You’re Asking the Wrong Questions: 3 Steps to a Value Proposition

There’s no doubt about it: business to business sales can be complicated and often overwhelming. Sales teams have a huge amount of data and information available to them, but very little time to funnel through all of it to find something meaningful to communicate to the customer. A collaborative approach to sales is not new. Sales teams know that they should be collaborating and interacting with their clients in a helpful manner while simultaneously providing new solutions and insight to help customers grow their businesses. The question is often not if a team should be providing a collaborative way to solve problems, but how.

“What numbers do you need from me to get started?”

I’m asked this question several times a week by sales and marketing teams. My response is always, “None. Don’t give me numbers.” The question represents a misunderstanding of value selling, because numbers are, actually, the last thing you need. Starting a sales presentation with numbers is like building a house without a blueprint: you have no vision, no goal, no strategy! (Click here to tweet this.) Before we begin “plugging in numbers,” we have to understand exactly what it is we’re proposing.

Step 1: Understand the Problem

In order to create a compelling business case based on value, you must understand exactly what the value is that your customer will get from the solution. It is critical to understand the following:

1. What does the customer perceive to be the problem? Does the customer see a problem?

To provide an effective solution, it is critical to understand the problems as the customer sees them. Maybe your customer isn’t even aware that there is a problem yet. A truly collaborative partner will help the customer understand the problem and how it affects their business.

2. Who is impacted by the problem?

Is this an issue that impacts the entire company? Perhaps it is only IT or the salesforce who is struggling with this problem. Maybe it’s a security issue which keeps the CIO up at night, while 99% of the company is blissfully unaware of the risk.

3. What is causing the problem?

Is this a problem that can be solved with a simple patch, or does this problem require creating an entire new solution? Is human error a factor, or is it all about IT configuration? How do these causes interact, and how will the solution work to mitigate these issues?

4. Who are the decision makers, and how do they view the problem?

CEB research states that 5.4 stakeholders are involved in a B2B decision. Who are your stakeholders, and what do they care about? An IT admin might readily understand your solution and how it can make his or her life easier, but does that matter to the VP with the decision to veto the purchase? Be sure to align your proposal to the value that each stakeholder is looking for.

Step 2: Understand How Your Solution Will Solve the Problem

Now that you understand your customer’s pain points, it is crucial to understand exactly how this solution will alleviate your customer’s headaches.

1. What will it impact?

Is this solution going to improve employee productivity? Whose? How? How will this solution impact the customer’s top line and bottom line? How will it accomplish this?

2. How will the customer use this solution?

For every solution a sales team can provide, there are as many ways to utilize a solution as there are customers purchasing it. Software that one company may use to create a central hub for marketing content may be utilized by another company for internal facing documents. The best way to ensure that your value based business case will be high impact is to understand exactly how your customer envisions using the solution and tailor your calculations accordingly.

3. How do you translate the solution into value?

Once upon a time, it was possible to make a business proposal based on features and benefits. Today, the innovative sales member will translate features and benefits into value that anyone in an organization can understand. Each problem should be translated into a benefit.

Step 3: Craft Your Value Based Business Case

Now that you understand your customer’s problem and how you can help solve it, it’s time to begin building calculations to capture the value. A truly high impact business case will be clear, transparent, and able to speak to the value of a solution without anyone to translate.

Now that you have a clear framework for your value proposition, you can start working with the numbers.

About the Author
Michele Harrison

Michele Harrison

Michele is a Value Consultant at Ecosystems. Her background includes studying Anthropology, several years abroad in China and Kenya, and working as a graduate assistant for an IT strategy course. Michele’s diverse combination of international exposure, business training, and countless hours of IT strategy discussions position her with unique insight to effectively quantify value in a variety of industries. She has an MBA in marketing, supply chain and strategy from Penn State University.

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