How to Create a Strong Value Proposition for B2B
4 Value Proposition tools the super professionals use. Improve sales, marketing, messaging and most important your growth.
The original article was published on Daniel Nilsson's blog.
The global attention span is narrowing because of the sheer amount of information we have to process every day.
This means that people like you and me – who work in Sales and Marketing in the B2B industry – usually have about three seconds to catch the attention of a prospect.
Yes, you heard right. You have three seconds to make a good first impression with potential customers so that you can then get them to try out your product or solution.
The good news is that your competitors also operate within this three-second restriction.
Now, you may wonder if it is even possible to catch the attention of a prospect in such a limited time frame.
It isn’t impossible. There are some excellent professionals who do it really easily. And no, they aren’t equipped with some mystical powers to influence their audience. They are as ordinary or as special as any one of us.
Their secret weapon – a great value proposition – is what I’m going to talk about in the rest of this blog.
4 Value Propositions tools to get the message through
I am sure I don’t have to assert the importance of value propositions to people who are into business, but I’ll do so briefly.
A value proposition is something that automatically brings your customer into focus and allows you to propose solutions to their problem from their own perspective.
In this article, I will present four powerful tools that will help you create a strong value proposition. After discussing these four tools, I will discuss what a value proposition consists of and how you can create one.
This blog is a compendium of all the knowledge and experience I have gained while creating value propositions for several global companies, reviews by the world’s most amazing marketing experts, and Gartner reports. I am sharing all my research here so that you can also create strong B2B value propositions.
Before I proceed, let’s get clear on some basics so that we can ensure we are all on the same page.
What a value proposition is NOT
Let’s break some myths and misconceptions.
It is not a slogan
Yes, it is not what L’Oréal says: "Because we’re worth it." Or what MasterCard says: "There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s MasterCard."
Some people even equate it with an elevator speech, which is a very general statement of a couple of lines expressing your target market and how you help them.
It is not a glowing description
A value proposition is not an opportunity to brag. It's not a description of your unique services, passion for excellence or cutting-edge technology.
The statement "We’ve got the best pizzas in the world" doesn’t mean anything to your customers. It might sound good but it’s not a value proposition since it doesn't talk about the value the customer will get. It’s plain bragging. And you might have noticed that companies that are not world leaders are those that usually like to declare they are the best.
It is not about information
"We sell medical equipment." So what?
A value proposition is not about loads of sentences describing the legacy of your company or the products and services you offer.
What a value proposition is
For many businesses, "What is a value proposition?" can be a million dollar question because it has the potential to propel your business into the million dollar league.
Here’s how I define a value proposition:
A value proposition is a clear statement about the outcomes that an individual or an organization can realize from using your product, service or solution.
The keyword here is outcomes. Because that’s what your customers are interested in.
A value proposition is a promise of value to be delivered, communicated, and acknowledged. It is also a belief from the customer about how value (benefit) will be delivered, experienced and acquired.
As you can see the Wikipedia definition is slightly different. But that's not what I want you to notice.
What I want you to notice is that both definitions set the customer at the centre. It's not about you or your company. It's about your customer and the value you can deliver to them.
Here's an example. Compare the following two statements.
Statement 1: We provide air conditioners.
"So what," says the customer? There are scores of companies to choose from.
Statement 2: An air conditioner that cleans your air and improves your indoor environment.
"Mmmmm…. Now, you are talking. Tell me more," your customer is likely to say.
The way the second statement has been framed grabs the attention of your prospect and makes them want to know more. All this, in under three seconds.
Sounds easy, right? But the fact is that creating value propositions is not easy unless you have the right tools. Here are four tools that will help you create powerful value propositions.
Create powerful value propositions with these four tools
Tool #1: The Value Proposition Canvas from Strategyzer
The Value Proposition Canvas created by Strategyzer is my absolute favourite. I have used it several times – at multiple companies I have worked for and also with clients for my company Up Strategy Lab.
