Test Your Value Proposition in 3 Simple Steps

A surefire approach to increasing sales!

Prospective customers all want the answer to the same exact question; what do you do and how do you do it better than your competitors?  Every sales representative or distribution channel for your business needs to clearly articulate the value proposition to each target market.

Marketers spend hours, days and weeks in workshops and meetings to carefully develop the perfect elevator pitch.  Then, the company prepares messaging, presentations, campaigns and more to test their theories.  This process is not only time consuming but typically yields at best “hit or miss” results.

Isn’t there a simpler, surefire way to get it right?  Yes, with these 3 simple steps:

1. Create a competitive matrix for each target market.

  • Company profiles, i.e. revenue, locations, # employees, # customers, target markets, sales distribution channels, partner strategies, service and support.
  • Company offerings, i.e. key features, functionality, ease of use, ease of deployment, delivery mechanism, security, pricing.

2. Develop a customer satisfaction survey with open-end and closed questions.

OPEN:  What problem do you solve for them?  How do they use your offering?  Why did they select you versus your competitors?   What do they like about your offering, what don’t they like?  What improvements would they like to see?   What do they like or not like about your company, support, and service?

CLOSED: Can you stack rank certain features/ functionality of the offering?  Do you see certain features or functionality as unique?  Can you rank your overall customer experience?  Can you grade specific service or support calls?

3. Interview your existing customer base

Your best source of feedback, validation or refinement of your competitive advantage/value proposition is right at your feet: your existing customers.  They have already been through the sales process with your company and your competitors, and they selected you!  They are typically friendly, knowledgeable and willing to share the information you need most.  Ask for just 15 minutes and mention that you will be using the feedback to make improvements for them.  Evaluate your results carefully, because existing customers will teach you exactly how to market and sell to new customers, and we all seek the best approach to acquire new customers.

The good news here is that the existing customer base is the lowest cost and most effective way for marketing leaders to corroborate or better articulate competitive differentiators and value propositions.  In fact, listening to existing customers, prospects and targets, keeping your ear to the ground continuously, is the very best way to achieve your goals.

So, what if you don’t have an existing customer base?  Obviously there is the focus group approach, on-line or in person.  Choose a group that is currently using a competitor and ask why.  Ask them the same feature/functionality questions, pricing questions that you would ask an existing customer.  The more narrow and focused your approach, the better the results.

Good luck and good selling!

IT Buyers Search for the Truth and Come Up Empty Handed

Sara Gates

We’ve asked Sara Gates, a respected leader in the information security world who is well known for helping companies move from early to mainstream markets, to be a guest contributor for the Attain Marketing blog. Sara’s expertise in strategy and product management – combined with a “get it done” attitude and practical approach to solving ITs most critical and timely challenges – brings a fresh perspective on B2B marketing that we hope will benefit all of our readers.

I have had the chance lately to speak with a number of mid and large size companies’ IT Buyers about their buying process. I found the following: IT buyers do not trust vendors. At all. Not one little bit. I should mention that I have been a vendor for over 10 years so hearing this has been a bitter pill.

These buyers seem to have become accustomed to this lack of trust. One Director of IT at a Fortune 500 company said, “trying to figure out which vendor is lying to you the least is tough” (ironically he is with a technology company). His sentiment is shared across a majority of people surveyed. In fact, over 90% of those surveyed indicated that they no longer trust their technology vendors.

They have a heck of a time getting to the truth on simple questions such as:

  • What does the product actually do and not do?
  • How much is this product going to cost me to deploy?
  • How much is this product going to cost me over the next few years (i.e., not just license cost)?
  • Are there special skills needed to deploy and run this product?

As these questions indicate, the lack of trust stems from a lack of transparency into the vendors’ products and services.

I have to ask: What are we vendors so afraid of? What would it hurt if the answers to these questions were available? What would the cost of transparency be? What would the joy of transparency be? I can’t help but wonder if there is a different, more transparent, way.

The Value of Claiming A Niche

I have a dear friend whose personal hallmark is, “I’m not for everyone.” She typically makes the statement right up front as a disclaimer when she meets new people. And she is right.

She is a strange mix of business savvy sales person, think Ivonka Trump, combined with the unplugged and raw style of comedian Kathy Griffin. Enthusiastic, demanding, driven yet funny, quirky and humble – people either love her or run for cover when she enters a room. This fact doesn’t bother her… life is too short to try to please people with whom you share little or no common vision or interest.

She is not trying to force relationships or pretend to be something she is not just to earn someone’s business or call someone a friend. She is more of a niche marketer by nature, focused on creating highly productive relationships with other like-minded individuals.

