Know your B2B value proposition

by Tom Albrighton 11 July 2011 Branding

Recently, I received an approach from a UK SEO agency offering to improve my rankings. I replied stating my current position on two terms and asking if they could improve it. The rankings are already OK, but I wasn’t being smug or sarcastic – if they had a proposition, I wanted to hear it. But the correspondence ended there.

Proposition Joe tries to out-think Marlo, fails

Clearly, they hadn’t bothered to check my rankings before the approach, even for the most obvious keywords. It’s hard to understand the omission. After all, how hard is it to type a word or two into a search engine? (Particularly if you’re a search agency…)

The crux of the agency’s approach was the result they’d achieved for a well-known national retailer, putting them on page one for a generic term, from nowhere. But my situation is different. I need steady incremental gains or defensive maintenance, not a ‘big bang’ result from a low base. So those results, though impressive, weren’t the right way to persuade me to take action. They were all to do with the agency’s success rather than mine.

Contrast that with the double-glazing salesmen who went to the trouble of checking out the windows at the back of our house before they knocked on the door, so they could offer to replicate our 1920s mullions in the replacement sealed units.

Bless. How could they know how much we hated the umbrageous, uncleanable mullioned panes, and longed to be rid of them for ever? Also, to be honest, I was a bit creeped out by having someone check out the house without our knowledge. So we used someone else. But at least they made an effort.

The difference between these two approaches is in the value propositions behind them. Whereas the SEO agency were offering their skills and achievements and hoping my needs would fit with them, the window sellers had something to offer that chimed with my needs – in theory at least.

Of course, defining your market is always the first step. There’s no point attracting random attention for its own sake – you need relevant attention. But in this case, I was squarely in the target segment for both firms. It’s just that one came cap in hand, the other bearing gifts.

In order to make an approach based on your value proposition, you have to know what it is. Lots of B2B firms don’t. Falling into the classic trap of mistaking features for benefits, their ‘proposition’ is actually more like a CV. Effective B2B marketing needs to arrive like a birthday present, not a job application – bringing good news, benefits and improvements right to the prospect’s door.

It may be that the prospect knows nothing about the solutions you offer. They might need some in-depth technical or commercial explanation before the benefits are fully clear. That’s fine, as long as your marketing starts from one of their problems, priorities or desires and offers them a benefit.

As I’ve blogged before, most B2B benefits ultimately boil down to one of three things: make money, save money or save time. If you can show why your product or service does one of those things, any business owner or manager is going to listen (provided the benefit outweighs the cost or hassle). Relevant case studies and testimonials are powerful persuaders.

Around those core benefits are the other ‘hard’ elements of the value proposition – service, consultancy, customisation, after-sales support, training and so on. Then there are ‘soft’ elements like your culture, your approach and your general ‘personality’ as a business. All these aspects need to come together into something that prospects genuinely value.

I’m sometimes surprised by how often these issues come up while I’m working on a website or a brochure. Instead of being told what the client’s value proposition is, I have to work it out before I can take their project forward. It just shows how powerful a discipline copywriting can be in terms of clarifying ideas.

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