Thousands of posts are written about value propositions and value creation. By now, most people tend to say value is defined by the customer, though most implementations seem to be driven by what we think the customer should value.
There’s also a lot written about differentiation, creating superior value, and exceeding customer expectations.
There also seems to be a “silver bullet” aspect to value propositions and creation. Somehow, I get the sense of people looking for that magic set of sentences, that when spoken to the right people at the right time, they immediately pull out a PO, asking “How much should I order?”
But through much of the discussions, I get a sense of value being “static,” that is, something we define as part of our overall marketing and sales process, but with little change/adaptation through the process.
I think there’s a different approach to value creation, communication, and delivery. For the lack of a better way of expressing it, I’ll call it “Just good enough Value Creation.” Perhaps we can add to the idea by calling it “Just good enough, delivered just in time.”
Here’s what I mean.
Early in our marketing and our sales process—very early in the customer buying process, we are really just trying to be good enough. Differentiation, superiority would be nice, but not critical. Our goal early in the process is not to get our customers to fall over and issue a PO, but simply to get invited to play—to become one of the three alternatives they are looking to consider as a solution.
At this point, value can be relatively generic. Possibly industry, market, or functionally focused. So we might have value propositions focused in CFO’s in investment banking firms, CIO’s in the same firms, or others focused on CFO’s and CIO’s in discrete manufacturing. They have to be interesting, relevant, intriguing. They don’t really need to be personalized (probably because we aren’t addressing an individual, but a persona in a certain function/market/industry). And they don’t have to be really differentiated–they just need to be good enough.
The “just good enough test,” needs to satisfy this criteria: Get the customer to select us as their 1 in 3 they will seriously consider in their buying process.
This doesn’t mean we should be careless or sloppy. The bar for being just good enough is always shifting and getting higher. It’s just that too often we try to be unique and differentiated, when at this point in the buying process it’s both meaningless and virtually impossible.
Once we become 1 in 3, our challenge changes, we have to become unique, differentiated, and superior.
But the way we do this is different. It’s the process of becoming quite specific. It’s where we move from personas to people, individual human beings. It’s not the CIO, but George, the CIO of this division of XYZ company, or moving from the Controller, to Amy, Controller of XYZ, It’s moving from our generic view of the world to the specific situation each individual finds themselves in at a particular moment of time.
So George and Amy are experiencing different problems, challenges, needs, and have different priorities in their roles right now. It’s the job of sales people to understand these differences then to start presenting our value in a way that addresses each person’s specific issues at a moment in time.
This is where, too often, we fall short. We stay to the generic. We may get to CIO’s of discrete manufacturing, but we fail to get to George, the CIO of this division in a discrete manufacturing company, who is facing these problems in keeping his customers happy, or the specific issues his organization is facing. To differentiate ourselves, we must go further, understanding George’s specific situation, needs, challenges, problems, opportunities and goals. We must then be very specific about what we can do about those things. How we eliminate problems, improve a situation, help address an opportunity.
In doing this we start becoming very specific, hopefully becoming unique and differentiated. But we don’t have to be that much different or that unique–just enough.
But there’s one more step–one which virtually 100% of sales people miss, but which becomes the ultimate differentiator in the buying process. It’s understanding George as a human being, and what he is trying to achieve. Most of the time, we can’t express this value in terms of ROI, Payback or a business case, but it’s what drives decision-making.
Ultimately, it’s what we do for George that no one else is paying attention to. It may be simplifying George’s life so he can get home to see his kid’s soccer (football to those who aren’t in the US), baseball, and swimming events. It may be getting his boss off his back, it may be getting that promotion of bonus. Interestingly, all of this probably has little to do with what we sell, but it’s all about connecting with people and how we can impact their lives.
The ultimate value creation and differentiation is not what we do to help CIO’s of discrete manufacturing—that’s table stakes, it gets us to be 1 in 3.
It’s not what we do to help George as CIO of XYZ corporation–that starts stetting us apart, we have to be as good as–probably slightly better than everyone else for the specific circumstances George as CIO of XZY faces.
But the ultimate differentiation, is to discover George as a human being, to understand his frustrations, hopes, dreams, ambitions, goals and what value we can create in helping him achieve those.
We don’t need to do any more—but too few sales people do this, and it’s the value most important and impactful to the customer–George. And we have to do this for each person in the decision-making process.
Value creation isn’t a mystery. It’s dynamic, the value we have to create varies depending on where the customer is in the buying process. It varies based on the specific problems and issues customers face in making their buying decision. It will change as they go through their buying process–as their knowledge, requirements, and priorities shift. Finally, the most important part of value creation, the part that most people fail to do, is the intensely personal and unique part–what do we do for each person, as human beings.
We don’t have to be that much better or different. We just have to be good enough in the parts that mean the most to each person involved in making a decision.
Do you know enough about your customers, their businesses, and them as individuals to be just good enough?