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Don’t Make These Value-Proposition Mistakes

Published on December 1, 2009 on MarketingProfs

You think your value proposition is already as strong as it needs to be because you are making sales, right? You may be selling in spite of, not because of, your value proposition.

When you have a prospect on the phone or when you meet with a prospect, you have a few minutes of their focused attention. When a prospect glances at a trade-show sign, a piece of collateral, or a web page, you get a fraction of that time and attention to make a powerful connection. Your value proposition has to be clear and succinct enough to succeed in these cases

In B2B companies there are always more tasks to complete than there are resources to do them, so many deliverables are judged “done” as soon as they are “good enough.” Your value proposition is one place you should be willing to invest more effort to make it clearer and more relevant.

How to Tell If You Have a Problem

B2C companies have an easier time testing their value proposition – they can run A/B tests with candidate value propositions on their web sites to see which aid conversion the most. B2B companies often lack the volume of web visitors and strong offers that are needed to test effectively.

If you are confident that you have a great value proposition, show it anonymously to 5 – 10 target prospects and ask them what this company does and for whom. If your value proposition isn’t clear or if it doesn’t impress them, it’ll be apparent.

Beware the Confirmation Bias Trap

Confirmation bias is an unfortunate human tendency to give greater weight to evidence that supports our hypothesis than evidence that to refutes it. We may pay more attention to people who quickly “get” what we mean by our value proposition than the people who struggle and ask us to elaborate or guess incorrectly what it means.

What Makes a Good Value Proposition?

Before anything else, your prospects want to figure out easily whether you solve a problem they have in a way that makes sense for them.

To do this, you have to:

  • Use language they use. Don’t force them to learn new buzzwords or acronyms and don’t assume they are as up-to-date with analysts’ terms as you are.
  • Keep it simple. You only get a slice of their time and attention. Don’t waste it.
  • Convey clearly and specifically how you will help them.
  • Indicate who you solve problems for

Case in Point

Contrast 2 ways of conveying the value proposition of a hot start-up company, XYZ

Version A

Version B
XYZThe leader in 3D Direct Modeling

XYZ accelerates time to market and enables innovation by empowering engineers

XYZ empowers companies to:

  • Innovate faster than the competition
  • Re-mix existing CAD models into new product concepts
  • Halve the time spent preparing CAD geometry for CFD and FEA
  • Win more RFP bids with compelling, realistic concepts
XYZXYZ users explore, analyze, and simulate a dozen design options in the time teams depending on CAD specialists complete one design cycle.

Which version is simpler to digest, more credible, and makes you want to investigate further? Might a reader extrapolate from “if I can complete more design cycles faster” to “I can do better work, faster?”

Can you tell in each who the audience is?

What Not to Do

Don’t Use Jargon and Buzzwords

As vendors, we quickly become comfortable with industry terms and buzzwords because we use them frequently. It’s a short but misguided step to assuming prospects are equally familiar with them. I can report from dozens of focus groups that prospects are often 2 years behind vendors in learning industry buzzwords and category names. Don’t assume your prospects are as up to date as you are on what analysts and thought leaders say. Unfamiliar jargon and buzzwords make people stop reading.

Don’t Over-Emphasize New Categories

Avoid forcing prospects to learn acronyms or new category names to understand your value proposition.

Maybe you have a paradigm-shifting new product or service. But it will take a while before the term is commonly used by prospects – often until you have direct competition. A new category might sound grand to you, but it might convey an unproven technology or an unknown concept to your prospects. In each of the examples above and below the revised text communicates the value proposition without mentioning the category.

HubSpot has invented and popularized a new marketing discipline – inbound marketing – which is larger in scope than SEO optimization. They use a category label but also specify who they help and what they do for them.

HubSpot is an inbound marketing system to help your small or medium sized business get found on the Internet by the right prospects and convert more of them into leads and customers

If you have a paradigm-shifting solution, your category name must be self-explanatory and you still need to explain it in simple language. If you don’t have a paradigm-shifting solution, don’t invent a new category.

Don’t Mention Product Names If You’re a 1-Product Company

If you are under $100M in sales, your prospects can absorb your company name or your product name, but not both. Which do you prefer they learn and remember?

Here’s an example of how a vendor could simplify their value proposition by leaving out their product name and category.


XYZ’s Business Process Guidance system, PRODUCT NAME, guides customer service reps step-by-step through procedures in real-time, reducing costs by millions while improving process compliance By stepping customer service reps through standardized procedures, XYZ subscribers enforce best practices to reduce call times and boost customer satisfaction levels up to 40%.

Don’t Use Taglines

What’s the harm, you might ask. The harm is that prospects rapidly scan your materials or web site. If they are distracted by content that doesn’t help make your case, they may not get to the content that does.

For most technology vendors, a 3 – 7 word tagline is too brief a space to convey your value proposition. A vendor uses “Data. Intelligence. On Demand.” as their tag line. Can you tell what they do? Avoid wasting the slice of your prospect’s attention you get on a tag line.

Advertisers have recognized for years that the more you try to say, the less people absorb. Don’t take the risk. Toss the tag line.

Don’t Claim Top-Line Or Bottom-Line Impact

Many vendors try to tie what they do with a major impact on their customers’ top or bottom lines. But B2B prospects are highly skeptical of vague claims that you’ll impact their top or bottom line. They’re more willing to believe results tied closer to the task you accomplish for them. If you have an online reference collection for engineers, it will be easier to believe that you help engineers find information faster than that they’ll get products to market faster or win market share with more innovative solutions.

This is counter-intuitive to many sales and marketing executives. We were taught (by some expensive sales trainers) that prospects won’t buy unless we can show how our product or service can make a significant impact on their business problem. That is still true, but a sales executive shopping for a CRM system may be more focused on boosting sales productivity. Maybe he or she can increase sales or maybe just keep sales flat while reducing the size of their sales force. We’re safer claiming the more immediate and concrete impact.

Don’t Waste a Minute

An ineffective value proposition can undermine the effectiveness of your marketing across the board – press mentions, sales materials, signage, collateral, and your web site, where an ineffective value proposition inflates abandonment rates and suppresses conversion rates. Test your value proposition soon and strengthen it using these guidelines.

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