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Setting Yourself Apart, Developing and Communicating Differentiated Value

by David Brock on June 9th, 2009
A compelling and differentiated value proposition is critical in selling—we all know this, yet this remains one of the biggest challenges facing sales professionals.

This post examines 5 critical elements about developing and communicating differentiated value propositions.

1. Numbers count, quantifying your value is critical. We know the structure of value proposition, it states a problem area or issue your customer has, addresses what you can do about it, and ideally provides quantification of the result.

For example, in working with sales executives, I often say: “We can reduce the number of calls your people have to make on each deal by 30-40%, dramatically improving productivity.” Sales productivity and the effective use of time is usually a high priority for sales people and executives, and a 30-40% call reduction is usually compelling to the executive, they usually want to hear what we say.

While most sales people know the structure of a value proposition, very often, we don’t see sales people quantifying the magnitude of improvement or result the customer might expect to achieve. They present the product feature and generalized benefits, but leave it to the customer to guess at what improvement will result. The best sales people make this result very obvious as a part of their value proposition.

2. If your value proposition isn’t differentiated, the only differentiation apparent to customers is price. Product based value propositions are undifferentiated. Today, differences between competitive offerings are often very small. Too often, I see sales people developing value propositions based on the features, functions, and benefit of their products — but they look similar to the competition’s.

Do this test: Look at a product in your company’s web site and how its value is presented. Go to your top 3 competitors and look at their value propositions—are they almost exactly the same as yours?

To differentiate yourself, you have to take a broader look at your offering. Elements that drive differentiation include company reputation, ease of doing business, the total customer experience through the buying and implementation process, your personal relationship with the customer, and many other issues.

3. The value proposition must change as you progress through the customer buying cycle. Early in the cycle, a relatively generic or undifferentiated value proposition is perfectly sufficient. All you are trying to do is to get the customer interested in you and to commit to consider your offering, along with competition.

Too often, though, sales people stick with these generic value propositions. To win, the value proposition must change. As you discover the customers’ most critical issues, problems and priorities, you must adjust your value proposition to address those specific issues, in the customer terms.

For example in my sales productivity above, as I work with the customer, I might change my value proposition to: “Based on our discussions with you, we have found your people are spending too much time pursuing unqualified or bad deals. We believe by helping your people better disqualify bad opportunities, we can improve your win rates by as much as 15%, and improve resource utilization by 22%.”

In the beginning of the deal, the general sales productivity improvement was interesting enough for the customer to consider us. As we understood the customer‘s challenges, we focused on a specific issue impacting their performance and our value proposition focused on the results in addressing their specific issues.

4. You have to address the customers’ top priorities and issues. We tend to treat the customer as the enterprise or company. People make decisions, not enterprises. To be effective, our value propositions must address the priorities and needs for each person involved in the decision making process—in their terms. While they may have some common priorities, there will always be differences.

Using my value proposition example, the sales executive is most concerned with win rates, resource utilization, and cost of selling. A regional sales manager might be concerned with win rates, and improving the quality of the funnel. A training manager will be more concerned with the delivery of the program, the coaching and sustainability, and the learning pedagogy.

To be effective as a sales person you have to focus on each person involved on the decision and address their top priorities and requirements. The one individual you have not satisfied may be enough to cause you not to win a deal.

5. You win by focusing on each customer’s top 5 priorities. I talk to people who have generated long laundry lists of issues they have to address. While you can’t ignore all the issues, generally addressing the top 5 priorities for each customer and setting yourself apart in those areas will be what causes you to win. Make sure you have compelling and differentiated value propositions for those and make sure your customer acknowledges them. Addressing their 20th issue is not likely going to be what causes you to win or lose the deal.

However, be careful to re-validate the customer priorities through their buying cycle, their priorities may change and you will have to change your focus to stay aligned.

6. Bonus—I couldn’t resist giving you a bonus tip: None of this counts until the customer acknowledges the value, confirms that it is differentiated and agrees it addresses their most critical needs. However differentiated and valuable you think you are, until it comes from the customer’s mouth, you are just guessing.

Partners In EXCELLENCE is the recognized leader in helping organizations develop and communicate differentiated value propositions. If you need to sharpen your tools, processes, thinking, and skills in this area, look at our Value Proposition Solutions, follow the link. For a copy of our free Value Proposition eBook, follow the link.

For any other information about how Partners In EXCELLENCE can improve your organization’s capabilities in understanding, developing, communicating and delivering differentiated value, please contact us at +1-949-305-7146 or

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  1. Steve Bent permalink

    Great piece Dave – a big fish in your own big blog pond!

    This is as relevant to me & my business as it is for the salespeople I work with.

    I can certainly think of times when I have executed each of the above, but doing all 6 in a structured way….? Hmm…..

    2, 3 & 6 are my strengths…leaving the other half as RFIs!


    • Thanks for the comment Steve, it applies to all of us, and we all sometimes lapse. Regards, Dave

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