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    What we’ve got here is failure to differentiate…

    Bob Apollo
    Post by Bob Apollo
    September 13, 2016
    What we’ve got here is failure to differentiate…

    Sunglasses_Square.jpgLet’s face it, establishing a distinctive, differentiated position for our products and services is hard and getting harder in an increasingly crowded, over-communicated-to market. It’s probably accurate to say that it’s never been harder to stand out from the crowd.

    Geoffrey Moore recognised the problem in “Crossing the Chasm” more than 20 years ago - a book that has been recognised as one of the few timeless classic texts on B2B marketing. Moore offered a simple framework for crafting a unique and relevant value proposition targeted at a well-defined audience.

    But in today’s hyper-competitive world, I’ve found that it’s worth expanding Moore’s original framework just a bit to ensure that we’re capturing the raw insights we need to craft compelling communications and conversations…

    Here’s the expanded framework. I’ve highlighted the additional elements. As you'll see they are mostly concerned with ensuring that we really nail the problem:

    who are trying to solve [PROBLEM]
    but are struggling to [KEY CONSTRAINTS]
    as evidenced by [SYMPTOMS]
    resulting in [CONSEQUENCES]
    is a [CATEGORY NAME]

    Bear in mind that this framework is NOT designed to be used verbatim in your external communications - but it can and must be used to shape and guide both your marketing communications and your sales conversations.


    Every part of this framework has a critical contribution to make in defining your compelling value proposition. Let’s consider each of the component parts:


    Generic value propositions that have no clearly defined target audience are inevitably imprecise. That’s why your value proposition must be designed to appeal to specific roles in specific types of organisation. These must represent the people most likely to recognise the problem your solution solves (and who are capable of leading the change process) in the organisations that represent your most valuable customers.

    For example, your target sponsors might be “CIOs or IT Directors” in “Mid-size Enterprise Software Vendors”. If you have secondary targets, it’s worth capturing them as part of the process, but remember that compelling messages are best targeted at the sweet spot that lies at the centre of a defined market rather than at the edges.

    Who are trying to solve [PROBLEM]

    Without a clearly defined problem to solve, there can be no “solution”. But your prospects will always have more issues to address then they have money, time, inclination or budget to deal with. Interesting issues might drive consideration. Important issues might drive evaluation. But only critical issues are guaranteed to drive action.

    That’s why it’s vital that your value proposition identifies a central critical issue that, assuming the prospect recognises the problem, is so important that they will inevitably have to take action, and for which your offering is a provably better solution than any other option they might be considering. You can think of this from the prospect’s perspective as an “Essential Job that Needs to be Done”.

    But are struggling to [KEY CONSTRAINTS]

    It’s one thing to have a critical problem. But you also need to understand what might have been preventing them from solving the problem already. This is where the idea of constraints comes in. Perhaps they have already tried to solve the problem with unsatisfactory results? What’s been holding them back? Of course, you need to focus on the constraints that your solution is best at removing or eliminating.

    As evidenced by [SYMPTOMS]

    Now you need to think about how you can identify the fact that your prospect is suffering from the identified problem. What are the symptoms that might be visible from outside (or which they might be prepared to admit to in a diagnostic conversation)? If you’re not clear about the symptoms, how are you going to be sure that the prospect is suffering from the problem you have chosen to target?

    Resulting in [CONSEQUENCES]

    The problems you have identified will have consequences. What are the current consequences of the problem? What is likely happen to the prospect in the future if they fail to address the issue? The combination of a clearly defined problem, constraints and consequences can help to identify the circumstances in which your prospect is inevitably going to have to take action.


    It’s obvious, but your solution needs to have a name…


    …but it also needs to fit into a solution category that your prospect can recognise. This is another critical element of your positioning. It’s almost always best to reference an existing category than to try and create a new and unfamiliar one.


    This is where you capture the primary reason that your prospect needs to take action to address the identified problem. What are the primary benefits they will achieve from implementing a solution?


    Positioning is about contrast. Here you need to identify the alternative option that your prospect is most likely to compare you against when considering how to solve the identified problem. This may not always be a direct competitor - for example, the prospect might consider solving the problem using in-house resources.


    This is where we complete the value proposition. You need to identify the primary thing that sets your solution apart from their primary alternative option.


    It’s often best to start by bringing a group of sales people and marketers together, and asking them to come up with a draft value proposition using the above framework for one of your primary offerings. We recommend that you focus on a specific offering rather than to start by trying to come up with a value proposition for the organisation as a whole.

    Try and get consensus around each of the above elements. Focus on the things that are most important. You’ll probably come up more than one option for the answer for some of the elements - you can capture these secondary elements as side notes or footnotes.

    It’s worth validating your draft value proposition with a sample of your most valuable customers: do they recognise the problems, constraints and symptoms? Would they agree with your assessment of the benefits of the solution, the most credible alternative option, and your primary differentiator? This sort of customer feedback can be very helpful in both sanity checking and refining your value proposition.

    Once you’re happy with the value proposition for the first offering you selected, you can repeat the process for other key offerings. You’ll probably find the exercise faster the second and subsequent times around, and you’ll probably recognise some repeating patterns.

    Once you have a few of these offering-specific value propositions under your belt, you can then attempt to synthesise them together to create an umbrella value proposition for the company as a whole. Let me know how you get along. Drop me a line if you need any help.


    A fellow of Association of Professional Sales, Bob Apollo is the founder of UK-based Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners. He works with the leadership teams of high-potential B2B sales organisations to systematically transform their sales performance. Follow him on Twitter at @bobapollo.


    A Simple Guide to Compelling Messaging for the Complex Sale

    Bob Apollo
    Post by Bob Apollo
    September 13, 2016
    Bob Apollo is a Fellow of the Institute of Sales Professionals, a regular contributor to the International Journal of Sales Transformation and Top Sales World Magazine, and the driving force behind Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners, the leading proponents of outcome-centric selling. Following a successful corporate career spanning start-ups, scale-ups and market leaders, Bob now works as a strategic advisor, mentor, trainer and coach to ambitious B2B sales organisations - teaching them how to differentiate themselves through their provably superior approach to achieving their customer's desired outcomes.