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I came upon a post by Jeff Thull yesterday.  Jeff is the author of three best-selling sales books and founder of Prime Resource Group, one of the vendors that ESR covers.

Through the success of his clients, Jeff has proven his approach to selling business value works.  (Not every company is a candidate for deploying Jeff’s approach.)

In the post, Jeff bashes the term, and the concept of, “value proposition.”  He suggests another term, “value assumption,” which describes a process of collaboration between seller and buyer to determine where value from a product or service will be applied and realized with respect to that individual customer’s business.

I commented on the post:

In my experience, the term “value proposition” is subject to wide varieties of interpretation. Some salespeople use the term in a very general way: “Our value proposition is to provide manufacturers automation that will reduce cost and improve product quality.” If that’s the extent of their understanding of value, they aren’t going to get very far. I expect you’d agree.

For others “value proposition” is the end product of your “value assumption” process, where, through active collaboration with the client, it is determined precisely what the value is, where it will impact the client’s business, and by how much. You’re right on target about what has to be accomplished and the questions that need to be asked and answered to establish that definition of “value proposition.”

Many whose end goal of presenting a “value proposition” through your “value assumption” process use other more generic terms (such as “value statement”) to provoke interest, leading to an in-depth conversation with a prospective client. Using examples of how they worked with executives of companies that the prospect would recognize, and posing thoughtful, compelling questions, is a proven way to get that job done. It is selling. That’s what professional salespeople do.

With all that being said, I agree with you that few salespeople employ the “value assumption” process, regardless of what you or I might call it. You have definitely raised an area where significant differentiation can be provided.

I see Jeff’s point and I agree with the process.  Few salespeople take their customers through this or a similar process.  Many throw value-isms at customers to see what sticks.  It’s painful to watch.  And, when a customer sees a person selling, Jeff writes, “whatever value you suggest it is, the customer is likely to reduce its value because they will assume it is likely exaggerated to make the sale.”

I just don’t see the “value assumption” approach as anything particularly new.  If someone finally got the majority of B2B salespeople to sell that way—now that would be new.   Jeff has been on that quest.


3 Responses

  1. Amen! I couldn’t agree more with you and Jeff on this: “value proposition” is one of the most overused phrases in sales today. It has almost become meaningless. And as a result, most “value propositions” tend to be generic pablum with no real utility to customers. Much more useful to both seller and buyer are “results propositions” – which provide specific, quantitative, actionable description of business results that can be reasonably expected by that particular customer. This sounds very similar to Jeff’s “value assumption” idea – I like it.

    One other aspect to selling value is timing – most salespeople wait far too long into the sales cycle before providing a value proposition. They reason that they need sufficient information to give a good estimate of value. But customers need to know what they can expect for their investment as early as possible in their decision process. So, providing a “value assumption”, as Jeff suggests, as early as possible, and then collaboratively refining that analysis is a far better way to go.

  2. Dave, you Jeff & Tim are 100% correct about two things:

    1.The term “Value Proposition” in most people minds represents the high level marketing message for a particular product or service and as such it’s almost a throw away.
    2.The key is the active & collaborative value assessment/ alignment process (or whatever you call it) that the best sales people go through with their customers.

    Unfortunately, as you rightly said in your blog, there really is nothing new with the value assessment concept. It is at the core of almost every sales methodology, and we need to be careful about falling into the same old trap that calling something by a different name is like putting lipstick on a pig.

    The real issue here is that in today’s environment, customers are looking for solutions and the best of breed sales people approach their jobs as “Problem Solvers” not just “Product Sellers”. Unfortunately this problem solving orientation does not come naturally to a large percentage of sales people.

    Marketing and Sales Executives have to start helping more of their sales people perform this unnatural act so they can take a problem solving approach with their prospects and customers. This will not happen however without a problem solving process to follow and sales enablement tools that help sap=les people not only have good product conversations but also good problem, problem solving, and value conversations.

    Most sales methodologies do a good job on the process piece but they haven’t yet broken the code on how to help their clients document and then institutionalize the problem solving knowledge piece.

    This is why product marketing organizations must evolve into solution marketing organizations transition from an inside-out (feature function) orientation to an outside-in (customer & problem centric) orientation .

    The first step in that transformation is to build detailed problem solution maps for each solution that not only define the high level problem their solution solves but also the key underlying causes that drive that particular problem. Then for each key capability create detailed value stories or value scenarios that describe:

    1.How the customer uses that that particular capability to solve a specific underlying cause.
    2.What is the measurable business value (reduced cost, time, risk or increased revenue or productivity) they should expect from solving that particular cause.

    Value scenarios come in two types generic & differentiated and the more detailed they are the more chance sales people will learn from them and start making the transition from product seller to problem solver.

    It’s time for CMO’s to step up to the solution marketing transformation challenge. If they don’t fill this vacuum then someone else will.

  3. Thanks for the comments Tim and Bob. Watch for some exciting news coming from Tim’s and Bob’s companies.

    By the way, you can listen to my interview with Bob here: http://www.esresearch.com/e/home/document.php?dA=Bob_Schmonsees

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