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How to Write a Truly Authentic Value Proposition

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My experience has taught me that most people and businesses are not particularly good at communicating their full and true value. Perhaps they’ve never really done the work it takes to carefully craft their message. Or maybe they’ve gotten bad advice and put together cute or tricky “elevator speeches” -- thinking that’s the same as an authentic value proposition.

Fundamental to your business success is your ability to discover, articulate, and communicate your value. For many years, I’ve been helping individuals and organizations through a process to help them discover and maximize their Authentic Value Proposition (AVP) to win new clients and get more introductions. 

Here's a glimpse into my process. I hope you find it helpful.

Discover

The first step is to fully understand your value. There are two ways to go about this. Putting them together, you get the full picture.

First, go through your entire process, from when you first reach out to your prospects, to bringing them on as a client, to continuing to serve them. Where are the points of value? Ask yourself the following questions to find them.

  • What do you teach prospects about how to buy what you sell?
  • What questions do you ask that get them thinking in ways they haven’t thought before?
  • What big problems do you solve?
  • What little problems do you solve?
  • What small and big opportunities do you present to them?

After you've made an exhaustive list, you're ready for step two.

Armed with the results from the first step, go ask your clients/customers for their perspective. Please don’t make the mistake of thinking you know everything about the value you provide. You don’t. You know what your product or service is designed to do, but that can often be quite different than your clients’ personal experience.

For example, one of my clients, a financial advisor, is a recovering perfectionist. When I asked him what he thought his clients valued about him, he said he was “really good at explaining things clearly.” We put it to the test. He asked some of his clients where they believed he brought value. They had many good things to say about him, but not one said he was good at explanation.

That doesn’t mean his ability to explain things wasn’t valued. It just means it wasn’t on the top of his clients’ lists of his points of value.

Start the conversation without your list. Here's how you could approach this with a customer:

“Bob, I’m doing some work on my business’ value proposition. I certainly have a good idea of where and how we bring value to our clients. But I know what I think isn’t of ultimate importance -- it’s what my clients think. It would be extremely helpful for me to hear how you perceive our business. What’s working? What’s not? Everything you can think of. I even have a list that I may refer to from time to time to get your thoughts." 

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then value is in the eye of the buyer.

Articulate

Now it’s time to take what you’ve learned and put it in a form that you’ll be able to communicate to prospects, clients, and centers of influence. This applies to all forms of communication -- oral, written, and social media.

Take what you’ve learned and slowly but surely mold it to fit into these six primary AVP questions:

  1. Who/what are you?
  2. What do you do?
  3. How do you do it?
  4. Who do you do it for? 
  5. Why do you do what you do?
  6. What makes you different?

As you craft your answers to these questions, use the following as a guideline. These are not laws per se, but my 20 years of experience has taught me that they probably should be.

The 6 C’s of Your Authentic Value Proposition

1) Concise

Brevity is paramount. Use just one to three sentences for all of the questions above, except “Why do you do what you do?” That often comes in the form of a story. Keep in mind you might be answering a couple of these questions together, so keep answers succinct.

2) Clear

Ditch your industry jargon. Keep it as simple and direct as possible. Avoid trying to be too cute or too clever. A little wit is okay, but you don’t want it to get in the way of people understanding your value. Test out your statement with some friends who are not in your industry. Do they cock their heads like my dog when I say something he doesn’t understand? Ask them to be brutally honest.

3) Conversational

Be yourself. Be authentic. Since you’ll be writing these answers out, the tendency is to make them read like a school paper. Picture a person in front of you and just have a conversation with them. If you have a sense of humor, use it, albeit appropriately.

4) Confident

There can be a fine line between confidence and arrogance. Your prospects and clients crave confidence, but will be repelled by arrogance. Remember, you are there less to impress and more to help them through a series of decision-making processes to ultimately determine what’s best for them.

5) Client Benefit-Centric

It’s so powerful when the person you’re sharing this with (whether in writing or orally) can see themselves (or others they know) in your message. So whenever possible, try to include words such as "people," "our clients," "you," "folks," and so on. You can even use constructions such as “We help our clients _____” or “We work with folks who _____.”  

6) Care/Concern

Trust comes from the level of feeling. So you have to incorporate words that evoke an emotional response from your prospect or client. For example, "protect," "dreams," "safe," "save," "peace of mind," "stress," "success," etc. This has to be genuine -- not just going through the motions.

And now two optional elements:

Humor (Optional)

Any time you can add appropriate humor to how you communicate your AVP, you stand a greater chance of connecting more quickly and deeply with your prospects. The operative word here is “appropriate.” This requires an astute ability to read the situation.

Counterintuitive Statements (Optional)

In our world of information overload, you may find it quite useful to make statements that seem counterintuitive. For example, I often make the statement “Referrals are irrelevant,” meaning we need to turn the referral into an introduction and the introduction into a new client. Or what’s the point of seeking referrals at all? The scientific term for this technique is “pattern interrupt.” We need to administer a gentle slap to the prospect’s brain to gain their attention.

Communicate

Once you’ve discovered your full value and you’ve articulated it with the process I outlined above, you’ll be able to communicate your AVP with fluency and confidence. Here’s how to execute this process so that you can talk about your value with clarity at a moment’s notice.

  1. Type up your AVP.
  2. Read it aloud and share it with colleague and friends.
  3. Refine your AVP based on feedback and reflection.
  4. Practice delivering it with confidence and clarity.

Here’s something you can do that will drive this entire process home and, hopefully, motivate you to do the work necessary to become fluent with your AVP. When you’re in conversation with a business owner, professional, or salesperson, ask them a few of these questions: “Tell me what you do.” “How do you do that?” Who do you do it for?” “What makes you different?” After each question, give them time to answer. If they have an immediate, succinct, clear, and confident answer, you’ll see how that engenders trust. If, on the other hand, they hem and haw, you’ll see how it busts their credibility. Now you’ll have a good handle on how you come across to others when you express your value.

Doing this kind of strategic work will automatically set you apart from the crowd. Using your AVP to keep yourself and/or your team focused will help you bring in more new clients and generate many high-quality introductions.

Editor's note: This post is an excerpt from Bill Cates’ newest book, Beyond Referrals, and is reprinted here with permission. 

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