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Before You Can Create Value For Your Customer, You Have To Know What Value You Create

by David Brock on November 27th, 2011

Having a differentiated value proposition, creating value for your customers is critical for sales success.  But when I speak with sales executives and professionals, it’s often not clear what really sets them apart.

Everyone believes in their company, products, and services.  People have to be enthusiastic about what they sell.    But customers need a reason to buy–to select one alternative over another.  Too often, sales people don’t know how to articulate this difference.

Sure there are differences in products–but in reality, these differences are minor.  If you’ve made the customer’s short list, they’ve already determined your product meets their requirements–as have the alternatives they are considering.  Quality and service are all table stakes, so they aren’t differentiators.  So what is it that separates you from the competition?  Brand? Company Reputation? Price?

When I explore this with sales people, they really struggle, and rightfully so. “What sets us apart?  What is the unique value we create for our customers?”   The answer to this question is not sales’ responsibility, though too often, organizations leave this to sales.  The answer to this question is really an overall organizational question.  It’s a fundamental strategic question every organization must really understand.

But most organizations really don’t confront this, they wrap themselves meaningless words like “leadership, global, innovation, best of breed, agility, partners.”  Or they differentiate themselves with a technology, like “cloud.”  But from the customer point of view, where’s the differentiation?  If everyone is declaring themselves as “innovative, global providers of best of breed solutions,” how do they choose?

Understanding what really sets your company apart, the meaning your organization creates for your customers is an organization wide task.  Sales, marketing, product development, customer service, manufacturing, finance, administration, everyone is part of this.

Understanding what sets you apart is tough, it requires you to talk to your customers — and listen to what they say!  It requires everyone in the company to engage the customers–to drill down, beyond the obvious, throw away answers, to understand from the customer point of view, “what does your company stand for?  Why is it that customers buy?  What meaning do you create for your customers?”

It’s very hard to do–usually organizations are surprised, often uncomfortable with what they hear.  The things they thought were the differentiators may not be.  Core strategies driven by the best and brightest within the company may have little meaning to the customer.  The investments we may be making in “messaging, branding,” and other things may have little impact on why the customers really buy.

Engaging customers in these conversations, listening, understanding is difficult and threatening.  But if the company takes the time to understand and internalize these conversations, it provides the cornerstone to not only the company strategies, but to sales and marketing in really understanding and delivering the value that’s most meaningful to their customers.

Do you understand what your cusotmers’ really value, what sets you apart and why they buy from you?  Is everything your company does, focused on reinforcing and growing this value and differentiation?

If not, you may be wasting lots of time, resources, money, and opportunity on things that do not set you apart.

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2 Comments
  1. Prashant permalink

    Hi Dave,

    Very apt. Unfortunately many organisations miss this point.

    In my experience, the engagement with customer depends on the quality of relationship that you have with the customer & what share of his purchase you participate in ?
    e.g. If you are providing solution for the “need” which accounts for 3% of his purchase by value, will he be interested to share with you the insights ?

    Some organisations classify the customers as strategic & transaction based on the their turnover & share of wallet of the customer . Will the transnational customers care to share their insights with you ? If you analyse your company’s turnover, it will be greatly contributed by a large number of transnational customers.

    • It’s an interesting challenge Prashant, the whole secret about Insight is it’s relevance and importance to the customer and the decision/change that we hope they make. There are cases where without the 3% the overall solution would fail. So I think it’s a mistake to look at this from a strict $ purchase value, but rather on important to customers.

      I’m not sure I agree with your conclusions about transactional business. But we can create relevant and impactful insights for transactional business.

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