Social Business, Social Media Strategy

The Most Valuable Lesson a B2B Marketer Will Ever Learn

badge-guest-post-FLATTERAs 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.

  1. Time
  2. Money

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.

Facebook Comments


  1. says

    Very good Barry…

    It’s so hard to pare down your business to such a simplistic level on your own… You run it, you love it, it’s your baby… But I agree.

    What I would love so see some words on is creating a B2B value proposition about money that doesn’t induce low margin price shopping leads. That is where I get caught with my insurance business. If I go price, my staff wastes time with bad leads, if I go value we get far, far less leads but they are usually higher quality.

    What I’d like is to be somewhere in the middle.



    • says

      Ryan, thanks for the thoughtful reply. My thoughts… DON’T GO PRICE. Ever. You can talk about price, but don’t sell price.

      Teach your customers how to buy smart. Help them understand the value of your service. Share with them the dangers of shopping price and treating your products and services as a commodity.

      Intricate and very misunderstood subject. I hope to tackle the challenge in a post, as you’ve suggested.

      • says


        That’s great advice and what I try to do. I know there is a sweet spot of approaching the topic of price without making the story about price and it’s that sweet spot that my darts haven’t quite found yet.

        That being said the message of Value does resonate for my complaining above the leads that do contact us Inbound are often already sold when we pick up the phone.

        I guess I’m greedy though because I want more. Looking forward to your post, very much enjoy your ideas.


  2. says

    I love this post Barry. It’s essential business truth rolled up in a well crafted blog post. We run into this thinking every day with clients and prospects. They think that working with them IS the value proposition. Not so fast buckaroo. Everything flows from getting the VP right – content, lead gen, conversion, and customers. Love your 1-2 punch.

  3. says

    You make a solid argument on the virtue of talking about the benefits of a product / service and stepping away from grandstanding on company virtues seemingly irrelevant to the customer. I’ve done proposals in my time where we don’t talk about the solution until page 8.

    That said, the common wisdom about decisions and purchases is that people make them first emotionally, then rationalize them. Make money – bring it on! Save time – I’d love to. But if I don’t trust you, we’re never moving on to the second date. That’s where the lines start to blur and people get caught up in trying to establish trust and forget it’s not all about them. In short, I partially agree with your blog post, but some deeper thinking on how to walk the fine line would have me more convinced.

    Thanks for the post.

  4. zapdesigns says

    Thanks so much for this no nonsense sense. I loved your truth that I have shared this in our top 10 of unmissable articles this week. Thanks, Steven from Zap

  5. says

    Now this made my Friday! Absolutely love it Barry. This post actually has a value proposition. Saving others time by bringing clarity to what their customers care about. Succintility (I know it’s not an actual word)

  6. says

    I would add a third element. You may probably say that, after all, you can reconduct this element to time or money, but in my esperience, doing so makes often overlook it. This third element is Risk. Reducing Risk is quite appealing to B2B customers. And it has immediate effects on both your two good points: Time and Money. But I would keep it separate, even becasue, if you argue that is within the two, well, then probably Time is within money too. But you kept it separated…Pls let me know what you think about this third Value Component.

    • says

      Nope. I believe you can create an on target message around your risk factor, but not a compelling value proposition. If you hooked me with this, I’d then ask, “Why?”

  7. says

    Great post, Barry. This is something I am grappling with daily in relation to the value proposition for our soon-to-be-launched blogger outreach SaaS product. Price is a factor, but not the lead proposition. Time-saving and revenue-generating are both key value drivers. Only question is whether we can lead with both or should we prioritise one ahead of the other?

    • says

      Hugh, lead with time. It’s what people value most. As I say in the article, you can’t make more of it. And… time is money. Money IS NOT time. Bloggers are insanely busy. Tell ’em how your service saves them time. You might start by telling me (if you’ve got time).

  8. SpinLessPlates says

    Wow Barry, what an article. Very powerful advice while giving a really simple solution. I have struggled with this and with SpinLessPlates for a while now but your article has really thrown so clarity on what my message should focus on. Thank you.

  9. Stephan Lins says

    Barry, you mean you weren’t sold by the CMS-to-TMS filter with a connector to TM, MT and MTD, all while accessing the MIIS network of international MBAs-value proposition? 😉
    Thanks for the chuckle… and right on!

  10. Doug Kessler says

    Great post, Barry. I’ve been trying to think of a Velocity client whose offer doesn’t boil down to time or money (or both). Can’t do it. We once had a compliance client whose promise could be boiled down to ‘stay out of jail’ — but I guess that’s a form of time saving…

  11. says

    I enjoyed reading your article, but I don’t thing you are right. WHat about firms that secure stuff .. like a service that protected you from digital piracy or other online threats to your digital content. Money? time? or something else …

  12. Sheetal Sharma says

    Enjoyed reading your post. i think B2B marketers need to learn and understand these valuable lessons as early as possible.Customers/clients are interested only in money- basic of every business, either save their money or earn them money, if these two things are reinforced while doing every project, i am sure every assignment will be successful form the marketing perspective.Synechron is one such company who considers client’s time and money very important while getting new business.

  13. says

    Interesting take! I can’t lean all the way to your argument, humans, which are behind B2B are not logical, they buy on emotion, even as a business person…but I agree that time and money are the most important to business function, and most readily acknowledged when marketing a service or product to another business.

  14. shecopywrites says

    I’m late reading this article. Just found it on Twitter. But I just wanted to say how the story-telling technique you used is awesome. Great article.

  15. Mohamed Al-Shahawy says

    It’s all about answering the simple question (What’s in it for me?) cause normally nobody will give a damn to anything that related to you, even if it’s making you the best. But all will get attracted when they find the point that related to them, mainly, the one that will benefit them and their business.

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