I remember an old spoof from the cartoons: the character is listening to the radio and an ad comes on.
Announcer: “I’m talking to YOU!”
Announcer: “Yes, YOU, Elmer Snodgrass of 123 Elm Street; I’m talking to YOU!”
When I was a kid, I thought it was pretty cool that the radio could speak directly to each person in that way. I’ve become more sophisticated since then, but I still have the perhaps naïve impression that salespeople can strive for the same effect.
Have you ever received a Valentine’s Day card that addressed, “To whom it may concern?” Maybe not in so many words, but I’m sure you’ve received cards that were so impersonal that they were totally meaningless—they may even defeat the purpose.
The same thought applies to value propositions that salespeople tell their prospects; they’re usually so generic that all the meaning and interest has been leached out of them. They come across as a required formality, filled with platitudes and one-size-fits-all generalities.
I recently received an email in which the first line was: “I visited your website and found that your business complements our services.” Makes you want to drop everything and call them right away, doesn’t it? That’s a line that could have been—and probably was—sent to about a thousand other recipients. We get so many of these that it seems like nothing will get through to someone when you do have something useful for them to hear.
The only way you can make your value proposition sound like you wrote specifically for the person hearing it—is to write it specifically for the person hearing it. Write it in such a way that the person has no doubt at all that you have spent time thinking about them and their needs and have a plausible idea that can improve their lives in some way.
People do care about things that apply directly to them. Think of the cocktail party effect: you’re at a party in a crowded room with many conversations going on at once, but if someone mentions your name across the room, you pick up on it instantly.
To make it apply directly to the recipient, you have to speak to their unique business and to them personally.
Frame it in terms of their unique business
What’s unique about a business? It’s not selling more or spending less—everyone wants to do that, so if that’s all you talk about, how can you be special? What is unique about a business is how they plan to get there—their business strategies and initiatives, the unique challenges they face, are specific to them.
To find something unique, visit their website and find out what they do, and read their annual report if they have one; find out what they care about; glean some of the language they like to use. Even better, if you can find something their CEO or other high-ranking executive said—in a speech or an article—that applies to what you sell—use that. Best of all is to use an analogy that compares what you do for them to what they do for their customers.
If you want to earn the right to a hearing, you have to show knowledge: To put a different twist on an old saying, “They don’t care how much you care until they know how much you know.”
Make it personal
While knowing a lot about their company is a great start, you can get even more specific by relating it to them personally, because even in B2B sales, all decisions are ultimately personal. Most complex sales are going to involve several different people, and each has a different view of the need or the stake in the outcome. So, if you can relate your value proposition to something you can do for them in their specific position, you’re more likely to pique someone’s interest.
Probably the most effective is to show you know something about them personally, and the best way to do this is by using a referral; show you’re part of the club by having a little inside knowledge. Next best is to use something from your research, maybe something that they said or wrote, or the way they describe themselves on their LinkedIn profile.
Is it difficult to make your value proposition sound unique? Not really, but it does take work on your part, and that’s good. Special would not be special if anyone could do it.
I’d like to close with a sales lesson from Leo Tolstoy, who said,
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
To show value, you have to find someone who is unhappy, or who can be made unhappy when they find out what’s possible. That’s why you need to make your value proposition sound different: every customer is unhappy in their own way. If you can show that you understand that, maybe even can name it in your value proposition, you will add unique value.
More importantly, Elmer Snodgrass of 123 Elm Street will hear you loud and clear!
Note: A version of this post ran in Kelly Riggs’ Business LockerRoom blog on March 5.