I find it valuable because it gets you to focus on what customers really, really want, helping you to design solutions that they are willing to buy. Here's what Strategyzer's Value Proposition Canvas helps you to do:
- Customer profiles: You can create one unique canvas per customer profile. Let's say you provide equipment to a healthcare facility. You can then create customer profile of administrators, doctor, nurses and so on.
- Easy to collaborate: The canvas is used in a collaborative workshop where representatives of all functions – such as support, sales and marketing – are present. At this workshop, everyone must agree on what the customer profile should look like.
- Visualisation: I love that this canvas allows us to clearly visualise the jobs the customer wants done, the gains they want and pains they have.
- Product-Market Fit: It allows you to adjust the value proposition based on research and insight so that you can work towards a better product-market fit.
The value proposition canvas consist of two parts, the customer profile and your offering. The customer profile maps customer jobs(s), the gains the customer is looking for and the pain points. Your offering displays the products and services you have for the customer and how you offer them pain relievers and gain creators.
When these two parts are in sync, you have a product-market fit.
The tool is inspired by theories created by Clayton M. Christensen, HBS Professor & Disruptive Innovation Expert, who is one of the most influential business theorists in the world. Below you can learn more about his explanation of the "Jobs to be done" methodology.
To deepen your knowledge of the subject, I would advise you to read Clayton’s article “Know Your Customers’ “Jobs to Be Done”. It contains additional insights that will help you to better understand the concept and move you closer to find the jobs to be done for your customers.
Karen Dillon, Contributing Editor of Harvard Business Review and co-author of Competing Against Luck, participated in a podcast where she discussed the “Job to be done” methodology and gave some good advice. To listen to it – CLICK HERE
Example of how Intercom used Value Proposition Canvas
In the video below, Matt Hodges explains how he used the "Jobs to be Done" methodology for American software company Intercom and what result it gave.
How to use the Value Proposition Canvas
The tool helps you to get a complete picture of how a particular customer segment relates to a value proposition and consequently helps you take better decisions.
You can access and download the canvas by clicking here.
I have written an article How to create customer profiles / buyer personas for B2B Sales that explains in more detail how to use the tool. I have also written How I Broke the Code for Advanced Value Proposition Creation Design in which I explain how I used the tool for a complicated set of products and solutions.
The video below gives you a quick overview of Strategyzer's Value Proposition Canvas and how to use it.
The questions you need to ask
Once you have downloaded all the tools, you need to create your customer profile by asking questions of yourself, your colleagues and your customers.
The questions are divided into three sections: Customer Jobs, Gains, and Pains. My suggestion is that you print the Value Proposition Canvas, get pens and a lot of post-it notes and call your colleagues to participate in this exercise.
Start to write down what you think are the customer jobs, pains and gains on post-it notes. Make sure to write only ONE on each post-it note. Most likely you will create 30-50 different post-it notes once you get started. Place the post-it notes on each section, so you carefully divide the jobs, pains, and gains.
Once you are done, take all the "customer jobs" post-it notes and sort them in order of importance. Do the same with "gains" and "pains".
To get you started, I given a description for each of them below.
Describe what a specific customer segment is trying to get done. It could be the tasks they are trying to perform and complete, the problems they are trying to solve, or the needs they are trying to satisfy. You could ask yourself:
- What functional jobs are you helping your customer get done? (eg perform or complete a specific task, solve a specific problem…)
- What social jobs are you helping your customer get done? (eg trying to look good, gain power or status…)
- What emotional jobs are you helping your customer get done? (eg aesthetics, feel good, security…)
- What basic needs are you helping your customer satisfy? (eg communication, sex …)
Describe the benefits your customer expects, desires or would be pleasantly surprised by. This includes functional utility, social gains, positive emotions, and cost savings. You could be very tempted to start adding all the features your product or service may have. But make sure you don’t lock yourself in. Try to be honest. Don't write up gains you don’t support yet but definitely list gains you do support.
