Why “Value Propositions” Are Useless10

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Lipstick Pig

It’s 2014, by now I assume you are no longer relying on Palm Pilot, going to Blockbuster for your in-home movie entertainment, so why are you still relying “value propositions” in the hope of engaging with potential buyers and winning clients?

People love the term value proposition, so user friendly, none threatening, cute, warm, and safe. Some pundits going to great lengths to elevate it above other questionable and formerly popular predecessors such as “the elevator pitch”, a concept dating back to liftmen trying to improve their lot with an unsuspecting captive (trapped) audience. I guess at one point someone alerted sellers to the fact that the word ‘Pitch’ was not conducive to consultative selling. So things evolved to USP – Or “Unique Selling Proposition”, exalting the uniqueness of one’s offering. But uniqueness on a product level is rare, continuous uniqueness even more infrequent. In the end it is still about what is being sold, and as such, just an elevated pitch.

And so it evolved, buyers are obviously looking for ‘Value’, (no matter how it is defined, or more often, undefined), while allowing sellers to cling to a familiar concept, ‘Proposition’, thus giving us the ever popular: ‘Value Proposition”.

Proposition –
1. the act of offering or suggesting something to be considered, accepted, adopted, or done.
2. a plan or scheme proposed.
3. an offer of terms for a transaction, as in business.

While this may have played well in focus groups, the reality is that you can put lipstick on it, but it’s still a ‘Pitch’. As with many things in sales, the problem is less with the concept than the execution.

The challenge is that sellers are still going into to selling situations with pre-molded ideas of value for a generic group of people, and proposing that it will fir to a specific scenario. Even well-crafted value propositions, with good contribution from Marketing, are rooted in “here is why this is good for you”, and are then proposed – pitched to potential buyers. While many of the assumptions that go into the value prop are indeed accurate, they are often “proposed” in a very one directional fashion, much like a pitch.

The better alternative would be to use the key elements of the value proposition as a basis for discussion. Rather that a proposing value, it is much more effective to mutually define and develop value for the potential buyer. You can still leverage the same facts and factors, but it is more about the way you use them to initiate and craft a discussion that will not only allow you to gain a better understanding of the buyer, their requirements and objectives, but will engage the buyer in a much deeper and impactful way. This will allow you to arrive at a mutually agreed on points of value that the buyer can take on without feeling that it was thrust on them in a pre-fab fashion.

The only practical use for “value propositions” is to disqualify buyers who don’t fit your preconceived cookie-cutter notion of who your right buyer is. Change proposition to definition, and you will eliminate those buyer that won’t benefit from your offering, while allowing you to engage and capture a much broader range of buyers that those who fit the mold.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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10 Comments

  1. Marc Zazeela

    I completely agree, Tibor.

    Buyers don’t care about what makes you important to anyone but themselves. Thinking that they are all the same is so 1990.

    Value, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder.

    Cheers,
    Marc

    • Tibor Shanto

      Thanks Marc, and yes, value is in the eyes of the beholder, beholder of the check.

      Tibor

  2. Ann Sutton

    I guess I should go buy some candles so I can see my Palm Pilot at night! This feels like semantics – definition, proposition, “you say to-MAY-to, I say to-MAH-to”. I use value proposition, elevator pitch or unique selling proposition – choose one – as an internal lightening rod to get businesses clearly, concisely and specifically focused on why the product or service exists. This crystal clear statement becomes the foundation for qualifying, disqualifying and engaging customers via marketing materials and sales “pitches”. Agree – core issue is execution. Your key point isn’t about the vocabulary – it’s about listening, being customer focused and using the facts and figures behind the proposition to learn what the customer needs.

    • Tibor Shanto

      I am not sure I agree, first there is a clear difference between the three. Second, while listening is key, I see it more as a what will attract a potential more, a pre-canned concept or an engaging discussion around issues they recognize. I think we are on the same path, I would encourage you to just convert the statements to questions, and you will have much better and engaging conversations.

      BTW, isn’t your Pilot back-lit?

      Thanks for the contribution,
      Tibor

  3. Adrian Davis

    I agree with Tibor. The new sales approach is about listening and embarking on a shared journey to value. We need to move from an “elevator pitch” to an elevator conversation. This is not just a change in semantics. It’s a change in thinking. Rather than figuring out how to get a buyer to accept a pre-packaged solution, the new approach is much more respectful to buyers. It’s about emotionally engaging the buyer in a conversation that disrupts their thinking pattern and gets them wanting to explore what’s possible with you.
    We have become a nation of researchers. Google reports that most people visit at least 10 sites before contacting a vendor. WebMD has over 30 million unique visitors per month. Before we used to visit the doctor and do whatever he (and it was usually a he) told us. Now we diagnose ourselves and if/when we do go to the doctor, we have a peer to peer, well informed discussion, and we push back on premature prescriptions.
    As we interact with better informed buyers and next generation buyers, the question is what is our value. It’s not a pre-canned pitch. It’s in thoughtful questions and powerful stories that challenge the buyer to re-think his/her assumptions and explore the realm of what might be possible.

    • Tibor Shanto

      Adrian, there is certainly a need for (us) trainers to set realistic time frame, and the importance of on going coaching. I find sometimes it is better to walk away from opportunities where the expectations are measured in days rather than months.

      Thanks for the feedback,
      Tibor

    • KC

      Discarding value proposition thinking is dangerous, though perhaps “value hypothesis” would be better wording. Of course there must be discussion and agreement grown out of that on what is mutually valuable and so the basis for sustainable business. But unless there are some pretty clearly highlighted and interesting value elements, even getting time for meaningful discovery and discussion is increasingly difficult.

      • Tibor Shanto

        KC,

        I think too many try to pass off their hypothesis as a given, it is about the conversation.

        Thanks for the feedback,
        Tibor

  4. Michael Nick

    Where do I begin? Your whole premise is based on the idea that a sales professional doesn’t know how to utilize their value proposition. You are accusing them of using value as a “pitch.” I couldn’t disagree more. First you must understand the value you have to offer as it relates to the issues, pains and goals of your market. Once you understand the “value” you have to offer, then I agree with many of the other comments, it is a joint journey to define how that value can impact the prospects costs, revenues and other financial metrics.

    As for a Value Hypothesis…the same thing, you assume sales professionals are not using them in a “proper” manner. I’m more positive, since something like 60% – 70% of decision makers have decided on a vendor prior to talking, a Value Hypothesis is a great way to open a door early in the buying process to establish some common ground, provide insight into potential values, possible solutions, and so much more.
    Sales tools are a critical part of the sales process. If you don’t use them and your competition is using them you will likely lose. What do you suggest in lieu of some of these tools?

    • Tibor Shanto

      Michael,

      I think you make some good points.

      I would add that I am not assuming, I am basing my comments on what I see out there. I don’t think I am being negative at all, I am just aclling it as it is, if what is turns out to be negative don’t shoot the messenger, let’s address the issues. Sugar coating things may make them easier to swallow, but will not change the underlying reality.

      With respect to the Value Hypothesis, I think you are saying the same as I did. I also believe that if a sales person who engages a decision maker when they are 60-70% through the decision, they are less sales, and more order taking.

      Thanks,
      Tibor

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