Labcast: Value Propositions Decoded

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In this week’s Labcast, OpenView’s Brian Zimmeran talks to top sales influencer Lori Richardson about the ins and outs of value propositions.

Labcast 65_ Value Propositions Decoded with Brian Zimmerman and Lori Richardson

Kevin: Hello again and welcome to this addition of Labcast. I’m Kevin Cain, and today I’m joined by OpenView Managing Director Brian Zimmerman, who will be talking with Lori Richardson about the importance of value propositions. Lori Richardson is a blogger, speaker, inside sales trainer, and B2B sales detective for Score More Sales, a sales strategy organization that she founded in 2001.

Lori was also recently named one of the top 25 sales influencers of the year. Let’s take a listen to the conversation that Brian and Lori have to find out more about why value propositions are so important.


Brian: Hi, Lori. Welcome here today to OpenView. What we’d like to talk about and have a conversation about is value proposition and what it means. Just from your perspective, what do you think about the value proposition?

Lori: Absolutely. Well it’s great to be here Brian, so thank you very much for having me. I think that when we talk about value proposition, I always think about when a company is trying to reach another company to do business and they don’t offer the value. They are so busy talking about who they are, who their company is, sometimes their title. I heard somebody giving me a sample of his voicemail message and he went on for 20 seconds talking about the great company he works for. Never got to the point about why it might be worth his prospect’s time to listen to anything.

Brian: That’s true, it’s very common. When you think about the creation of the value proposition, when you look at an organization – our companies a lot of them are expansion stage, in our portfolio – who is responsible for creating the value proposition? Do you see it being product marketing? Do you see it being marketing? Is it sales or is it everyone?

Lori: That’s an excellent question. I guess it depends where you work and what size company and who’s driving what in the organization. Generally, I love a company where people are working together on it, because clearly there are different points of view depending on where you’re sitting in the offices.

Brian: I agree with that. That was kind of a baited question. My thoughts are is that a value proposition is created by the entire organization. You’ve got product people coming at the product strategy with features and benefits, you’ve got the marketing team that’s trying to put a little sizzle on what they’re saying, and then you’ve got sales people who have to actually deliver it personally, right?

Lori: Right.

Brian: In fact, we had an exercise at one of our sales execution forums where we asked the groups to stand up and give their value proposition, but it wasn’t to a client. It was to potential hire. We thought that that’s a really good place to test your value proposition. If people still say I don’t get it or you’re not attracting great talent, smart salespeople are going to really want to Absolutely.

Brian: We went back and rethought it, got the marketing teams together and we got on a better page. But just from that perspective and I’ll close on that, is that the best place to test your value proposition is internally and word of mouth. You’re kind of on the spot when you’re in the middle of a sale, right?

Lori: Yeah, it’s a little late.

Brian: You’d better nail it or you’re not going to get invited back. If you can’t attract top talent because your value proposition doesn’t clearly explain your company and the business value that it presents to potential clients, but you’re right, we know the terms, the elevator pitch, etc.

Lori: What’s interesting about that is that we have done research, and I’ve done this in different companies I’ve worked for in the past, where you’ll go to the client that’s hired you to help them improve revenues and you’ll ask the CEO what is it that you guys do and then you go ask the salespeople and they have something different to say. Different ones say different things. Then you ask the clients that like them and you hear another thing. So I think building on what you said, you’ve got to get it down concrete and then put it on the walls, put it in your materials, make sure that everybody knows, and in new hire training, critical that people really know what it is that you do and the value that you add.

Brian: Let’s talk about creating the value proposition. We discussed who’s responsible for it and why. My thoughts are is that the key is really understanding the buyer journey, a lot of terms for it, right? The buying process is typically a cliche term.  I’m starting to think of it as a journey. So how does a journey of your product go from creation, value at the user base, and then into a sale and into an account base, understanding that buyer journey, doing a little bit more research, asking more questions.

