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Opinion: Value messaging shouldn’t be lost on customers

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The widespread challenge of differentiating value from competitors affects small and large companies alike.

Level playing fields and shrunken competitive advantages force products and services to vie for attention in a sea of sameness, creating a commodity coffin of sorts, where products and services are treated among suppliers as identical – even if they’re not.

No doubt, competitor parity is a fact of doing business today. Part of the problem, though, is of our own making. Many companies, if not most, still communicate a one-size-fits-all value message to customers, which limits their ability to create unique customer perceived value. While it’s true that all customers buy for the universal motives of quality or service, it’s also true they don’t make those purchases for the same reasons.

Company leaders also worsen the problem when they overgeneralize value, saying, “Our quality stands above the rest,” “We offer superior service,” or “We have 30 years of collective experience.” Competitors make the same bland claims, which do nothing for a company’s value messaging.

I’ve noticed in recent years that even products requiring craftsmanship or unique customization are now often considered commodity purchases by customers. These shrewd customers use negotiating tactics like, “Your competitors give us the very same thing for a lot less.”

Salespeople, marketers and executives must rethink how they craft their messaging if they want good price margins and strong perceived value among customers. Here are six ways to create distinctive value for your business.

1. Focus on the difference made, not the differences. A client recently lost a million-dollar deal because the seller believed the customer was only talking to him. Since he thought his product was superior, he was shocked to lose the sale. Your messaging is stronger when it emphasizes the difference the solution offers over all others.

2. Create trust earlier and deeper in your customer conversation. One camera salesman tried selling me by using the information I could read for myself. He didn’t ask questions or take time to listen and speak my language. When his competitor took the time to ask questions about my needs and then linked the camera’s benefits to my specific interests, the difference became apparent. He built trust, not in his brand immediately, but in the information he was using to convince me of its value. Ask questions to identify your customers’ needs. Link what you discover back to how your solution solves those drivers to create trust.

3. Use relevant customer success stories. One CEO told me of a trucking salesman that cold-called him. Launching immediately into his sales pitch, when he finished, the CEO said, “What could that possibly have to do with our company?” Relate success stories that cite specific examples, such as saving a customer money or time, improved safety or mitigated risk. Stories, as we know, can communicate compelling messaging – as long as it’s relevant to the customer.

4. Focus on specifics and do the homework. Use numbers, stats, facts and names that outline particular benefits to your customers’ situations. Run the numbers and do the necessary homework that proves your value to each customer. Customers won’t spend the time to run the numbers and sort through all the differences between solutions; that’s your job.

5. Offer relevant value across customer segments. One German client has five market segments. I recommended creating separate value propositions for each element to appeal to specific customer issues. They balked, initially, but later did the required work and now benefit from a differentiated value position with a higher price point.

6. Never stop testing your value message. Eventually, everything changes, but now it’s in faster cycles. Take a periodic, honest evaluation of your value messaging to keep it current.

Value message effectiveness requires sensible methods and effort to ensure your value isn’t lost on customers.

Consultant, professional speaker and author Mark Holmes is president of Consultant Board Inc. and MarkHolmesGroup.com. He can be reached at 
mark@markholmesgroup.com.

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