Sales and Marketing Performance Blog

10,000 Reasons to get Clear about your Value Proposition

Posted by Mark Gibson on Wed, May 29, 2013

Last week I met two entrepreneurs in the customer development phase of building start-up companies.
The first entrepreneur, Rajesh Setty founder of  WittyParrot and many other startups led the "what we do" conversation with a demo and it was very clear after just one minute how their product creates value; the other took a while to explain what his company did and it took me even longer to "get it".

I asked both of them, how many times they expected to pitch their "big-idea" and "what-we-do" stories in the next year.
I qualified this by suggesting that they were not only pitching to prospects; they will be pitching to colleagues, prospective new hires, investors, business partners, friends and family, social networking contacts, web-site visitors and of course to strangers on a plane or at a cocktail party in response to the "so-what-do-you-guys-do?" question. 

Rajesh suggested that he would probably pitch his story 2000 times in the next year, the other entrepreneur about 500 times. Let's pick a point in between, say 1000 and multiply this by 10, because both companies have about 10 employees today. Most are engineers, but all are going to be interacting with the above networks of partners, prospects and strangers.
That's about 10,000 times for the company pitch in the next year....and of course in a start-up, the story is changing by the month as lessons are learned from product usage, use cases expand, and new capabilities are built into the product.  In addition, if the company gains funding and grows, employee headcount may treble in the same period. How long will it take to enable new hires to get-on-message?

One entrepreneur rated the clarity of their value proposition at 1/10 and explained that he currently has a consultant working on helping him clarify it, Rajesh rated his message at 6/10 and a work in progress. The image below represents what is created when you are less than 7/10 for message clarity....pollution!
 
Poor messaging is like discarded waste; forgotten, of no value, to be buried forever from memory.

How then can a start-up, or an F500 company for that matter, address the problem of unclear messaging? If you have read this far I think you’ll agree that it’s important. The answer to the question is that it’s not easy.
Often it’s hard for entrepreneurs to take the buyer’s view and to truly understand the problems the buyer is facing and how they could potentially use the products to create value… but this is the place to start. Hiring a consultant to help create clarity in messaging in the formative stages of company building is potentially a high-payoff investment. How important is message clarity to you?

I believe there is an opportunity to create a software as a service product to create and maintain messaging that resonates with buyers, that everyone from entrepreneurs to marketing managers in F500 companies can use and I’m in the process of building it and we are interested in talking to early adopters in our customer discovery phase of development.

We helped an Israeli technology company re-launch their Infrastructure as a Service product at a critical time in the evolution of public and private cloud solutions and it was transformational for the company. They weren't looking for a consultant to help with messaging, but recognized they were about 4/10 for clarity in their value prop at the time. We began by creating buyer-persona’s around best guess use cases.

We helped to create a messaging architecture that identified the relevant capabilities and grouped them under logical positioning pillars.

We then generated sales ready messaging for the sales team to use when engaging prospects over the phone and in person and trained the sales team to use it in consultative conversations.

The marketing team used the messaging to transform their Website message from product-centric gobbledygook to buyer-relevant copy. Marketing managers in each country began to use the messaging in creating blog articles and they quickly began to generate new visitors that converted into inbound leads and new-name customers in the first 6 months after the messaging workshop.

Since this engagement, we have added visual storytelling to our methodology, to capture the value proposition in a meaningful visual confection where both salespeople and buyers can quickly "get", remember and communicate your “big idea” and value proposition.

Take-Aways

  1. It's never too early to get clear about your value proposition.
  2. If you can't nail your value proposition for the users you are trying to attract and sell to, how can you expect to get them excited about using your product or service?
  3. The sales cycle starts in marketing with content creation and if the content you create doesn't resonate with your target buyers, they won't come.
  4. If you cannot answer the next three questions with absolute simplicity and clarity so your ideal prospect can understand it, you have work to do.
  • So-what-is-it-you-guys-do-then?
  • What is a metaphor for an existing product idea, service or capability could you use to help a buyer who does not know your product or company to instantly understand how they could use your product?
  • Why should I buy from you? 
Sales and Marketing Messaging Alignment Consultation - Free

Discuss Content Creation & Support Services 
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Topics: value proposition, messaging architecture, message clarity, big idea

The Challenger Sale - Who paid for your last sales call?

