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Sep 15 20

Getting Rid Of The “Value Proposition”

by David Brock

I found myself talking about a “Value Proposition.” It caused me to pause, thinking about the concept of a “Value Proposition” and whether it has meaning any more.

Too often, the Value Proposition, is a sentence or two that we are trained to deliver at some point a conversation. To make sure our customers don’t miss it, we tend to say, “Our value proposition is…….”

When we remember the “script” and articulate our Value Proposition, it is often so distant and depersonalized to the customer, to have had little value. It’s further diminished, when they are hearing the same thing in slightly different words from everyone else.

  • “We help you eliminate these problems……”
  • “We help you achieve these goals…..”
  • “We help [Insert the right phrase: Increase revenue, decrease cost, improve profits, improve quality, improve customer experience….].”

When we are at our best in talking about a Value Proposition, we make it specific to the customer:

  • “We help you reduce costs by $X over Y years…”
  • “We help you improve productivity by X% resulting in $Z savings….”
  • “We help you reduce scrap by $Z…”
  • “You should see Y% improvement in retention…”

This personalizes the Value Proposition, making it more specific to the customer. Sadly, too few sales people do this.

While this is very powerful, somehow the concept of a Value Proposition seems to be dated and, perhaps, not very valuable.

Part of the problem is the concept of a “proposition.” A dictionary definition says: Prop-o-si-tion (noun)1. A statement or assertion that expresses an opinion or judgement. 2. A suggested scheme or plan of action, usually in a business context.

This is part of the problem with the concept of the Value Proposition. It’s an opinion or judgement, it’s a suggested plan about something in the future. More specifically, it’s OUR opinion and not necessarily the customer’s–unless we go through a conversation or process of validating that position with the customer.

But too often, we don’t, we express our “opinion,” just as we express other opinions about what we sell to the customer.

And the customer doesn’t care about our opinion. Particularly, when we recognize, it’s the customer that defines what they value.

But then, there’s the challenge, can the customer really define what they value? Particularly, if they are mired in the status quo—they may not know how to think about value or how to think about it differently.

So somehow, the concept of Value Proposition somehow seems to be a little “off” to me.

That’s why the concept of value creation, more importantly value co-creation is so important.

In reality, value is a learning journey we take with our customers—Yeah, I know that sounds really flaky. It sounds like on of those new age mantras, so let’s dive into it in a little more concrete way, what does it mean to “co-create value with our customers?”

Some things to think about:

In complex B2B sales, we actually have far more expertise and experience about the issues/problems than our customers do. They probably haven’t addressed the issues we help them address very often. We address them every day with each customer we engaged.

We help them recognize issues, problems, opportunities, they may have never considered in the past. We share our experience as well as the experiences of others who have faced similar issues or challenges.

But they know their businesses, their culture, what works and what doesn’t work for them better than we will ever know. So the customer teaches us. We jointly discover what works best for them.

We create far greater value with our customers than we do separately. It’s those diverse perspectives and experience bases that enable us, our customers and us, to see things differently, to learn collaboratively.

We know (and research confirms this) that our diverse experiences help us reach a better solution, more quickly, than if we worked separately.

These perspectives of value co-creation and jointly discovering value are very different than either our view and our customers’ views of value.

Discovering what we and our customers value, how we collaboratively create and deliver value is tough work. It requires an open mind, curiosity, a willingness to be confused, and a commitment to help the customer learn and to learn from the customer.

Sep 14 20

Stop Talking!

by David Brock

So much of our training and our engagement strategies involve our talking. We’re taught how to pitch our solutions. We’re given scripts outlining what we should say to our customers. As managers, we too often get into “tell” mode.

Even when we ask questions, they are carefully constructed to elicit the answers we want. Alternatively, we listen for triggers to talk more.

The problem is that talking crowds out our ability to listen and truly hear.

Duuggghhhh!

It’s obvious, we know when we talk we aren’t listening—and perhaps that’s really our goal. Perhaps we don’t really care about what the customer is trying to achieve. Perhaps we don’t really want to understand their problems.

Perhaps, we don’t care about the development and learning of our people. Perhaps all we care about is that they do what we say they should do.

Perhaps we understand so little about our customers and their businesses that if we listened we wouldn’t understand what they are saying, why it’s important, and what we could do about it.

