By John Doerr
Are You Different?
In the course of my work with all manner of professional service firms, I hear a very common lament. "We are becoming a commodity. The prospects just seem to buy on price. We are really good. How can I possibly separate myself from the crowd?"
My usual response is, "What can make you special? Why are you different?"
The client's usual response, "Well, we have great people (I hope so). We are customer-focused (that's nice). We provide valuable solutions to support our clients through industry focus and excellent methodologies that build off our 100 years of experience and on and on and on. Just let me tell a prospect about our services and he will surely want to work with us."
The problem is that all these comments are from the service provider's perspective. At no time has anyone mentioned what problem the prospect is trying to solve or what goals he is trying to reach. Naturally, the prattling of the service provider falls on deaf ears. To paraphrase an old saying, "Value is in the ear of the beholder."
So how do you develop a value proposition that offers value and, just as important, generates leads, meetings, and new clients?
Before we answer that question, let's define value proposition. A value proposition is a compelling, tangible statement of how a company or individual will benefit from using or engaging your services. No more, no less.
Five Tips to Communicating True Value
If value is in the ear of the beholder, then listen to your own words from the prospect's perspective and realize it's all about what they are buying, not what you are selling. The following guidelines will help you ease the transition into the prospect's world.
- Start with Needs – Why do clients engage your services? It is not because they want services such as an audit or training or 24/7 computer support. It is because they need to keep the IRS happy; they need more skilled customer service representatives which, in turn, give them happier customers; they need to sleep better at night knowing their computers are running.
Think in terms of what client needs you can fill, not what services you can offer. Prospects may not always understand what your services are all about, but they certainly will understand how relieving their pain or reaching their desired future will help.
- Ask Your Clients – If you already have clients, then ask them why they decided to work with you in the first place. What is it that made you distinct in their minds when they chose you? What benefits did they gain from the work you have done? How would they describe your work to a colleague if they were to recommend you? (If you don't yet have clients, find potential clients and ask why they buy your type of services.)
Listen carefully to your clients' answers. Listen for key words or phrases that are used frequently. Listen for the real hot button needs that evoke strong emotion or conviction. Suspend any preconceived idea of what you are about to hear. By listening with an open mind, you will most likely be surprised, and will discover the real value you provide.
- Don't Use Marketing Speak – An important caveat, before your next step – avoid speaking in that rather obscure language commonly known as, "marketingese." Use the words your clients use. Use the phrases and needs that resonate with them. Instead of "We work with our clients to help them achieve high performance," (actual copy from a leading consulting firm's website), try, "We help our clients increase customer satisfaction which in turn leads to higher loyalty rates and profits."
- Construct a "Straw Man" – Once you have outlined potential needs and verified these with your clients, construct a "straw man" value proposition that incorporates the best and most compelling points that you heard. Try it out with the members of your firm, with friends, with colleagues from your network. Ask for push back, make adjustments, and prepare to test.
- Test Your Value – Your "straw man" value proposition becomes your test with actual prospects. At networking events, in your prospecting conversations, on your next phone call, see if you pique a prospect's interest instead of getting blank stares. What pieces work the best? What pieces inspire the desire for more information? Tweak it, refine it, and finalize it, because now you are ready to go.
Once you have created a value proposition that resonates with your prospects and clients, you can now communicate this value in all your sales and marketing messages, including your:
- Sales conversations with clients and prospects
- Marketing copy in all your marketing materials
- Key words and messaging on your website
- Articles and white papers
- Seminars and / or webinars you offer
- Service entry offers
By putting tangible value that speaks to your clients in your value proposition you will definitely stand out from the crowd. And, most likely, add more value to your own firm.
John Doerr is president of the Wellesley Hills Group, a management consulting, marketing, and lead generation firm focused on helping professional services firms grow. He is also the founder of RainToday.com, an online source for insight, advice, and tools for service business rainmakers, marketers, and leaders. Doerr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.