As a journeyman marketing writer, my job is to simplify stuff. It often works like this:
I go into a meeting. My client invited a number of others because they really know the product and the market. These are experts.
After the handshakes, card swaps and small talk, I go into listen mode. My digital recorder is rolling. I’m writing. I might interject a question now and then. Usually, a slide deck is being used for support. Invariably, the client team comes up with a little list of stuff they need to email me because it’ll really shed some light on things. These meetings tend to take a good bit of time.
When the client’s done talking and I’m out of questions, they then say, “So what do you think Barry?” Pause. Scribble, scribble. Then, with my fingers crossed, I muster every bit of sincerity I can find and respond with something like, “It sounds like your product saves people time.”
Silence. Gulp. Fear. No one wants to go next. People check their phones. I’m squirming. What did I miss? Where did I go wrong? What’s wrong with me?
Relief. Heads slowly begin to nod a bit. Everyone wants to challenge my simple assessment, but they can’t. Eventually, someone comes right out and says it. “You got it. That’s brilliant, Barry.”
What makes me so smart?
Oh, now you’re embarrassing me. I’m not that smart. I have been doing this a while though. Is there a book in all this? Not even. I’m scrambling just to get an article out of it. But what’s “it?”
It is my lesson, the one I told you was so valuable.
In B2B marketing, your value proposition can be about two things. Only two. Dos. Deux.
That’ll do ‘er. Time and money. Time’s really simple. Your value proposition can be about saving it. It can’t be about making it.
Money gets more intricate. Your money proposition can have two takes. One, you can propose to save your customer money. Two, you can propose to make them money.
This is business.
Sorry friend, I can’t allow you to get any fancier. We’re not selling underwear here.
B2B isn’t the same as mainstream consumer marketing. Over in the consumer realm, your value list is a little longer – sex appeal, love, fun, memories, power, prestige, tagless underwear for increased comfort… Jordan might be helpful with these strategies.
But you see what I mean? The list varies quite a bit.
Not so in B2B. You’ve got time and money. Comfort doesn’t fly unless you can relate it back to time or money.
So why all the torturous, long, frustrating value proposition meetings? Here’s why.
Businesses think their customers care about their products.
It’s true. This is what businesses think. But it’s actually false. Your customers don’t care about your products. I swear.
I’m in the value proposition forming stage with a couple of clients right now. A run-down of the process I’ve gone through with one of them ought to help me make my point and serve to represent millions of similar, if not identical, scenarios.
The client has himself a bit of a commodity service. Don’t we all? But he sincerely believes his company has a stronger value proposition. He explains:
Every employee has an MBA. They never miss a deadline. The company has won several awards for its work. They’re recognized as a leading employer due to their unique corporate culture. They comply with rigid international standards and use the best of the best practices, the proven ones like just-in-time, Six Sigma, and kaizen. The clients are ridiculously loyal due to the company’s super serious service orientation. And now for the real zinger…
They have a far superior infrastructure with a proprietary combination of software and hardware technologies no other company can claim to offer. You might say it’s state of the art. Ouch.
As dreadfully far away all of this is from a valid value proposition, you have to admit, if half of this stuff is true, this company would appear to have its act together. The boss can really bring it. He’s nearly as convincing as Michael Jordan.
But darn it, he doesn’t know what a value proposition is.
He’s confused it for an “About Us” page, or brochure, or ad, or commercial, or slide show, or on-hold message, or something boring that will never, ever move the relationship to the crucial next step—the decision process.
Do you think anyone would possibly take in this information and respond with, “Now that sounds valuable. When you can meet with the CEO?”
Not going to happen.
The client got all wrapped up in his company and fell victim to the dreadful trap where he spouts about features. Now why did he do that?
He was trying to differentiate his company. That sounds good. It’s not.
Want to differentiate your company in the way you do business? You should, or die trying. Want to differentiate your company in how you articulate your message? Definitely a smart line of thinking there.
Think differently, right? But sorry, in B2B, you can’t differentiate the value proposition. If you do, there’s simply no value to your proposition.
You can tell me about time or money.
That’s it. I’m a businessperson. You’re a businessperson. That’s what we value. And it’s all we value.
Scalability? Nope. Interoperability? No sir. Reliability? Compatibility. Sorry, I don’t care how many words you come up with that end with “ility.” Nor do I give one bleeping-blank iota if you’re the cross-platform, user-friendly, mission-critical, market-proven, or industry-leading so-and-so.
If you’re going to force-feed me your meaningless, tired, self-serving, hyphenated clichés, I’m out of here. Try these hyphenated value props: (1) time-saving, (2) money-making.
Now I’m listening. Please go on.