And in this manner my friend has created quite a loyal following of friends and colleagues who worship the ground that she walks on. I think there are lessons to be learned from her on the value of niche marketing:

Be true to your brand. Know who you are and what you stand for and don’t compromise.  People will question the credibility of the offering if the sales pitch changes for every new opportunity that comes along.

Don’t try to be all things to all people. You will fail miserably. No one thing can be the cure all. I can’t tell you how often we see companies lose market momentum because their resources are distracted chasing after some dead end custom project for a one-off customer.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Generic “one-size-fits-all” messaging doesn’t sell high priced enterprise software and services. If you have limited resources (as is the case with most early stage companies), it is unrealistic to think you can effectively market to multiple verticals. Hint… if all of your industry vertical solution pages contain the same messaging, you may benefit from choosing a niche.

The 80/20 Rule. If eighty percent of the output comes from twenty percent of the input, we can all benefit by defining and targeting the twenty percent of the market that can bring us the most value.

And finally… Don’t be afraid of commitment. So many companies are afraid to choose a target market because they may choose the wrong one. But like the eternal bachelor, by not choosing they effectively alienate all the contestants through a lack of commitment to a single focus.

Making the Sale: Credibility Counts

Early stage companies face challenges on all fronts, but establishing credibility with mainstream buyers is often one of the biggest marketing hurdles.

A press release claiming market leadership and marketing materials chock full of tidbits about your product benefits and expected ROI may help initiate conversations, but they won’t close deals.

For products and services with higher price tags, pragmatic business buyers often need more reassurance about the credibility of your company before making a buying decision – especially one that is seen as risky (a.k.a. investing in an innovative technology).

Ultimately prospective customers want peace of mind that you can deliver what you promise. People often seek the opinions of others whom they consider better informed within their community to validate the legitimacy of your company and technology.

Establishing credibility with the influencers within your buyer’s community should be a company priority if you want to hit your sales growth targets. Press, analysts, reference customers and influential partners can make or break your perceived credibility.

When it comes to building credibility it is all about a sound strategy and commitment to execution. While owning a large percentage of market share with a strong customer base can be helpful to your credibility building efforts – it is not essential or a guarantee of success.

We have seen clients with shoe string budgets and only a handful of customers successfully build credibility within their prospective buyer’s community. While better-funded players with broader customer bases may falter because they fail to make credibility a priority.

Here are 7 credibility building strategies and tips that we have seen work for our clients over the years:

  1. Create, document and disseminate a plan of execution. If you fail to plan, you will fail to succeed. Bring company stakeholders together to get buy off on plan goals, tactics, roles and responsibilities, timelines, and metrics for success. Then distribute the plan to everyone in the company.
  2. Declare credibility a company priority. Integrate credibility objectives into company and employee performance goals. Every employee should understand how he/she is expected to contribute towards meeting the goal and provide incentives for employees that make significant contributions.
  3. Resist over-inflating your marketing claims. You quickly lose credibility by claiming your product is a wonder tonic that cures all that ails your prospective buyer. Be realistic about what your product can and can’t do and then consistently deliver on your marketing promises.
  4. Get your sales team on board. Sales people tend to be protective of their relationships and resist opening customer reference discussions too early in the sales cycle. But the most successful companies begin these conversations early and aggressively. Brand promotion and contract discounts can be effectively used as bargaining chips during negotiations to secure reference agreements. But beware… before the deal is inked make sure the customer’s corporate communications team is on board or the agreement may be worthless.
  5. Integrate the plan into every stage of the customer lifecycle. An unhappy customer does not make a good reference no matter what type of pre-sales agreement was forged. Make sure your reference customers get the support they need at all costs.
  6. Build strong relationships with influential press, bloggers and analysts. Research and find the industry influencers, track what they are saying and try to forge a relationship. Avoid spamming this audience with meaningless noise and unsupported claims. The only way to solidify a productive relationship with press and analysts is to provide real value, so be strategic in your communications.
  7. Maximize relationships with strategic partners. High profile partners can elevate your credibility if the partnership has some substance. Microsoft Certified Partners are a dime a dozen, but if you are able to announce that you are joining forces with the likes of Oracle to solve an industry problem, you will instantly garner more credibility.

The Bottomline: Building credibility is a shared responsibility across the entire organization. With a properly executed credibility strategy, even small companies can achieve great things. So get your plan in order, commit to enhancing your credibility quotient, and witness an increase in sales conversion rates and revenues.