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Throw Away Your Value Proposition, It’s Meaningless!

by David Brock on March 9th, 2015

Hold onto your outbursts of, “Dave, you’ve lost it!”   Also, recognize that I may be playing a few word games–but with a purpose.

I’ve become distressed with the state of thinking about “Value Propositions.”  Too often, they are viewed as the “silver bullet.”

Wishful thinking like, “If I just get the right value proposition, it will overcome any doubts or resistance a customer has, they’ll issue a purchase order….”

I get requests for help, “Can you help me create a killer value proposition?”  As if there is the one thing that will cause the customer to be interested.

People thinking of the value proposition as the elevator pitch.  And the list of things go on and on.

In thinking about this post, I read a lot of other posts about value propositions.  There are an amazing number of posts focused on the “structure of the value proposition,”  outlining, concepts like, “If you state it this way,”  or “If you frame it this way,” or “Here is the formula for a killer value proposition…”  Ultimately each resulting in a scripted set of words, that may have meaning to us, but probably have very little meaning or relevance to the customer.

The problem is the “proposition” part–the idea that we can reduce the value we create and the value the customer should expect to one or two pithy sentences–is absolutely meaningless.  In fact, trying to encapsulate the process in a couple of sentences, means we have to eliminate most of the value that can be realized.

We have to be thinking of an ongoing process, a series of conversations that begin with our very first contact with a prospect, different for each person involved in the process, and which builds through the customer buying process, on into the implementation process.

Each conversation is different, but builds on previous conversations.  Value created/developed builds through the process.  Whether it’s the value in helping the customer buy or the value ultimately created with the solution.

Initially, customers get value in their discovery of opportunities to change, to do something different, either eliminating problems, identifying areas to improve, or seeing new opportunities.  As their journey progresses, the value is building on that first step; collaborating as a team within their own organization, aligning disparate goals, agendas, objectives.  It builds as they define what they want to do, growing further as they evaluate alternatives.

In this early part of the journey, each person in the buying process defines value differently.  Through the entire decision-making process the value each sees and the value the group sees changes.  As they discover and learn more.

It reaches a peak, and is probably most aligned when they make a decision.  At that moment, the concept of value changes subtly from what they are learning and discovering to a set of expectations and specific goals each expects to achieve through the implementation of the decision.

The journey continues after the decision, in leveraging the solution to produce the results and changes they expected.  Again, it has different dimensions for each person but it is measured against specific goals established in making the decision.

The agile sales person guides the customer team through this journey.  Helping them discover and realize value at each point of the way.  The sales person makes sure that value is neither assumed nor taken for granted by each person involved in the process.  But it is carefully developed, consistently communicated in terms that are meaningful to the customer.

In the end it is not a single statement, “You will achieve these results…..”  But it is a unique collection of discoveries and attainment of goals through the entire process.  It is unique for each individual and different for every buying process.  While the sales person may facilitate many customers on similar journey’s the value is unique in each one.

So value cannot be conveniently summed up into one or two sentences.  It cannot be glibly applied to every customer.  As an example, think of your own journey through school.  You went through similar things with your classmates, you heard the same lectures, sat in the same workshops, did the same work, took the same tests.  But what each individual got through that process was different.  Hopefully, there were skilled teachers helping each student get the most–not the same–through each step of the process.

Value discovery/creation/development/communication is similar through the buying process.  Like the teacher, great sales people make sure each customer understands and getting the most they can at each step.

It’s time to abandon the concept of the value proposition, instead mastering the skills in helping each person we work with achieve the most they can through their buying process.

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12 Comments
  1. Yeah, that. Well said, Dave. I think the problem is that value prop is a concept, but it’s been interpreted lately to mean stock messaging. Much prefer the approach you’ve outlined here.

  2. Agree with Mike. Great post as usual.

  3. Good post, Dave. My issue with UVPs is that people think they can use the same statement for every prospect. Too many of them start with overused phrases like, “We specialize in helping…”
    I do however, believe there is merit in crafting a few phrases with the intent of capturing the prospect’s attention and opening a dialogue.

    • Kelley, I don’t disagree. In fact in the opening conversations, this doesn’t need to be differentiated or specific. It just needs to be good enough to capture the customer’s attention to say, “Tell me more.” I think though this outlines the challenge with the UVP or Value Proposition. This is just one step in creating value, which must be continued through the entire buying process. But too many people think it is a statement given at the beginning or end of the process. It really is what we do throughout.

      Separately, there are tools, like Decisionlink, (www.decisionlink.com) that enable sales people to develop a unique and customized UVP on the very first call, using that as a foundation to build on as they progress through the buying/selling process. I think these tools are critical to helping sales people maximize their impact in the future (truth in advertising, I sit on Decisionlink’s advisory board.)

  4. Well said. Obviously a subject dear to my heart :-).

    2 comments.

    First, the economic value prop we normally think of. We have specialist ‘value engineering’ groups that do deep engagement work, usually late in sales cycles, for the biggest deals. Often this is to do the economic justification for something that is already decided. Great stuff, but every deal has a business case and for the other 90-95% of deals, it’s up to the sales rep to figure it out…that’s where I think the ‘magic bullet value prop’ is desired. Some of us are doing something about that gap.

    But really, at a macro level, there are multiple kinds of value propositions. The business initiative value proposition…how does the initiative enhance a prospect’s market position, make them more competitive, improve customer service, improve employee morale, etc., etc. Then the personal value proposition for the numerous players on the buyer side. Then the economic value proposition…which is much more than a Return on Investment analysis. The way individuals and companies see value depending on where they are corporately and individually on G. Moore’s curve…an early adopter vs a late adopter for instance. High performance selling addresses all of those, trying to reduce it to an anecdote or snapshot is naive.

    Thanks for the insights.

    • Thanks for provoking me Dave. Something very dear to my heart too. But let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water. The original definition of ‘value proposition’ was a way of designing and then articulating a value delivery system (at every stage through the company). It was never just an elevator pitch, messaging or product description, and never just in the domain of sales.

      I think I may have found one of the culprits in Salesforce.com as they have ‘value proposition’ as one of their sales stages. No wonder it’s been de-valued to just messaging.

      • Thanks Cindy, unfortunately, the concept of value proposition has devolved to that single phrase, given at one point in time, in the “right part” of the sales process. I’m not sure that SFDC is the culprit, or people just put that as a “step/activity” in their CRM systems.

    • Jim, thanks for the comment. You are absolutely right–but I think too few sales people realize this. There are multiple levels of value propositions developed and delivered through the buying process. It’s the sales person’s job, with the help of tools like Decisionlink to continue to tailor these to the right customer at the right time.

      This post was really written to address the simplistic concept–that is wrong all the way around of a single killer value proposition that when uttered by the sales person causes the customer to succumb and issue a PO. It’s just not the case.

  5. Brian MacIver permalink

    “In this early part of the journey, each person in the buying process defines value differently. Through the entire decision-making process the value each sees and the value the group sees changes.” as wise a comment as any Warren buffet makes! Thanks Dave.

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