Understanding that your value proposition must be relevant to your buyers’ needs is a long way from actually creating a value proposition that fulfills all the needs of all the buyers throughout all stages of their buying journey. Many variables come into play at different stages, and your sales team needs to be equipped with information about how it all works and what messages belong in the playbook at each stage. Your first job is to gather information on all the key areas of importance. But before you start to put any words into the mouths of your sellers, you need to do some research.
You need to hear the buyer’s point-of-view – their words, right out of their own mouths. But you also need to do some internal research. It’s a good idea to learn what your own people think your value proposition is right now. Talk with your marketing, sales, customer service, and product management people. I promise you, that will be enlightening! The combination of external and internal research will provide a solid foundation for you to begin developing your value proposition. Here is some more detail on each of these areas.
Interview Your Top Sales People
Hold a round table discussion with your sales leaders, to get their “selling” language and perspectives on the table. The better questions you ask them, the better answers you will get. Here are some of the types of questions you should be discussing with your sales leaders:
- What do customers say they need when they are talking about your products or services?
- What do customers say they do NOT need?
- What matters to your customers when they are considering your type of offering?
- What are the words and phrases that they use to describe their business issues and problem symptoms?
- How do they describe the outcomes or solutions that they are seeking?
- What aspects of your product or service offerings do they like?
- What types of things do they want more of, and which areas do they feel need improvements?
- What is missing from your product or service offering?
- Are there any areas where you think the company falls short?
- In what areas do they seem to prefer your competitors?
- In what areas do they give you high marks?
- What do they simply put up with because they can’t get anything better?
- How deep do you feel your existing customer’s loyalty is?
- How do customers describe or define your products and services, and what words do they use?
- What are they waiting for you to change or improve?
Answers to these questions may prove illuminating to all involved. You should capture all of this feedback from your sales team and be sure to share the results with them. But don’t stop there – you’re just getting started!
Mine Customer Service and Support
In many organizations, Sales gets the customers in the door, but Customer Service keeps them there. So, it makes sense to do the same type of roundtable with some key reps from customer service and support, both inside and field support people, if you have them. Service staff often knows a LOT of information about the customer experience that sales does not. This can uncover common challenges they may be having, product or service misconceptions or issues, and much more.
Often customer service is overlooked for this kind of research because often there is a misconception that it may all be about bad news. Quite the contrary! Ask them for trouble tickets or chat room dialogs that reveal language customers use when describing your products and services. How do they describe their difficulties, and what kind of changes do the service people make for them? This will help you get closer and closer into the lives of your customers who actually interact with your products or services on a daily basis. Use those questions listed above, as many of them will also be relevant for conversations with your service people as well.
Conduct Focus Groups with Customers
If you can afford it, focus groups are an excellent way to get at the business issues that your customers are trying to resolve. It’s not always a problem, you know. Maybe they are looking to solve problems, but maybe they come to you to gain advantages of speed or product innovation or fantastic customer service. A focus group allows you to listen in as they discuss their business issues. The interactions that focus group members have with each other can uncover a lot of very important and relevant attitudes, understandings, misconceptions, competitive insights, desires, needs and language that would be extremely helpful as you begin to construct your value proposition “story.”
Survey or Interview Key Customer Groups (New, Happy, & Former)
As an alternative to a focus group, or in addition to it, you can survey or do telephone interviews of your customers. It is most helpful to do this with a mix of brand-new customers, happy current customers, and former customers. This will yield a bounty of priceless information in the buyers’ own language. Understanding why a new customer just made a decision in your favor can give key insights into the actual buying decision while it is still fresh. Understanding what makes your longer-term customers happy is also crucial information to gather.
And finally, to achieve a 360-degree view of your customers’ experience and thoughts, it can be extremely revealing to get input from customers who have left you and moved on to competitors or to an internal solution. Why exactly did they leave? What was the compelling event? How did a competitor convince them to move to a different option? Or did we do something to chase them away?
In each of these groups, be sure to sample people from each of your decision-maker titles as well as a couple of key influencer titles. In every engagement with my clients, I always conduct telephone interviews with several of their customers from each group as a core component of value proposition research. I’ve included a list of the questions I use with each specific group — feel free to use them yourself!
Client Interview Questions
For NEW clients:
- Can you share with me why you were considering a new vendor in this area? What needs or challenges were you focused on?
- What were the main drivers of your decision to select our company?
- How did they compare with the other companies you considered?
- What was the most important factor for you that made them your choice?
- In your opinion, what truly differentiated our company from the other vendors you considered?
- How did you become acquainted with our company?
- If it was a referral – from whom, and how did your experience compare to what the referring party shared with you about the company?
For CURRENT HAPPY clients:
- What do you feel are the main areas of value provided by your relationship with our company to support your needs?
- What are the core reasons that your partnership with them works for your organization?
- Can you share with me what you think their value proposition is, from your point of view?
- If someone you knew was looking for a vendor to provide [PRODUCT OR SERVICE AREA] – would you recommend our company? If yes, why? If no, why not?
- What should other companies who may be looking for a vendor to provide [PRODUCT OR SERVICE AREA] absolutely know about our company during the decision process?
- In your opinion, what differentiates our company from other similar vendors out there?
For FORMER clients:
- How long did you work with our company? What value did they bring to your organization during that time?
- Given that you made a choice to move to a different vendor, what changed in your thinking or experience that made you switch?
- What are the most important drivers of value to you in working with a vendor who provides [PRODUCT OR SERVICE AREA]?
- Can you share with me what you think your current provider’s value proposition is for your organization?
- What makes them different or stand out from our company in your opinion?
- What would have made the difference for you to consider keeping our company as your vendor?
So, to recap, we have internal interviews, external testimonials, customer questions, and a competitive messaging scan. This gives us a great deal of solid information for us to use as we are starting out to build our value proposition. It’s not everything that we need, but it’s a lot! The final type of external research that you should have is plain old market research on your target market(s). If you haven’t updated that recently, now’s a good time to do so.
Overall, when it comes to building a buyer-focused value proposition, I strongly believe you should never start with a blank piece of paper. If you do, you will end up with only an “inside-out” value proposition which has a very low likelihood of resonating with an “outside” prospect. Instead, start with everything you know about what’s already in the buyer’s mind. Speak their language. Address their concerns.
I have more to share! Take a look at my Value Prop Masterclass BrightTALK session: The Anatomy of a Buyer-Focused Value Proposition. I think you’ll find some great info to help you refine your approach. Want to talk it through with me? Contact me at Ldennis@valueproposition.com.