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The New Value Proposition: Sense Making

by David Brock on January 9th, 2019

As it should, the concept of the value proposition has changed dramatically over decades.

When I was taught the concept of a value proposition, back as people were just learning how to shape wheels from stones, it was basically an enhanced version of feature, advantage, benefit (FABs).

Over time, the value proposition became a financially justified business proposal, demonstrating the specific improvements the customer should expect from our solutions. These value propositions focused on revenue/profit increases, cost reduction. Some versions would look at quality, productivity, the experience our customer could create for their customer and so on.

These principles of these value propositions have existed for decades. Ironically, the majority of sales people don’t know how to create these and don’t incorporate them in their selling process.

In recent years, the concept of value proposition has expanded further, not only focusing on the value our solutions created when implemented, but the value sales people create with the customer in their buying process.

Lots of research shows customers don’t know how to buy, so the concept of creating value through helping the customer more effectively navigate their buying process has been critical as an element of the value proposition.

But the concept of the value proposition continued to expand. Challenger introduced the notion of insight (some of us think it is a re-introduction, but a much better articulation of ideas that have been around a long time). In this, we further enhance our value by helping the customer recognize a need to change; stated differently, inciting them to change.

To be honest, while these expanded concepts of value propositions have genuinely enhanced the value some sales people create, as a result setting them apart from everyone else; most of sales execution is still sitting in some enhanced version of FABs. There is a huge gap in execution and the state of what value propositions and value creation can and should be.

However, I believe there is a new value proposition. It builds on the legacy, so all those previous concepts are table stakes.

But the new value proposition focuses on sense making.

As we look at the worlds of our customers, indeed, our own companies, the word that best describes them is turbulence.

Everyone faces massive disruption, transformation, need for change. World economies are changing dramatically, markets and industries are disrupted, technology (AI/ML, bio-engineering, iOT, additive manufacturing, robotics, nano-micro-macro analytics) are in turmoil. The very nature of work is being turned upside down, particularly for knowledge workers.

Layer on top of that, what each of our customers–individuals and enterprises face–massive complexity, information overload, overwhelm, distraction, time compression, ambiguity, uncertainty, risk, fatigue/exhaustion.

And this will persist for the forseeable future.

In this turbulent world, in which all of us live, and in which all of us seek to grow and achieve, the new value proposition is sense making.

The greatest thing we can do for our customers is help them make sense of all that is happening to them, to figure things out, to cope, to learn, to move forward, grow and achieve. Those sales people and sale organizations that can help customers make sense of what they are doing will outdistance themselves from everyone else.

We can’t help the customer make sense of everything, just those challenges they face, for which we are the world’s best at addressing. But that’s more than enough—it’s far more than what is happening now and it’s just what our customers are in such desperate need.

Sense making requires very different skills and competencies from our sales people. Sense making requires very different content from our marketing organizations. Sense making requires a very different engagement process.

Within our own organizations, we face the same turbulence. The way managers create value for their people, their colleagues, and their organizations is sense making within their own organizations. (Isn’t it interesting–what we do in our organizations, what we learn from that, can be immediately deployed in helping our our customers with their own sense making.

We have the foundations of being able to do this now. The legacy of value propositions and value creation are the base. We are starting to understand issues around complexity and radical simplification. We have increasing experience in lean and agile methods. Great work is being done in problem solving, critical thinking. Some sales organizations have incorporate curiosity into their training. We are thinking much more in terms of teams and internal/external collaboration. These are all elements of skills and capabilities we will have to deploy in helping our customers.

What are you doing to learn and apply these?

How will you start helping your customers in sense making?


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2 Comments
  1. Brian MacIver permalink

    “most of sales execution is still sitting in some enhanced version of FABs.”

    If only.

    I’m sad to say, from Observation, that most Sales Execution is still in FAO.
    Feature-Advantage-Objection.

    Sense, making sense, would require Sales People
    to listen, a great deal more than they do, BEFORE
    they speak. What they don’t understand, they can’t make sense of.

    The ‘collaboration’, I see working, is in Customer Engagement. First Discover Value, then Develop Value, together. Never heard a Customer ‘OBJECT’ to JOINT Value they Discovered/Developed WITH a Salesperson.

    “Woe is me if I share it,
    woe is me if I don’t Share it.”
    said the Master to his Apprentice.

    • I always love your comments–both the crisp articulation of the core issues, and the poetry of the words. Thanks, as always, Brian.

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