Posted by Mark Gibson on Tue, Dec 20, 2011

What Price or Value was your last Sales Call?

Would your prospect have paid you for the value they received from meeting with you or one of your sales executives on your last call with them? 

This is a vexing question and it's one of many vexing questions that have been on my mind since I read the "Challenger Sale".  It's a question that should be keeping B2B sales enablement professionals, sales managers and sales professionals up at night.


This question is vital in a World where buyers can find everything they need to know about your products and services without having to speak to you.

On your last call, did you bring the gift of knowledge and insight? Did you educate the buyer on an industry issue or sub-optimal condition that you are aware of because of your domain expertise, view of the market, knowledge of their company and your unique understanding of how your capabilities can create value?

Alternatively, would the buyer have invoiced you for 40 minutes of their time that they felt you robbed from them on your last sales call because you occupied their time, but failed to bring any value?

I will introduce a couple of related concepts to begin to address the value of the sales call question.

Challenger Selling is not new to Top Tier Consultants

The Challenger Sales type has been identified as the most effective in selling complex B2B products and services. When we examine the
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Topics: consultative selling, value proposition, challenger selling, value created selling, whiteboarding

Creating a Visual Value Proposition to Drive Sales Conversations

Posted by Mark Gibson on Mon, Nov 07, 2011

Connect your Value Proposition to Sales Conversations

The Visual Confection below contains a lot of information and can convey a complete understanding with minimal explanation. This is our own visual value proposition. We have integrated the following ideas, tools and methods to produce results for our clients. As you look at this series of images, think of how you could represent your own capabilities and value proposition in pictures.

Moving the Needle to Create Sustainable Sales Improvement 

Most sales training efforts fail to produce real value (dotted red line), whereas the goal is to move the whole quota distribution curve to the right...green curve. This is our mission.

Four Buying Cultures

There are only four buying cultures that govern the point of sales engagement in the buying process. The closer to the start of the buying process, the higher the value in the relationship and higher profit potential.
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Topics: value proposition, visual confection, brand value

Waterboarding Clients with PowerPoint? Try Whiteboarding Your Story

Posted by Mark Gibson on Tue, Aug 30, 2011

I don't condone torture, nor do I consider Waterboarding an acceptable treatment for detainees of any race or religion.

If you want to read more about Waterboarding, please follow this link, or if you feel strongly about the ill-treatment of foreign prisoners in US custody click on this link, as the rest of this story is about the misuse of PowerPoint by sales, marketing and technical people in front of innocent audiences.


Having to sit through bad PowerPoint presentations can seem like a mild form of torture for the audience, inflicted usually by a sales or marketing person under the guise of presenting a solution or informing the prospective client in more detail, the worth of your offerings.

I was at the recent Marketing conference in San Francisco, attended by high caliber marketing professionals and saw a lot of bad PowerPoint presentations delivered by marketing executives. Presumably the excuse for the poor presentation being, I didn't have time to create a stunning presentation for this one-off industry event, so I created this one on the plane on the way over, anyway they were peers not prospects in the audience. What constitutes a bad PowerPoint presentation?….many factors, I like Seth Godin's take on really bad PowerPoint, but let's agree that you know you are in one when it's happening.


PowerPoint is a great presenters tool, but terrible for the audience unless handled with great care, preparation and rehearsal, yet we still do PowerPoint to our peers and ourselves, laboring lengthy, bullet-laden, text heavy and product-centric rants that fast become boring and invoke deep smart phone trances.

What’s wrong with a Product Presentation?

Product presentations have been carried forward as part of a marketing and sales culture that pre-dates the Internet.  Up until about 15 years ago, buyers would invite sales people in to hear about capabilities of new products and technologies, because they had problems to solve and the salesperson, brochures and slide presentations were the medium for the message.

Today the concept of the product presentation as part of the sales process is obsolete, yet it’s alive and thriving in its post-Internet form in millions of PowerPoint presentations. Buyers no longer need or want product presentations because they can find out all they need to know about your product and how it's rated with couple of mouse clicks.
The reality is that nobody cares about your products or services - except you, and maybe your colleagues. People really care about getting their needs met, solving their business problems and achieving their goals.