I don’t know if you’ve seen this a lot, but people are saying my sales processes is X, and sometimes it’s just kind of fitted to your product or what you believe as opposed to really mapping it to the buyer journey.

Lori: Absolutely. You can’t sell until the buyer is ready to buy. So it really is the buyer’s process rather than the seller’s. I totally agree.

Brian: I try to simplify everything as we’ve talked about before, and I think there are three things that happen. There’s getting somebody aware of your solution, your product, your company, getting them interested in doing something. I call it a definitive next step to move forward.

Then there’s the sales cycle. So really understanding the buyer and the value proposition that needs to happen when that person enters that process, so not everybody that signs on the dotted line, you really need to be making aware of your company, your message, etc. It may be a financial decision, but as long as the business equation is done with other people within that group.

Lori: Right.

Brian: Again, for anybody that’s listening to this, really take a lot of time to understand that buyer journey. Get some outsource. We in the Labs have a team that actually puts that together, which is extremely valuable to our portfolio.

Lori: Right. And then all the content that you build should reflect what they will find helpful, not what you think is.

Brian: I don’t know about you, but have you seen that in reverse? Content is created, and then it’s kind of screw-fitted right into the buying process, as opposed to creating it based on that message.

Lori: I think that’s a challenge for a lot of us, the companies we work with. We’re always trying to find ways to help reflect how they can add value to their prospective customers and existing customers.

Brian: So I guess what we’ve learned today in this conversation, which a lot of people already know that listen to this, but get everyone in your company involved to get to your value proposition, take the feedback from your sales team, take the feedback from your product team. Someone obviously in marketing really needs to own the ultimate outcome. Build your content around that value proposition, not what you see it as, and then clearly understand your buying process or the buyer’s journey. Does that sound right?

Lori: Right. And never assume that all your sales team knows the value proposition. Ask them. Don’t put them on the spot and  make them uncomfortable, but find ways on an ongoing basis to tweak it, refine it. People learn over time, so just keep at it and be passionate about what it is that your company stands for and how you’re different and how it adds value.

Brian: That’s a great point, and then just to add on top of that, all of us, you and I, we’ve been sales managers and we’ve talked to a lot of sales managers and VPs of sales. If you’re just managing a forecast, you probably don’t need a manager. Right? A manager is there to develop their teams no matter how senior or how junior those people may be. The investment into asking them whatever you want to call it, your elevator pitch, your value proposition on an ongoing basis.

Lori: Call it what you want, we don’t care.

Brian: A case that I had before, I ran an organization where every Monday we would pick a new person during our kickoff meeting to give the value proposition, and I knew it was done when I heard them talking to their friends about what we did and who we were, and I also knew it when they started rolling their eyes, which means I get it now. We know salespeople, right? That’s a true test.

Lori: Also when they go, “Hmm, hey I like the way that guy said it. He said it a little different.” It’s like the old days when everybody would use the phones and you could hear other people’s messaging.

Brian: A good value proposition at the end of the day is something that anyone can understand whether they’re a client or not.

Lori: Including spouses.

Brian: Yeah, go to your spouse, go to your family and ask, this is what I do and who I am and if they say, I still don’t get it, you probably should redo your value proposition.

Lori: Agreed.

Brian: Okay. Thank you very much Lori for coming.

Lori: My pleasure.

Kevin: That was OpenView Managing Director Brian Zimmerman talking to sales expert Lori Richardson. Thanks for joining us, and please be sure to tune in again next week for the next Labcast.

  • Good conversation. Too much selling dialogue is about who we are and what our products do. Who cares? That is secondary or even tertiary from the buyer’s perspective.

    Every deal or opportunity, from a prospective buyer’s perspective, is a “project”. And every project has a business case. Without fail. And business cases are from the buyers perspective, not the sellers. They include your value proposition related to THEIR business. And it is quantified in dollars and cents, otherwise, no CFO signoff.

    Sellers have alignment and power if engaged and articulate on the buyer’s business case, and are in the dark otherwise.