Four Simple Questions to Fix Your Value Proposition

We’ve been describing the concept of the Fastest Path to Revenue as a tool to adapt the Agile methodology for marketing. Instead of focusing on a Minimum Viable Product to guide development, which is useful for software, we’re introducing the Fastest Path to Revenue (FPR) as a more appropriate organizing principle for marketing and sales. The point is to rapidly figure out what customers will pay for, and then iterate to improve and scale your marketing approach. 

Far too often, we see companies spend a lot of time and money on extensive marketing planning, only to find out what they thought they were selling, or who they thought would pay for it, turned out to be wrong. Other times we see companies that have been selling the same product successfully for years, suddenly facing market disruption. They think what they need is a new way to reach customers, when in reality something more fundamental has changed and they need to re-think what they’re selling. 

Just as you frequently check a map to see where you are in relation to your destination, it’s important to frequently check your basic assumptions about your product and market to make sure you still see a clear path to your objectives. Those basic assumptions should be crystallized in a good Value Proposition.

Unfortunately, if you’re not familiar with the basics of a good Value Proposition, searching for marketing advice can quickly become overwhelming . There are countless “timeless principles” like the 4Ps, the Unique Selling Proposition, the Whole Product, the Sales Funnel, the Value Chain, the Buyer’s Journey, and that’s only scratching the surface. During years of running marketing and PR agencies, I collected dozens of the best marketing and sales frameworks I could find, and I even tried to synthesize them into a single outline. It came out to 11 pages! 

We often have hundreds of users from OEMs, VARs and solution providers coming onto our platform who don’t have time to create or even update a marketing plan before they’re expected to sell. So when we’re working with companies on a strong foundation for social selling, it helps to simplify everything down to the most essential elements necessary before setting out to find the Fastest Path to Revenue. Those essential elements are distilled in a Value Proposition.

Finding the Starting Point for your Path

If you’re not sure exactly what you’re selling, who is likely to pay for it at what price, and what alternatives you’re competing with to win customers, it’s easy to get lost on the way to market–just like trying to use a map when you don’t know where you’re starting from. Whenever we start a new program with a customer, we always start with the same simple questions so we’re all agreed on the starting point: 

  1. What exactly are you selling? 
  2. Who is the target buyer? 
  3. What is their compelling reason to buy? 
  4. Why is your product the best alternative? 

If you have all those details already worked out in a complete marketing plan, great.  If you have personas worked up for all your target segments, fantastic. If you don’t have those details figured out, don’t fall into the tar pit of marketing plans just yet–the granularity at this point will only bog you down, and it gets overwhelming quickly. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tackle a formal marketing plan–you’ll need those details down the road to tune your strategy–but the point of agility is to start light and market test your approach to be sure you’re on the right path before you commit all your resources.

If we turn those questions into a more precise framework to get at the most meaningful answers, we have the core elements of a good Value Proposition. There are lots of variations and approaches to building a Value Proposition, but for simplicity’s sake, we distill it down like this:

        Customer: Who is going to write you a check?
        Imperative: Why are they willing to spend money? 
        Product: What are you delivering to solve their problem?
        Value: Why is it better than the alternative? 

You can put this into a simple Value Proposition template like this: “For [Customer], who [Imperative], we offer [Product ], which, unlike our competitors, provides [Value].

Start with the Customer

You may have noticed that our first question was “What exactly are you selling?”, but now we’re saying to start with the customer. That’s because it’s usually easiest for companies to talk about what they do based on what they sell. But product-centric thinking when it comes to marketing and sales is a trap–you get caught up in your great features, functions and capabilities, and then miss the obvious signals that customers are focused somewhere else. Start your planning with the customer firmly in mind, because they are the source of all success. If they aren’t paying you, you don’t have a business. 

If you want to dig into detailed buyer personas, that is certainly time well spent. If you want to map out the Economic Buyers, Decision-Makers and Influencers, you’ll probably discover some good ideas to hone your strategy. At a bare minimum, you need to identify who is going to end up writing you a check or handing you a credit card. There may be five people you need to go through to get to that person, and they might all have different opinions and decision points. But you have no path to revenue if you don’t have a clear picture of who is ultimately going to pay you. That’s where you start. 

What’s Keeping them Up at Night?

What we call a Customer Imperative is sometimes referred to as a customer’s “compelling reason to buy”. Again, you’re starting with the customer’s point of view, and what would compel them to open their wallet. Whether it’s a pressing need or a burning desire at this point isn’t as important as whether there is a drive that motivates their willingness to buy.

In software and technology, a useful shorthand is just to ask: What’s keeping my customers up at night that I can help them solve? If you’re selling something that doesn’t directly address an imperative to buy, it can slow down and complicate your path to revenue. If you have a complex enterprise sale with a long chain of influencers and decisions-makers, focus first on the imperative for the person signing the check. That imperative, if you strike a chord with that buyer, will flow down the entire chain of influence.

What Are You Delivering to Solve their Problem? 

The definition of the product, service or solution you sell is obviously one of the key factors that determines whether your path to revenue will succeed or fail. I understand how complicated it can be. My company sells a software product with enabling services, subscriptions, training and campaigns. It’s a lot to wrap my head around when it comes to positioning and sales strategy. But knowing who’s buying our solutions and exactly what’s keeping them up at night makes it easier to crystallize our offering. 

Our buyers are marketing and sales executives who see how rapidly the practice of sales is changing, and they don’t have the tools or visibility into sales via social media to know which reps and which campaigns are going to move the needle. We solve that problem, and everything we must deliver so the customer sees that problem solved is what we sell. Anything peripheral to solving that problem is something we’ll return to after we nail down our path to revenue. This is where the Minimum Viable Product and the Whole Product models have some direct relevance to the Fastest Path to Revenue. 

Why is Your Solution the Best Alternative?

As one best-selling marketing book put it: Differentiate or Die. If something is keeping your customers up at night and they’re driven to find a solution, you need to make your solution stand out from the rest. You can position on price, features, service or a host of other factors, but you need to differentiate on something relevant to the buyer, and ideally relevant to their compelling reason to buy.  Price and features are the most obvious choices, but other differentiating points can help you stand out more. If the imperative is urgent, being able to deliver faster than competitors might matter more than a robust feature set. If the problem they’re trying to solve is complex, experience with a track record might matter more than price. 

Value in this context does not mean “price”, but relative worth. What is the value the customer is gaining by choosing to purchase your product over the competition? In our case, we bring together several solutions that are otherwise sold as separate products. We can position that value as convenience by simplifying purchase and integration, we can position it as power to accomplish more with less, and we can position it as a cost savings over several point solutions. That’s great fodder for a Fastest Path to Revenue sprint, because we know all those positioning messages are relevant, and we can test them in our marketing to see which resonates the most. 

Defining your relative value compared to alternatives, also known as differentiation, is one of the strongest sources for messaging in social selling. This is really what sets you apart, and can bring life to your brand. 

Next: Building a Map for Your Fastest Path to Revenue

If your head is swimming with all the details we’ve been wading through just to figure out your starting point, don’t sweat it. The whole point of this approach is to simplify things, get a solid starting point, and then figure out how to fill in and refine the details as you go. Go back and just read the four elements in our simple framework, and answer those questions as simply as you can. That starting point will be enough to develop your own map to explore your Fastest Path to Revenue. 

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