How to develop a great value proposition


Developing an effective value proposition is not a dark art. It’s a worthy exercise for all organisations and is in reach of all. Here are a few lessons and tips about crafting a great one.

Think first, write second

Not only is it easiest to get your ideas out there first – however they sound – it’s also the best approach. If you try to get the wording just right from the outset, you’re likely to reduce the breadth and quality of ideas. Wordsmithing should rarely be a first-line activity.

To get started, with the headspace of benefits, simply map out all of the points you can think of to the simple questions:

  • How do we deliver value to our clients/customers?

  • How do we create value for our clients/customers?

Once you have your ideas out on the table/whiteboard/butchers paper/post-it notes, start prioritising them. There are three questions you can ask in this space:

  • Do we do it the best?

  • Do we do it the most?

  • Do we do it and no-one else does?

I find discussion followed by individual voting helps to surface the ideas of greatest importance.

Don’t pursue the golden goose

This brings me to the golden goose – uniqueness. There is a lot to be said for having a unique selling proposition, or USP. If you have one, that’s fantastic. However, a large number of businesses don’t have a truly unique offer – and that’s perfectly fine. They may have a process that pushes the boundaries of uniqueness. They might have a team that’s recognised by others as second-to-none. They may have more integrity in the way they deliver their services. However, those things aren’t unique as, say, patented intellectual property, a ground-breaking service or industry-first pricing model.

My encouragement is this – don’t pursue the golden goose. Don’t try to be unique if you aren’t. I say this because the combination of elements through which you create value for others is, at a DNA-level, unique. No other company can replicate your exact team and their mix of experiences and skills, nor your exact ‘recipes’ for how you do what you do, and so on. Together, those elements form how you create value. Give up the golden goose if it’s not relevant to you and pursue differentiation with authenticity.

Involve the right people

For start-ups and small to medium-sized enterprises, this exercise can be fairly simple. As a business grows, if you don’t already have a clearly articulated value proposition, creating one can be much more difficult. This usually comes down to culture. In any vacuum in a business, people develop their own views. That’s how we’re all wired. This means, when a more mature organisation decides to define its value proposition, it can be a mammoth task to pull together and sort through those individual ideas.

In the least, consider these three sets of internal stakeholders:

  • Your entire leadership team – of all internal stakeholders, they most need to own the decision

  • Your front-line business development team – they have to leverage that decision effectively to win work

  • Your front-line delivery team – they have to sustain that decision and are also likely to have the best insight into true client/customer perceptions

If you can include a market sounding of client/customer views and those of other key external stakeholders, then do. Just remember that strong businesses don’t let the market dictate their purpose (crazy statement right, in this world of customer-led everything!). Engage external stakeholders to provide perspective and uncover benefits you didn’t realise were benefits. Don’t engage them to define your strategy for you.

A quick ‘how to’ guide

  • Define – get clear on the task, make sure you have a leadership mandate and define who you will involve

  • Explore – I recommend starting with individual brainstorming first, which can be achieved via a questionnaire (the questions above are a good start)

  • Share – bring those ideas together so everyone can see how and where their thoughts sit with those of their colleagues

  • Refine – challenge each idea (not the person who contributed it!) and see which ones you can push further to be the best/most/only

  • Develop – now develop the value proposition

  • Embed – get leadership authorisation and induct your people and, where relevant, your market into your value proposition (I say ‘induct’ because just stating it and hoping for buy-in is doomed to fail. Give people the respect of understanding the journey you’ve been on so they can get on board.)

I’ve written value propositions for clients as statements and as a series of points. It doesn’t really matter. For some, the words have directly lifted into marketing collateral with no or little change. For others, the words have remained as behind-the-scenes concepts that define a shared understanding. Again, it doesn’t really matter. Do what works for your business and your context.

The ideal structure will cover most of these elements:

What we do (a), for whom (b), that provides an advantage (c), that results in their (client/customer) benefit/positive end result (d)

From a wordsmithing perspective, the sequence can be turned around any which way. You could say:

Delivering (a), with and for (b), making (c) possible to enable them to (d)

Or you could say:

Enabling (d), by delivering (a), with and for (b), making (c) possible

Or any other variation.

A disciplined approach creates a valuable asset

Depending on a client’s culture or lifecycle, at times I encourage them to focus on identifying the key points and not pushing it further into a market-facing statement. If your culture and lifecycle mean you can lock in a concept for a length of time (the number is arbitrary but assume a minimum of two years), then your value proposition can become a market-facing asset. This requires discipline – the willingness to forgo saying everything in favour of saying the most important things. In this, you’ll be left with a statement that can be everything from your elevator pitch to your business development hook to the sounding board used to measure client satisfaction.

Now, it’s just down to making it happen.

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