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The Arrogance Of “Creating Value For The Customer”

by David Brock on July 4th, 2017

We, and I, are sloppy in our language, at times, particularly when we speak of value and value creation.

We tend to think of value in a one sided way, as something we “bestow” on the customer.  At it’s worse, value is something we determine in our companies–we position it as our value propositions, embed it in our “features/advantages/benefits.”

The laziest in our profession don’t even seek to understand what customers value, instead presenting what we’ve determined as value, letting customers figure out whether it applies to them or not.

At it’s best, which actually is very good, we understand what our customers value, presenting what we do in the context of what we can do for them.  But too few sales people do this.  We label this process of discovery then presenting our value as “value creation.”

The reality is, we really can’t create value, we can only create value with our customers.  The subtly in this is what we too often miss in value creation (or co-creation).

In reality, as much as we like to think this, customers struggle, as we do, with value.  We think we can discover what they value.  If we ask the right questions, they’ll be able to tell us what’s important to them, what they value.

But that’s only part of the journey–it gets us and the customer 80% of the way there.  But it’s that other 20% that’s the real magic.  It’s what we and the customer discover together.

It’s the process where we and our customer are learning together.  Discovering what they might achieve, understanding the challenges, roadblocks and risks, evaluating different courses of action.  We share in figuring out how to make things happen in their organization–and ours, since we are supporting them in the process.  Together we learn how to get this sold within the organization, how to drive change, align the implementation team and realize the results the customer expected.

In reality, value isn’t a simple concept.  We can’t tell customers what they should value.  They can’t completely articulate what they value.

Value is actually quite messy.  It changes through the problem solving/buying process.  We and our customers go down blind alleys, hit dead ends.  We work together figuring it out as we go, learning, discovering, sharing, making some decisions–perhaps only to change them later.

It’s not something we do to, or for our customers.  It’s something we do with our customers.

That is, unless we are too late.  The customer will figure it out, if we are too late, then we can’t create value with them.  They’ve done the hard work–possibly not correctly, but they’ve gotten to the point where we can only be a vendor.



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  1. Martin Frey permalink

    Another deep dive and insightful exploration to the heart of a topic. A topic that is critical yet poorly addressed or even understood. I have a test for value created within a customer/seller relationship. Are the parties willing to share in the marginal value created? This is a true partnership. Few organizations have the vision or guts to do it. It is doable in both a product or service sales relationship by sharing the savings or in a consulting relationship by being paid a percentage of incremental profits. I’ve done both but finding a client who can think that way and stick to the agreement is difficult. The works of Thomas F. Gilbert lead me in this direction in both a corporate intrapreneurial life as well as in consulting. It is hard to get paid $1MM for creating $20MM in marginal profit. People can’t wrap their heads around that kind of vision and creativity.

  2. Martiey Miller permalink

    I agree Dave. The customer is at the heart of the value conversation. Our story shouldn’t be what the product does. It should be what the customer can do differently or better with the product to positively affect their business goals or challenges. It takes collaborative conversations to determine what that means to the customer. Every “means” is different and can’t be addressed solely by ROI calculators, testimonials, white papers, etc.

    • Great thoughts Martiey! It’s not what your product does, it’s what it enables your customer to do! That subtle shift is all the difference in sales success.

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