We’ve said it many times, the biggest mistake most B2B companies ever make is assuming their customers care. They don’t.
They do care, however, about what you might offer their businesses.
They do care about how you can save them money, make them money or increase their competitiveness.
Put simply, they care about the value you can deliver.
But how do you get to grips with the real value you offer customers? There are, after all, many things you could say. This is where a value proposition comes in.
But as with so many things in B2B marketing, the language and thinking around value props is often muddled and contradictory. So in this guide, we’ll look at the entire process of developing an effective value proposition for a B2B brand.
Let’s get to it.
Fundamentally, a value proposition is a concise distillation of the most important benefits a company offers its customers. A strong value proposition will define the category you’re in, the target customer you serve and the tangible value you deliver.
The best value propositions will be ruthlessly edited. Less is more.
In writing an effective value proposition, focus matters. A lot.
It will be tempting to fudge around each element of your value prop. You’ll want to widen out the category to attract more potential customers. You’ll want to expand how you define your target audience for the same reasons. And you’ll be under pressure to list a wide range of key benefits (because if one doesn’t land maybe another will).
This would be a mistake.
B2B companies are often complex to the core. Complex products. Complex target markets. Complex buying processes.
A compelling value proposition will help simplify some of this complexity. It helps focus your positioning and messaging. It is a guardrail that will help inform what you do, who you target and, importantly, what you don’t do.
Let’s unpack that a little more:
As such, a value proposition is a foundational part of many companies’ wider brand and marketing strategies.
So it pays to get it right.
We’d argue that any attempt to write a value proposition for your brand is a valuable exercise. But, if you’re going to get the greatest value from your value prop, you need to take a systematic approach to the entire value propositioning (is that even a term?) process.
Here’s a five-step approach for starters…
There’s a saying that ‘all models are wrong but some are useful’. This is very true in the world of creating value propositions.
As you’d probably expect, there are a number of frameworks available:
Many, however, are broad variations on a theme.
A popular option is the Value Proposition Canvas which looks to line up a map of value from the company’s perspective (product or service, gain creators and pain relievers) with a customer profile (their pains, gains and jobs to be done).
The Value Proposition Canvas is a good way to collect information and bucket some of the core insights you’ll need (we often use it for this). However, in our experience, B2B users can struggle to turn the huge number of inputs into a concise tangible output when it comes to their own value proposition.
As they say, your mileage may vary.
The framework we use is based on the version in Crossing The Chasm by Geoffrey Moore:
For [target market] who want to [key customer need], [brand] is a [category descriptor] that [key benefit].
As an example for Considered (BTW, this is not one of the value proposition examples promised in the title of this guide, we’ll get to those later):
For B2B marketers who want to accelerate long sales cycle purchases, Considered Content is a content-led marketing agency that takes a real-world approach to reducing friction at every stage of the sale.
Is this beautiful copy? No. It’s not meant to be.
In fact, it’s not designed to be seen outside the business at all (though now you have). But hopefully you can see that by implementing it, we’re making some key decisions:
Contrast this with an agency focusing on startup entrepreneurs that target SME businesses and sell a low-cost SaaS product. An agency that’s all about social media engagement and influencer marketing.
It’s easy to see that we’ll be focusing on a very different target customer and are likely to go to market with very different messaging and tactics. Yet, on the face of it, we’re both B2B marketing agencies.
A good value proposition will focus on the value you offer a specific target market and customer. Go too broad and you’ll have to become increasingly generic in the value you identify.
So, for example, you’ll able to be far more specific in your promise to a design engineer focusing on R&D in hydraulics than to all engineers in general. Likewise, your pitch to the financial services market would be different than that for private corporate banking. You get the picture.
The challenge is to be as targeted as you can while still having a viable market.
“But hold on,” we hear you say, “B2B sales often have multiple individuals involved in a purchase.”
Yes, they do. And you may well need to have multiple value propositions as a result.
So, you may have one that’s focused on IT support professionals that revolves around their ability to react to events faster than ever before. You may have another to their bosses focused on how this means they can deliver better customer service at lower cost. You may also need to have a separate employee value proposition for use in recruitment.
It is better to have multiple value propositions than to try to kludge something together that almost, but not quite, fits your entire audience.
