic. But for the numbers to be useful for sales teams, it is important to organize them in a way that will support the best customer conversations with sales users.
In-depth discussions of assumptions and the customer’s business often should and do occur at different points and with different groups of customer stakeholders than conversations about how we deliver value. Organizing content for ready access for distinct conversations usually makes sense.
Assumptions and the Customer’s Business. Value Proposition conversations about assumptions and the customer’s business are often directed as much towards the Validation and Engagement objectives as they are toward the Proof objective.
There are four common pitfalls to avoid in designing how information about assumptions and the customer’s business is gathered and how it is laid out:
- Requiring too much discovery to have any value conversation puts sales adoption at risk. Sales reps view an extensive questionnaire that is required to have an initial conversation as an administrative burden. In deciding how to spend time, a sales rep is likely to decide it is not worth the hassle to get customer answers to a list of 20, 30 or 40 questions.
- Requiring too much discovery too early creates barriers in the sales process. Customers don’t necessarily respond well to an in-depth interrogation about their operations as a prerequisite for a conversation. Often they would rather avoid the inquisition altogether and focus on other alternatives and other priorities. Keeping discovery simple early is the best approach. Value Propositions are useful in conversations using benchmark data, data based on studies and data based on other customers’ anecdotes and experiences. Discovery should be continuous through the sales cycle and, at any stage, should focus on the information necessary to get the customer to the next stage of their buying process.
- Presenting too many assumptions is usually a mistake in a general meeting with multiple stakeholders. A few assumptions help validate that the sales or presales professional has understood the customer and that the Value Proposition is relevant. Presenting all the assumptions takes presentations off-topic, results in distracting arguments and runs the risk of losing the focus of important stakeholders in a meeting.
- Presenting and refining too many assumptions is often an unnecessary distraction even in a detailed conversation with fewer evaluating customer stakeholders. Being flexible in changing assumptions is necessary in in-depth conversations. But making sure that every assumption is correct is a tactical blunder. Drawing attention to every detail can invite debate. It is better to discuss the assumptions that the evaluating stakeholder asks about, notices or cares about than to present and drag an evaluating stakeholder through every single, solitary assumption. The objective is to build trust, not to agree the line-by-line detail of the perfect business case.
Value Drivers: How We Deliver Value. Value Propositions need to go beyond summary numbers to draw attention to our differentiation and its business impact on the customer. A Value Proposition should be designed to facilitate a memorable conversation about how we deliver value. The content should be organized in a way that supports both simple and in-depth conversations about our value drivers.
We may legitimately be able to identify many (5 or more) ways that we deliver value. But a list that long is rarely impactful. And it is never memorable. Simplifying the Value Proposition to 2, 3 or at most 4 value drivers is recommended. That usually means some combination of: (i) cutting the list of value drivers down to those that focus on what is quantitatively or emotionally most significant, and (ii) organizing a longer list of value drivers into a few broader value drivers each based on a common theme, like “efficiency” or “risk.”
In material supporting a conversation about how we deliver value, it is important to create and refine strong messages that relate to each value driver. Too many spreadsheets just lay out the numbers, failing to highlight how our product is differentiated and how the customer benefits as a basis for how our product creates value. For some of these spreadsheets, quantitative content sometimes appears to be designed as if the value conversation is a numerical afterthought, unrelated to and disconnected from marketing messages about our differentiation. For a value conversation to be effective, value messages and content should be directly related to quantitative displays that sustain discussions of how we deliver value. A close connection between qualitative and quantitative messages maximizes the impact of the Value Proposition.
To build credibility and trust in a substantive customer conversation, a sales or presales professional needs to be able to provide economic insights about how we deliver value. At a minimum, this means a message for each value driver and a clear, simple way to see how we calculated the answer. Layout and displays are important. Summarizing and simplifying long formulae is advisable to support any conversation at the first level of customer diligence. “How did you get that number?”