Perhaps we talk because listening and engaging our customers in two way conversations is so difficult. It demands the best from us in learning and understanding.

But our success isn’t measured by how much we talk. Our ability to create meaningful value with our customer or our people isn’t based on how much we talk.

In reality, our ability to create value with our customers and people is based on how well we listen, hear, and learn. Our ability to learn what the customers or our people are trying to achieve is based on our ability to let them talk. Until we know what they want to achieve, why it is important to change.

While we are trained what to say, how to talk, how to handle objections, how to close. It turns out those aren’t very helpful to customers, consequentially, not helpful to our ability to achieve our own goals.

The answer is simple.

Stop talking!

Sep 11 20

Reflections On 9/11 In 2020

by David Brock

Pardon me from diverting from my normal writing on sales, leadership and business to reflect for a moment on September 11, 2001. It impacted and impacts each of us in very different ways.

First, on the evening of September 10, 2001, I arrived home from a 3 week business trip to Africa. I had been touring major cities throughout Africa with my client. We were setting up a major new distribution network, helping the distributors develop richer business plans, training them, positioning them to more effectively grow their and my client’s business.

Over the course of 3 weeks, I met and worked with 100’s of business leaders and sales people, all excited about the opportunity to build business. It was a fascinating experience, I discovered challenges I had never experienced before. For example, in Harare, meeting with the CEO of a company trying to figure out their “quoting process.” It turns out inflation in Zimbabwe was so high, that a quote could only be valid for 3 hours. How do you build a business, selling capital equipment in that environment? In each country there were challenges I had never seen in our work in other parts of the world. At the same time, I developed friendships with many of the people I worked with during those weeks.

On the morning of September 11, I was in my office, catching up on weeks of other work that had piled up. I had the news on in the background. Shortly before 9 am EDT, I started hearing news reports of planes flying into the World Trade Center. Everything stopped, Kookie and I became glued to the news reports.

Not long after the reports, I started getting a flood of emails. They were from people I had met over the previous 3 weeks. They were alarmed–many knew I had lived in Manhattan, thinking I was still there, wanted to know if I was safe. Others were worried about what was happening and if they could help. Most were Muslim, and many were worried the actions by a few would be misinterpreted and generalized to all of them.

All of them were worried and cared. Over the next couple of weeks, there were dozens of calls, hundreds of emails, each of us trying to make sense of what had happened, each of us reaffirming our friendship and relationships.

September 11, 2011, had a much deeper meaning for Kookie and I–as it did for most in NYC. We had spent so much of our time in meetings in the World Trade Center. Windows on the World was one of our favorite after work gathering spots. We had attended conference after conference in the meetings rooms at Windows on the World. And on September 11, a number of friends, colleagues, and former customers perished, doing the same thing–going to work, going to meetings. Our family and friends in NYC had colleagues and friends, either those working in the WTC or the emergency responders that died on that days or in days later. Today, I see their names etched in the memorial that occupies the former footprint of the WTC.

In the days and months following the events in NYC, the Pentagon, and Pennsylvania, seemed to start bringing us together. Not just those directly impacted, but everyone in the country and with other nations. Despite differing backgrounds and beliefs, we seemed unified in working together. We came together in our grief, looking to recover, understand, learn, rebuild and go forward. Somehow, we reconciled many of our differences, at least temporarily, and became more unified.

Some say the events of September 11, 2001 are the most unifying of our lifetimes.

As I reflect on those acts of coming together, it was less a result of what our leaders did, but more each of us recognizing the humanity of what had happened and taking actions to reach out and help. What I experienced with the friends I had developed in Africa was not a result of any national initiative, but people caring for each other and seeking to help or express compassion.

And each September 11 since then, we pause to reflect, and seem to come together for a few moments of remembrance.

This morning, September 11, 2020, I reflect on that day, 19 years ago and the days and weeks that followed. Then I look at what we face today. We are in the middle of a the worst global and health crisis in at least 100 years. In the US, close to 200,000 have perished as a result of COVID 19.

We are facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Millions of people have lost their jobs. Thousands of businesses have closed their doors forever. Many forecast it will take years to recover.

