by: John Caddell

The term “value proposition” has been in vogue in business-to-business sales for twenty years or more. In short, it means that a product for sale must, in essence, create more money (in increased revenue or reduced costs) that it costs to purchase. “If you buy my widget for $x, you’ll get $5x back over the next 10 years,” or something like that.

Countless sales training programs have taught companies how to create compelling, defensible and measurable value propositions. But how often has a product with a superior value equation lost out to one with a poorer one (or one with no concrete value proposition at all)?

The value proposition is a very logical concept. That is its beauty and its limitation.

Every salesperson knows that for buyers, even B2B buyers, emotion is a significant component of the sale. Jeff Thull taught me that most of the emotions swirling around B2B buyers are negative; e.g., “If I screw up this purchase, I’ll lose my job.”

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. I’ve been working with tech companies as a sort of customer anthropologist, interviewing customers to gather stories the companies can use to demonstrate the value their product brings. I work with the companies to find patterns that illustrate the things that customers value. These stories, the companies know, are very compelling sales tools because they are authentic statements the customers themselves volunteer.

Surprisingly, during these interviews, I haven’t heard one customer say, “I would recommend Company Y because we were able to increase our inventory turns and thereby reduce working capital requirements.” Instead, they say things like, “I really like that they are easy to reach and work hard to solve my problems when I have them.” Or: “They could have nickeled-and-dimed me when I had to make some changes during implementation, but they didn’t do that.” In other words, what sticks with customers, and makes them recommenders, are things like “reliability,” “caring about my business,” “saving me time,” “making me smarter.” In other words, the deeper, emotional, fuzzy stuff. [The best salespeople I've met know this intuitively, and are highly focused on customer satisfaction, intervening whenever they feel it's necessary to ensure a customer situation is handled properly.]

Economic value is no longer a differentiator. It’s a hurdle that every purchase has to surmount. To capture customers’ loyalty, and positive references, successful suppliers also provide this emotional value that customers prize so highly.

If you have satisfied, happy customers, you are providing emotional value too. Do you know what it is?

(Photo by Jamesdcawl via stock.xchng)

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