Describe negative emotions, undesired costs and situations, and risks that your customer experiences or could experience before, during, and after getting the job done.
You are finished when…
Once you have sorted all your post-it notes, you have a customer profile. Create a word document and list the customer jobs in order of importance with a comment. Do the same with pains and gains.
The customer profile can now be used by the marketing team to create strong messages, by the sales team to create better value propositions and by the product management team to understand who your customers are better.
Tool #2: Value proposition comparison with competitors
It’s a good thing to know what your value proposition is. And it is extra good to know how it compares to that of your leading competitors. This template helps you to assess your value proposition against that of your competitors.
You can download the template by clicking here.
When you better understand your competitors, you can write sharper and better value propositions for your presentations, website and so on.
In the first row of this tool, mention the name of your competitors. In the first column, mention each of the value propositions. Now rate them on a scale of four with four = sophisticated and one = minimal. A value of 0 means that the value proposition is absent in a competitor's offering. You can also use a circular graphic of four quarters as shown in the image above.
Once you are done, you will have a great tool to provide to your sales and marketing teams.
Tool #3: Value Proposition Builder™ from Futurecurve
This tool, a trademark of Futurecurve, is developed by thorough research and data analysis. Futurecurve has published a book, Creating and Delivering Your Value Proposition: Managing Customer Experience for Profit, on how to use this framework which you can buy at Amazon.
So, how does this tool work?
It is basically a six-step iterative process. The word "iterative" is really important because the value proposition must be changed according to the needs and demands of your audience. What you are offering right now might not be relevant to your target audience after five or 10 years.
- The first step is to identify the market segment you are targeting. It is to these people or clients ONLY to whom you will deliver value.
- Define value experience that your target audience will reap from your organization. Categorize them into good, bad, and ugly and try to discover the experiential outcome that will make your audience go “Wow!”
- Define a mix of offerings that will satisfy the needs of your target market.
- Now assess the benefits of your offerings. Most people here commit the mistake of equating features with benefits. Once you know the benefits, you can eliminate the cost component from the benefit and get the true value.
Value = Benefits – Cost
- Work out how the value provides differentiation and alternatives for your organization.
- Now back it all up with testing and measurable proof.
Tool #4: The Value Promise Story from Content Bridge
This tool comes from Gordana Stik, B2B technology marketer. The image above is of the tool and process.
This framework is a 10-step process divided into two parts: "The Hook" and "The How". The specialty of this tool is that it helps you create a message flow based on your value proposition. That is, how you can move from understanding your customer needs to fulfil those needs through your products or services.
What does a value proposition consist of?
Now that you learned about the four tools to create a value proposition, we will go on to create one just for fun.
The process outlined below can be used for website, presentations and so on.
#1. Super Headline
David Ogilvy, considered the Father of Advertising, once said, “Write great headlines and you’ll have successfully invested 80% of your money.”
That also applies to the headlines in your value proposition. It has to be a single short sentence. The purpose of the headline is to grab the attention of your readers. It’s about making your customer say, “Hey! You got my attention. [Please] tell me more!” That "please" there is really important.
How to create a brilliant headline
The secret to writing a brilliant headline is to write many. Imagine we need to write a headline for a company selling shoes. Start by creating a list like I have done below. Then create many headlines. After you have done five to 10 different ones, go through your list and pick the one that is best. Or combine elements from two to make a great one.
- H1: High-quality shoes
- H2: These shoes will make you feel free
- H3: Wear all day and smell great
- H4: ……..
The sub-headline is similar to the super headline in the sense that its purpose is to make the reader want to read the next few lines. Your sub-headline can be longer but should still be concise. The sub headline is a good way to add some extra value to what you want to say.
Depending on whether you are creating a presentation or a website you may choose to add text to explain your value proposition in more detail.