The Purpose of a Sales Presentation


What are you trying to achieve with your presentation?
If you are in sales, I'll give you my definition. "The purpose of a sales presentation is to have the audience interact with both the presenter and the material to engage, transform and activate the audience to create change."


Why Visual Storytelling

Visual storytelling is as old as our civilization and cave-man drawings are our link with pre-history. Simple images, coupled with a story that engages the buyer in conversation and creates a fabric of understanding are an order of magnitude more effective than the average PowerPoint product presentation.

Using Whiteboarding for Discovery and Storytelling

The best presentations are conversations and the best way to start a conversation is in a discussion around issues affecting the buyer.  Using a whiteboard is a wonderful way to capture the elements of that conversation, to document the trends and issues affecting the buyer and capture the challenges facing the buyer in achieving their goals. A whiteboard is also an excellent tool for opening a discussion with an opinion about the buyer condition to provoke a response and engagement.
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Having established the buyer condition and the need for your product or service you can tell your story using simple images on the whiteboard, adding relevant facts, proof points and all the while confirming with the buyer that your story is relevant and your capabilities are of value. If during the discovery process you learn that the buyer does not have a condition that you can help solve, then it will be a short meeting and you won't deliver your story.

Which meeting would you prefer to be in as a buyer? The PowerPoint whipping or the whiteboard conversation?
 
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Topics: value proposition, whiteboardselling, powerpoint

Avoid these 5 Pitfalls for Effective Whiteboard Sales Presentations

Posted by Mark Gibson on Tue, Aug 02, 2011

Give any 2 year old a set of whiteboard markers and a whiteboard and you have a budding artist and whiteboarding fan. Give a pre-sales engineer the same opportunity in front of a customer and a similar thing happens. There is no fear.

What happens when you give a salesperson the same opportunity?

Typically nothing - unless salespeople have been trained and are practiced in delivering the whiteboard....they will be more comfortable with PowerPoint and will default to this method of presentation...why? - because regardless of how bad the PowerPoint is, they can let the slides do the talking.

This article is not about PowerPoint, but if you would like, here is a link to access some best practices PowerPoint resources.

This article is prompted by a comment made on a blog by David Baga, VP Sales at RocketLawyer.com.

"In my last firm we had to learn a number of whiteboards. But the way they were going about it was totally wrong. We were trained to stand and deliver the whiteboard in a virtual replacement of the Powerpoint. There was no interactivity and when we were done drawing out the whiteboard and reciting the script we asked questions."

I'm keen to set some ground-rules for effective visual storytelling that sellers and marketers can use for better outcomes. As a primer for this conversation, I recommend you view the Visual Storytelling Webinar

Whiteboard Mistakes that Will Hurt You

1. Reproducing a PowerPoint Presentation rote on a whiteboard.

Bad Whiteboard presentations are just as bad as bad PowerPoint presentations. A lot of B2B companies I have worked with over the past 7 years as a consultant are strongly product focused. You know you're in for a PowerPoint product whipping when the first few slides follow this traditional form.
Slide 1. Opening Slide - Welcome
Slide 2. Agenda
Slide 3. About Us
Slide 4. Key Customers
Slide 5. Partners
Slide 6. Awards
Slide 7. Solution/Product Overview
I dont care how sexy the graphics are...so far its all about you. At this point I haven't been engaged, except maybe for the salesperson asking my goals for the presentation....I'm already bored, I could have gotten all of this stuff off the Web and I don't have time to sit through a product rant.

Why then would you want to reproduce this structure in a whiteboard? The purpose of a whiteboard is to engage the buyer in conversation and discover their issues that are relevant, it's not a one-way product pitch.

I also dislike the word pitch as it harks back to the era of carnival touts. If the buyer has issues that your product or service will solve, then these will surface during the whiteboard discussion and you will have the opportunity to introduce how your products could be used to solve the problem in context.

Tip: Start the whiteboard session around your buyer, not you or your products. Use a brief positioning statement to establish your credibility and immediately engage the buyer in conversation.