The ability to go deeper in providing detail is a capability that not all members of a sales team will use, but it becomes the basis for a good handoff between sales and presales professionals. Often product managers, solution consultants and subject matter experts are better equipped than sales to review other customers’ experiences, case studies and quantitative benefits.
Setting up further, optional displays strengthens these in-depth conversations. Making it easy to change a few specific assumptions for each value driver provides flexibility in customizing the conversation to a stakeholder’s specific concerns and offers transparency to the customer as a means to provide proof and build customer confidence.
Further Numerical Displays: Setting Up Better Conversations. The objectives of an in-depth conversation go beyond proof. The Value Proposition needs to help sales and presales validate and engage. It can be useful to display numerical information that is likely to resonate with the customer in addition to the value driver answer and calculation in a way that supports a sales conversation.
The best quantitative displays for validation, engagement and proof usually highlight one of the three following components of the value driver:
- Customer problem. Drawing customers to a discussion of their current situation, their business challenges or their problems is a good way to engage. A value driver that leads with a problem or a pain point is a good test of the relevance of that specific reason to buy. Highlighting a current cost we can reduce is a way to draw the conversation into a discussion of how the customer thinks about that cost as a natural lead-in to how we reduce it.
Highlighting a vulnerability, the threat that the vulnerability generates and the impact of the threat’s realization is a good setup for a discussion of a risk we can reduce. If customer stakeholders engage in how we have quantified the problem, the conversation about that value driver becomes customer-centric. We have an opening to show that we understand their business and can help solve their problem. If the stakeholder fails to engage in discussion of a problem, then perhaps it is time to move on to a different value driver or find a stakeholder who owns or has interest in that problem.
- Customer impact. The most astute customer diligence questions usually boil down to our product’s or our solution’s claims. What is our impact on a specific cost, risk or stream of revenues? When our claims are strong, based on case studies, outcomes data or other evidence, it is natural to draw attention to our impact on customers.
In these circumstances, best practices are to set up a value driver discussion that highlights a percentage improvement, a dollar savings or an increase in profitability our solution can generate. Taken along with the underlying evidence, this becomes a good message to lead with and a strong basis to defend a premium price. But even when evidence in support of our claims has been less rigorously studied or developed, plausible claims for what we can do for the customer can be effectively deployed by proficient sales professionals in drawing a customer toward buying our solution to solve a problem or create an opportunity.
The substance of a value driver can help validate, engage and prove. In thinking about emphasis between these three objectives, it is better to play to our strong suits. When we have strong proof points on customer impact, it makes tactical sense to bring them front and center along with supporting material. Whether or not our proof is strong, connecting with the customer in terms of their problem or their opportunity is a way to connect with the customer and get to the next stage in the buying process.
Useful Value Propositions for Sales. Value Propositions are more than just math. They are a communication tool, including visuals and layout, for use by sales teams in call preparation, customer conversations and presentations. They need to be designed with users in mind where increasingly customer-facing teams include both sales representatives and presales professionals.
The best B2B teams use Value Propositions collaboratively to improve B2B sales team performance, addressing sales challenges throughout the B2B sales cycle. For account executives and sales reps, they are useful early in the sales cycle in call preparation, in building sales confidence, in qualifying opportunities and in engaging customer executives. For technical sales and presales professionals, joining a customer-facing team in the middle of the sales process, Value Propositions are an important way to address presales challenges and to maximize the impact of presales. Sales and presales teams, working together, use Value Propositions to highlight differentiation and cut through complexity as they collaborate with customer stakeholders to build a shared business case to buy. That shared business case can be used to accelerate the closing process.
Designing and publishing a strong Value Proposition for sales is about more than getting the math right. It is about understanding how the Value Proposition can and will be used, designing its content, layout and graphics so that it supports customer conversations. Using it, testing it and refining it should result in continuing improvement in content, visuals and usability. The resulting Value Proposition is a shared basis for collaboration that can help sales teams win.
For more information on sales use of Value Propositions see Using Propositions as an Effective Sales Tool