#4. Bullet points
Bullet points are a good way to list values, benefits and/or features of your products or services. The best practice is to always focus on the value and benefits rather than the features.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This is why visuals are as important as your headline, sub-headline and text. Visuals can communicate the message way faster to the viewer, and if planned well, can convey difficult messages very simply.
You can show your product, the hero shot, or even an image reinforcing the overall idea of the value proposition. You can also use an infographic that makes it easier for people to read the text.
Examples of great value propositions
Here are a few examples from some businesses that have nailed the art of writing excellent value propositions.
Cloud-based design tool Figma has brilliantly demonstrated its value proposition on its website.
Figma allows multiple graphic designers to work on the same document at the same time to quickly create UI, UX and design elements.
Its website says it all. When you open the site you see several graphic elements being brought together by four different people at the same time. This is exactly the value proposition that Figma promises and delivers on.
The is an old webpage from Mindset, a Sweden-based leadership training company. It started with a problem statement and translated it into a story with the plot based on an uncomfortable truth about the business. It presents a good solution and supports it with good arguments. The visual has also played a great role throughout the value proposition. I like this example because it is very different.
3. Campaign Monitor
The power of Campaign Monitor's value proposition lies in its simplicity and clarity. It clearly states what it is about and what value the customer gets.
Intercom offers a live chat service for websites that you most likely have used. It's the little blue box to the right in the image above.
For its website, it would have been easy for Intercom to write a value proposition talking about how it is the world's best chat solution. I am glad that the company pushed itself to really think about the value offered and the job to be done. The reason we implement a chat service is to talk to our customers and that is what Intercom brings out so brilliantly in its value proposition.
This is an old example but I still like it since this is why I use Evernote. "Remember Everything" is one of the values they offer in their solution and they have some interesting images. The sub-headline could have been better, in my opinion.
This was one of the most difficult value propositions I ever created.
Mentice operates in a regulated healthcare environment selling endovascular simulators to hospitals, training centers, and the medical device industry. The tricky part is that target customers have different value propositions. And you have only one page to grab their attention. More specifically, you have just one sentence to do so.
The message I came up with was subtle and catered to a targeted audience: it focused on achieving excellence and saving lives. Even if Mentice was doing a wide variety of things in different ways, the message was the same across all operations.
I wrote an article on the entire process to create this value proposition. Click HERE to read the article.
How to write value propositions for websites and presentations
If you have to completely rewrite the content on the home page of your website, how should you actually go about doing it?
My advice would be to follow the process I outlined above and also to think about how you can tell your value proposition story using blocks.
A website consists of blocks that present value propositions in an order. A block generally consists of a super headline, sub-headline, text and image. You need to decide how to organize the blocks on your site so that they tell a story that inspires visitors on your website to take certain action. This action could be signing up for a demo, signing up for a trial or simply contacting you for more information. Your webpage needs to have a number of value propositions to convince the visitor to take any of these actions.
As an example, look at the website of MuchSkills.com, a company that visualizes skills and skill sets. It is simply block after block with headlines, text and images. The purpose of these blocks is to explain the value proposition of the solution on offer and to make the visitor sign up for it.
Creating attractive story-based presentations is an art form and takes a lot of work. I have written an article "Sales presentations can make or break your sales: An expert’s guide on how to get it right" in which I explain in detail how to do it. Please check it out. The article focuses on creating presentations for channel partners but it works equally well for your internal sales team.
As I conclude this blog, if there is one piece of advice I'd give you regarding value propositions it is this: NEVER forget that the value proposition has to be customer-focused and not focused on you. A great value proposition is all about what outcome or value your customer can get.
To create really good value propositions takes time and a lot of testing. I hope my article has given you the confidence to design a brilliant one of your own.
If you have any questions or suggestions regarding this article, write to me at email@example.com. I would love to hear your feedback.
Presentation How to Create a Strong Value Proposition for B2B
This article is based on my extremely popular SlideShare presentation for how to create a strong value proposition for B2B. Check it out below.