2. Not having a story

It's OK for a pre-sales engineer to get up and draw out a few concepts on a whiteboard, but many salespeople will be reluctant to get up and whiteboard without a story.
  • Whiteboarding is a skill that needs to be practiced....just writing on the whiteboard and speaking at the same time takes practice. Drawing and layout takes practice. Learning the script takes practice
  • A whiteboard consists of a visual confection and a narrative and it takes process and intellectual effort to capture the essence of your value proposition and create a story around likely buyer issues.
  • We use a variation of the Hero's Journey to explore the buyer's current state, or "what is" and the challenges presented through not taking action. We introduce the future state, "what could be" around how others use our products, with proof-points and a call to action for the buyer to change.
  • Whiteboard presenters need to learn the script, know the script, then forget the script, once they have it under their skin.
  • Knowing both the story and the whiteboard enables salespeople to focus 100% on the buyer instead of worrying about what to say and what goes where on the whiteboard and in what color.

3. Talking too much - not asking enough questions

Running off at the mouth is a problem for novice whiteboard presenters as well as salespeople in general. We have learned the story and can't wait to tell it.

The way we develop a whiteboard is in a modular fashion with a clump of text and images to relate a concept that we call a module.

RULE 1: Whiteboarding is a totally interactive interchange with the buyer and if you are not asking discovery questions when you transition from one module to another, you are missing a major opportunity...similarly asking the buyer for feedback when you have presented a module will help you qualify interest.

Rule 2: If you become aware that you are doing a lot of talking, ask a question.

Tip: When you are whiteboarding you are doing discovery at every step in the process. If you are introducing an important concept or transitioning to a new module, get objective information by asking the following questions, which consultants call the "E's and the I's".
i. How Important is .......to you and your business. How do you do it today?
ii. Assuming the buyer responds that it is important, follow-up with, On a scale of 1-10, 1 being terrible, 10 couldn't be better, how Effective would you say you are at .......?
iii. Rarely will the buyer answer a 9 or 10 to this question, which provides a golden opportunity to ask "What you like to be", "How much is it costing you to live with a 6?", etc.

4. Finding out what the likely outcome of a successful whiteboard will be, prior to starting.

This is so obvious, yet so few sales people ask this question. A buyer's typical response to this question is, "I'll have to discuss it with my boss, team, etc".

Unless you like giving multiple presentations, a good response from the salesperson to this answer is "I know you're really busy and so am I, so does it make sense that we ask your boss/other stakeholders to join our presentation so that we can decide if it makes sense to work together?

5. Not understanding their objectives and checking how much time you have.

Getting the buyers objectives onto the Whiteboard at the outset is a best practice and allows you to figure out what points to emphasize, also to tell the buyer what you are not going to cover.

It also allows you to go back over their objectives at the end of the presentation and place a check mark alongside the ones you achieved and an opportunity to discus what they did not achieve.

Rule: I ask this question at the outset of every call. "you've had some time to think about our meeting today and I wonder if you could share with me any top of mind thoughts and what you would like to achieve from today's session."  follow this up with, "We are scheduled for one hour, are we still OK for this?"

When we know the Whiteboard visual story and the script, we can
start the whiteboard anywhere, focus where the buyer is interested and we don't have to finish it....unlike PowerPoint which follows a sequential structure.

Proof Point: I had a critical 30 minute Whiteboarding demo. session set up with a SVP of a major information services company and in anticipation a problem, I invested my time in advance of the meeting to create a draft whiteboard of the buyers situation and potential story.

It so happened that we couldn't get the video conference working and with 10 minutes left, I created a .pdf of the Paper-Show whiteboard and emailed it to the buyer. He popped open the whiteboard .pdf and I was able to take him through the structure and flow of the story in a couple of minutes....which led to another meeting and we are in discussion on doing business together.

Rule: If you are presenting a whiteboard over the Internet and it's a super important meeting, use a visual confection. A completed Whiteboard is a visual confection and contains a superset of information; it's a  powerful visual and possible to explain it and completely comprehend it in a matter of minutes.

 Boring PowerPoint Sucks - learn Visual Storytelling

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Topics: value proposition, whiteboardselling, powerpoint

Time to Bring Outside Sales Inside - A Guide to Virtual Selling

Posted by Mark Gibson on Tue, Jul 19, 2011

This article is relevant for B2B technology sales professionals, not just inside sales, as we are all becoming more virtual in our engagement with prospects and customers. 




Findings from the CSO Insights 2011 Telemarketing/Inside Sales Performance Optimization survey set the stage for our conversation. The big Aha in the 2011 survey is that nearly 50% of inside sales are selling independent of field sales.