In the US and in other places in the world, we are facing a social reawakening, recognizing decades, perhaps centuries of discrimination, injustice, and division.

Yet in this time of crisis, on this September 11, we aren’t putting out differences to the side. We aren’t trying to figure out how to deal with our grief, how to make sense of what we face, how to move forward together.

Unlike September 11, 2001, we are increasingly divided and polarized. We are not looking for solutions, but to assign blame. The problem isn’t one of a particular political party–it isn’t a Republican or Democrat problem. It isn’t a problem of the “tribes” to which each of us belong.

It is something that has happened in our societies. We are unable to listen to differing points of view. We are less willing to recognize and understand differences. We are focused on assigning blame and declaring someone else wrong.

This polarization divides us further. This polarization prevents us from understanding, making sense of what’s happening, and moving forward to solve them.

The greatest way we can honor the memories of those family, friends, colleagues that perished on or as a result of what happened on September 11, 2001 is to come together as we did then.

Perhaps the greatest way we can respect and honor those millions of people impacted by the tragedies we currently face is not through division, but through displaying the same behaviors of coming together that we displayed 19 years ago.

It is not what our leaders do or say that will help us recover and move forward. It will be the acts of each of us, putting aside our differences, seeking to understand. It will be the results of millions of acts of compassion, caring, and seeking to understand.

It would be wonderful on September 11, 2039 to sit and reflect on how we were able to put our differences aside, how we were able to demonstrate compassion and caring, on how we sought to understand and unify for a common purpose in moving forward in 2020.

It would be wonderful on September 11, 2039 to be able to say the events of 2020 drove the most unifying actions we have ever experienced.

Sep 10 20

On Culture, Values, Beliefs

by David Brock

There’s always a lot of talk about corporate culture, values, and beliefs. Too often, these are treated as “PR.” Annual reports, analyst reports, communications to customers and communications within industry, espouse the culture of the company—and every once in a while, the companies actually demonstrate these in the way they work.

Every company has a culture, values, beliefs—though those may not be what they claim them to be. We can understand the “real culture, values, and beliefs,” by the behaviors and actions we see demonstrated every day, at all levels.

For example a company may declare itself to be customer focused. It may claim it values their people, even calling them “associates,” rather than employees. But if the company focuses on revenue and growth over customer satisfaction and retention, it can hardly be customer focused. If it trains it’s sales people to push products on customers, rather than understand how the solutions help customers achieve it’s goals, it is internally focused, not customer focused. Likewise, if the people are viewed as replaceable “widgets,” to achieve their goals, they can hardly be people focused.

It is the real values, behaviors, and beliefs we see demonstrated every day in the behavioral examples set by leaders, and how we behave with each other every day that define our culture.

It’s not what we say our culture and values are, but what we actually do every day that creates our culture and reinforces the underlying values and beliefs.

So why is all of this important?

As we look at what each of us, our customers, and our organizations face every day in these difficult times. As we look at the challenges we face in the “new world of work.” As we try to make sense of what we are doing, of how to connect and be connected, it’s the culture, values, and beliefs that serve as the grounding point for each of us and our customers.

In the absence of clear direction. In the absence of answers about how to accomplish something, we rely on our organization’s culture, values, and beliefs to help each of us figure things out.

Even in the best of times, we can’t provide answers and direction on how people should handle every situation they encounter. We can’t provide training, coaching, systems, processes, or tools that address every situation.

We have to be able to trust our people to figure out what they should do, how they should react, how they should behave. It’s our culture, values, and beliefs that provide the framework for how our people behave and deal with situations they face everyday.

If our real culture is that we don’t value customers, but rather that we view them simply as vehicles for achieving our revenue goals, we will see those attitudes in the way our sales people engage customers, and in the experiences created by customer success.

If our real culture is one that doesn’t respect and value our people, then we will see that reflected in the way the treat each other, in the quality or type of people we are able to attract, and in the type of people we are able to retain.

Culture, values, and beliefs are always important. But in times of massive disruption, change and uncertainty, they become the most important elements of our strategies for our people and our customers.

Do your behaviors, values, and beliefs demonstrate what you want your company to stand for? Your demonstrate these, every day, in the example you set to your customers and people. You just have to make sure this is really what you intend to set and how you expect people to behave and respond.