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Defining Value

by David Brock on March 20th, 2011

After I published my post, Rethinking Value, an interesting discussion/debate ensued on Twitter.  I followed it for a while, but then got lost in acronyms and some level of hyperbole.  As much as I could track it, the discussion was interesting, but also indicative of some mistakes we make in thinking about value.  Much of the discussion centered  around, “how do we define value?”

We cannot define value for our customers/markets.  In fact, to think we can is the height of arrogance.  We cannot impose what we value, or what we think they should value on our customers.  Value can only be defined by the customer–and each customer defines value differently.  To be successful in selling, we have to determine what each stakeholder involved in the customer decision making process values, then directly respond to each.

Once we understand that only the customer can define value, understanding what customers value becomes easy–though not simple.   Just ask the customer.

The process of understanding what customers value, though, is not so simple,  We cannot simply stop at asking, we must engage the customer; asking, listening, probing, listening, probing further,  understanding, testing, exploring,  listening, understanding, testing, verifying…..    We have to explore both hard business issues, soft business issues, intangibles, personal aspects of value.  We have to develop a rich understanding of all dimensions of value for each person involved in the decision making process.

We  have to recognize customers may not know how to express what they value, so we may have to help customers in doing this (Part of what I call creating value in the process.).

Defining value and understanding value requires engagement and commitment–both on the part of our customers and ours. Understanding what customer value, helping them define it requires us deep understanding in what the customer does, what drives their customers, what drives their competition, what drives their markets.

Defining and understanding value means helping our customers understand new possibilities and see new opportunities.  Helping them discover things they never thought possible.  My friend, Rich Bravman, captures the concept nicely, “The best sellers are both perceptive (they see things that others miss) and prescient (they understand how the future may unfold, based on keen understanding of both their customers’ businesses (needs, wants, desires) and their own product trajectories).”

Value cannot be reduced to a silver bullet.  It can’t be reduced to stock phrases we put in our collateral.  Defining, understanding, and delivering value can not be reduced to a moment in time–it’s dynamic, it can evolve, it can build and decline.

Understanding these notions is transformative.  It changes the way we approach and engage our customers.  It makes it so much easier.  Our effectiveness and impact skyrocket.  It’s funny how things like this work, it’s always easier when  we start with the customer?

  1. Are you starting with the customer?
  2. Do you seek to understand how your customer defines value?
  3. Do you help the customer understand what they value?
  4. Do you help the customer discover things they never thought possible?

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