Inside Sales - No Longer a Junior Partner

The perception of inside sales as the junior partner, being confined to lead-gen, appointment setting and qualifying is changing, as inside sales increasingly handle the complete sales cycle and create trusted adviser relationships with clients. Soon this will become the dominant mode of selling.

Inside Sales Effectiveness Focus in 2011


Inside Sales Priorities

Once again the top priorities for sales leaders in the CSO Insights survey are to align sales and marketing and to increase lead generation.

These two objectives are inextricably linked, only in my view, sales leaders have them in the wrong order and I propose the following priorities.

1. Sales and Marketing Alignment

  1. As a first step, we need to align sales and marketing messaging around product usage and value creation; features and benefits selling is dead and most marketing teams have work to do to translate features and benefits ("product-speak") into something the sales team can actually use to engage prospects.
  2. Aligning sales and marketing also means agreeing on the definition of what makes a sales-ready-lead. Innovative companies like HubSpot have established service level agreements between marketing and sales and both groups are tightly aligned in their objectives.

2. Enhancing Lead Generation

Once you’ve established a value proposition that is built on product usage and value creation, you have something that both sales and marketing can use. Creating content that prospects value attracts interested visitors to your Website; engages and converts them into leads using an Inbound Marketing process.
David Baga  
I spoke to David Baga, VP Sales at hot SFO-based RocketLawyer last week about his challenges in running a rapidly growing inside sales team. (RocketLawyer is a fast growing startup designed to make legal services easy and affordable for individuals and SMBs)

"The #1 challenge is connect rate....getting the prospect on the phone is becoming increasingly difficult. Cold calling is virtually impossible in today’s environment and would be a crude waste of time and money compared to an inbound marketing engine.”

 

Inbound Lead Generation Requires a Technology Foundation

Baga continued, “We need interested prospects to raise their hand and Inbound Marketing platforms like Marketo and HubSpot make this possible and the performance predictable.

Our lead generation is dependent on an integrated technology fabric consisting of:-
•    Inbound Marketing Automation platform (Marketo)
•    CRM systems (Salesforce.com)
•    Cloud-based call center technology with predictive dialers, ACD (auto-dialers), IVR (Interactive voice response) (Five 9’s)
Putting this stuff together and delivering the right content at the right time is hard to do; we’ve been at it 9 months now and are just beginning to realize the benefits of our efforts”

3. Revising Sales Team Structure.

There is a perception in sales that inside sales earning potential is limited. This is no longer the case and it is possible to achieve income parity with outside sales reps in many inside sales positions.

“We have chosen to centralize our sales team so that we can provide them with technology, education, collaborative support and sales management needed for high productivity. The productivity gains alone make it advantageous over individuals working out of a home office”, added Baga

Salesforce.com, like RocketLawyer and HubSpot have created very successful, centralized inside sales teams. Salesforce.com has created various roles and specializations for their inside sales team to provide a career path for advancement and to lower customer acquisition cost.

A typical Inbound Sales team structure is;
•    Lead Development – work inbound leads, responsible for lead qualification, pass lead on.
•    Small Business Representatives - quota carrying, responsible for a territory
•    Account Executives - responsible for major accounts; travel from time-time to meet customers

4. Revising Sales Process

BANT - Discovery and Qualification, the Achilles heel of selling.

If salespeople spent less time talking about their products and more time listening to the buyer's answers of their insightful questions, they would improve their diagnosis of the client condition.

Without a strong qualification process like BANT, underpinned by skilled diagnosis and discovery, pipeline reviews and forecasting are a magical and mystical event.

Using a whiteboard to Create Buyer Vision

On the minus side, inside selling means salespeople must work harder to develop rapport because the visual dimension is missing in the communication feedback loop.

The good news is that there are new tools that can really help in creating a dialogue and engaging the buyer around their issues. My WhiteboardSelling customers are spread across the World and 95% of my sales calls are virtual. I prefer to sell this way now.

Using the Paper-Show digital whiteboard and GotoMeeting or Webex videoconferencing service enables me to engage buyers in a whiteboard discovery session and present our approach to the prospect’s sales and marketing challenges using a whiteboard and to gain excellent feedback at every transition in the process.

