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Does Our “Value” Align With How Customers Define Value?

by David Brock on March 21st, 2011

Over the past week, I’ve been writing a lot about Value.  We build our organizations around creating and delivering value.  Yet, only the customer can define value.  What we don’t recognize is the value we can create and deliver may not be aligned with value our customers need.

Our jobs as sales professionals are to understand what customers value, align the value  we can deliver with their value priorities, communicate our those superior and differentiated value elements, then deliver on it.

We’re all familiar with “value propositions.”  Our product and marketing people provide value propositions sales people can leverage in presenting to customers.  We shout our value propositions in our web sites, our collateral.  We focus on pitching these value propositions and what makes us different and unique.  We have carefully architected playbooks based on the value we can provide.  We might be able to draw a diagram of it in the picture on the left.

The problem with this, is our customers may see things differently.  They may define value based on the picture on the right.

These diagrams start showing the problem we may have in engaging our customers.  We focus on our value propositions, but we may not be addressing those things the customer values.  We are blindly presenting value, without knowing whether it is meaningful to our customers.

We have an alignment problem with our customers and this is where the giant disconnect is.  Until we ask our customers to define what they value, we may never recognize this disconnect, yet the customer is becoming increasingly frustrated with our sales and marketing efforts.

Clearly, our customer only cares about certain aspects of our value proposition (C,F, H).  While we deliver other elements of “value” (A,D),  the customer doesn’t care–so they are not valid value propositions for our customer.  Regardless how compelling our value in these elements may be, it is meaningless to the customer.

We never know any of this until we ask the customer.  Additionally, until we ask the customer what they value, we never know where we may be disadvantaged or uncompetitive.  The diagram below illustrates the problem.  We may have a gap in our value delivery (B, E, G).  The degree to which competition addresses more elements of what our customer values, the less competitive we are.  The  the customer’s value priorities are also important in assessing our competitiveness.  The degree to which our value delivery aligns with the customer’s highest priorities, the greater our competitiveness.This is not dire news.  It’s actually very helpful to us as sales professionals.  As early in the sales process as possible, it’s critical to understand how “aligned” our value delivery capabilities are with how our customers define value.  We can use these as critical qualifying criteria.  Where there isn’t great alignment, we disqualify the customer and focus on customers where we are more aligned.  Additionally, in reality, it’s seldom that any competitor can address all the customer’s value drivers.  We want to focus on opportunities where we address the customer’s highest priority value drivers better than anyone else, and that those are sufficient to win the business.

There’s better news, the more we collect this data and understand it across our target customers and markets, the more informed we are in filling gaps in our value delivery.  We may discover gaps in our products and services, or holes in how we manage our customer experience.  Knowing this helps us build our strategies to fill these gaps.

But there’s even more (I feel like one of those midnight infomercials)!  One of our opportunities as sales professionals may be to help our customers understand ways of doing things they had never imagined.  For example, two years ago, how many customers would have identified “tablets” as a critical means of driving the productivity of their people.  Tablets have existed for years, but it took Apple to crystallize our understanding of the potential and what it might mean to each of us.

But all this starts with the customer, if proceeds by aligning our value delivery capability with the value drivers of our customers.

  1. Do you know what your customers value?
  2. Do your value delivery capabilities align with those value drivers of your customers?
  3. Do you use the alignment or lack of alignment in qualifying opportunities you pursue?
  4. Do your customer value drivers drive your organizations product and service delivery priorities?

(Partners In EXCELLENCE has developed an eBook covering these ideas of Value Definition, Value Communication, and Value Delivery.  For a free copy of this eBook, just email me at

Book CoverFor a free peek at Sales Manager Survival Guide, click the picture or link.  You’ll get the Table of Contents, Foreword, and 2 free Chapters.  Free Sample

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  1. Good foundational sales principles Dave. it’s so easy for sales people to get out of alignment with customer value. Perhaps the issue is best described as “man with a hammer” syndrome? When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. For many sales people, they have a defined set of products or services, and even unintentionally their base tendency is to try and squeeze them into every engagement, whether they align with the customer’s needs or not.

    I like your solution to the problem Dave : “as early in the sales process as possible, it’s critical to understand how aligned our value delivery capabilities are with how our customers define value.”

    If alignment is not there and not achievable, we’re all wasting our time talking about it. It’s critical to prepare for this eventuality and form a fitting exit strategy that demonstrates our integrity and leaves the door open to future business. I have a great deal of respect for sales people who know when to say “I can’t help you.” and walk away. It tells me that they are bright, mature and honest; precisely the kind of people I want to do business with.

    Thanks Dave!

    Don F Perkins

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