I follow up the meeting with a qualification confirmation letter with the whiteboard from our session embedded as a .jpeg in the letter. This has a huge impact on forecasting accuracy as the qualification confirmation process eliminates non-buyers at the outset and makes it much easier for your mentor or internal champion to build and position your case against competing projects.

5. Facilitating a Buying Process.


Shift in Power in the Buy-Sell Equation.

The relationship with buyer has shifted from managing the sales process to facilitating a buying process…prospects buy when they are ready to buy.

“We spend a lot of time and effort with our middle funnel process generating relevant information that maps to buying needs/process once the visitor has converted into a lead by completing a form.   
  
With the buyer in control, lead nurturing is essential to manage and establish a trusted relationship and stay top of mind until the buyer is ready and to measure online behavior and interaction. Leads are scored based on activity and routed to sales at the right time.” said Baga.

Take Aways:

1. Sales and Marketing alignment is step 1 on the journey to improved sales performance for Inside sales.
2. Inbound Marketing underpinned by a tightly integrated technology fabric is no longer an option – it's essential to Inside Sales Success.
3. Lead nurturing is the way to stay top of mind and build a relationship with prospective customers until they are ready to buy.
4. Skilled whiteboarding can restore the communication imbalance in a virtual environment.
5. You don’t have to sweat closing deals if you have done your job in discovery and qualification.

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Topics: inbound marketing, CSO Insights, value proposition, inside sales, whiteboarding

Top 2011 Sales Problems - Show Benefit/Value, Differentiation

Posted by Mark Gibson on Fri, Apr 29, 2011

This year's, top sales performance problems that sales leaders are investing in solving are - ability to show benefit/value, closely followed by differentiation from competitors.

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Topics: value proposition, differentiation, messaging, buyer-persona

Features and Benefits are Dead - What's your Value Proposition?

Posted by Mark Gibson on Thu, Mar 24, 2011

It's 2011 and still we are presented with B2B Websites, promotional materials, brochures and advertising copy that scream product features and so-called benefits.

Sales induction boot camp and annual sales training is built on a foundation of boring PowerPoint presentations that describe product in terms of features and benefits.
A product feature according to Wikipedia is a distinguishing characteristic of a software item, (e.g., performance, portability, or functionality).
A product benefit according to Wiktionary is an advantage, help or aid from something.
For a product feature to be of benefit to a user, the user must firstly have the problem or sub-optimal condition that the product feature addresses and have a pressing need to resolve it.

It is impossible to know if a product feature will be of benefit without first understandng the client condition.

I therefore propose that we declare features and benefits a deceased concept in B2B selling...they have served us for the past 60 years of marketing computer technology, but it's time to move on, because the majority of salespeople struggle in translating product features and benefits into meaningful conversations with buyers.
Furthermore B2B buyers are not interested in features...they are interested in capabilities.

"Product Speak"

Successful technology salespeople by necessity have had to translate the output of product marketing; - features and benefits, (which I call "product-speak", which harks back to Orwell's " Newspeak") into a set of conversations to diagnose need and convey how the product/service could create value, when used in the customer's context.

Unfortunately a majority of salespeople have a tendency to revert to "product speak" in front of buyers, because that's what they have been drilled on and are comfortable speaking about.

It’s time to bury this features and benefits approach and stop wasting salespeople’s time and marketing and training budget on something no-one cares about.

What's Your Value Proposition?

Buyers today care about the value they will get from using your product/service and are always asking three questions,
  1. What are you selling?
  2. What’ll it do for me?
  3. Can you prove it?
Neil Rackham in his book, Rethinking the Salesforce states, "The role of the salesperson selling B2B technology is to create value for the customer".
Product Marketing’s role is to work with sales to create a core value proposition that sales can use immediately - without translation, and that buyers can easily understand.

I propose the following Messaging Architecture to effectively create your Value Proposition and to have it flow congruently through sales conversations, brand messaging and Website messaging.

 

Take-Aways

  1. No-one cares about your product features and benefits, except you.
  2. Prospects are interested in the capabilities you bring to the table to solve their specific problems–when they are looking for ideas and solutions; if your keywords are not showing up on Google page 1 on the Internet, then lead generation is going to be a challenge and expensive.
  3. Salespeople need sales-ready messages and whiteboard stories  that integrate relevant capabilities, a clear value proposition and related proof points aligned around product usage.
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Topics: positioning, value proposition

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