How you judge value may well be very different than how your customers view it. Thing is, how customers look at it is the only thing that matters in an effective value proposition.
Getting this wrong is a straight line to Meh.
There is no substitute for directly asking existing customers why they chose you. What were they trying to get done? What benefits were they seeking? What challenges were they attempting to overcome?
This is where we’ll get the key customer need part of our value proposition.
It’s important you drill down into the needs your customers tell you about. An existing customer may simply say they needed your product. However, this is the curse of hindsight.
What was their real need before they even knew about your product or service? What were the big problems they were looking to solve?
This should result in a range of inputs. Chances are, you’ll begin to see them cluster around a relatively small number of topics. You can then explore these further to create your own unique value proposition for your specific target audience. You can also use this to split out an ideal customer from the also-rans.
What market are you in? It’s a simple question but one that always generates lots of debate when we run messaging and positioning workshops. While many would expect this to be obvious, it is often anything but.
Again, this will have a tangible effect on your ultimate value proposition. Choosing a market category such as “small business-focused accountancy” will set you off on a different path than opting for “specialist accountancy for high-growth businesses.”
It’s not difficult to see how these two accountants, while structurally similar, might then go to market in very different ways.
The final piece of the puzzle is how you choose and articulate the benefits you offer.
Focus is again key. It is all too easy to real off a long list of benefits (some that are probably features in disguise). It takes discipline to limit your options.
Going back to our high-growth focused accountancy, they could claim to offer book-keeping, tax, payroll etc. So far, so undifferentiated. Alternatively, they could offer to be the partner that understands how to streamline back-end accounting to accelerate topline business growth. This begins to be a more interesting space to play in.
Value proposition development is hard work. There are no easy answers (or you should be very suspicious if there are). Too many marketing teams latch on to the first option that looks anywhere near workable.
As a result, most value propositions we see tend to be wooly, unfocused and ineffective. They’ll trumpet a value statement that’s almost identical to the competition. They’ll fail to understand the customer’s pain point (often their second, third and fourth pain points too). And they’ll then use all this as the foundation for everything across their marketing channels, product pages, inbound marketing campaigns, the lot.
This is why it is so important to explore multiple options. Importantly, they should be meaningfully different from each other.
Make sure there is time to consider the alternatives (free of the pressure of having to give the meeting room back at 5pm). Write them out and stick them up somewhere. Find ways to test them before going live.
Assessing whether your value proposition is likely to resonate with a target buyer can be challenging. Especially in B2B where audiences are often smaller and can be very niche.
Feedback can be difficult to get. Most people are unlikely to look at the text of your positioning statement and play it forward into what that would mean in the real world. Why would they?
Fortunately, you don’t simply have to rely on gut instinct anymore.
Instead, use your prefered proposition statement to create a sample home page or two (you can simply replace the main headline and intro copy). Then take them into a service such as Wynter which allows you to quickly test your value propositions with a sample of potential customers. It’s fast, pretty low cost and provides invaluable feedback.
Of course, if you have a super niche target audience you may struggle here (though you can supply your own) but, for many B2B markets, it’s well worth the investment.
An alternative is to employ a third party to run some customer research. Don’t be tempted to do this yourself, respondents are unlikely to give you their unvarnished opinion when they talk to you direct.
Then brace yourself, feedback from real live people can be brutal. It’s also why it’s so valuable.
Also, bear in mind that this will be from a relatively small sample size (15 or 30 people in the case of Wynter). It’s indicative but not 100% representative of the wider market.
Once you have feedback, it’s important to step back and make your own judgement on what’s working and what’s not. Then, evolve your approach.
You may need to test again (and again) until you get to a compelling value proposition that resonates with your ideal customer.
Creating a unique value proposition for your business that resonates with customers is where many value prop exercises aim to call things done. But to do so leaves some significant value on the table.
If we circle back to the idea of developing a unique value proposition, we need to understand how it is different than that of our competitors.
Creating value propositions for your competitors based on how they position themselves to customers can be an incredibly powerful weapon in your B2B marketing arsenal.
When we run positioning programmes for clients, we will routinely assess competitor value propositions to better understand the space they are attempting to own in the market. This helps us determine whether we should compete head-on or spend more time to uncover a less contested space (we almost always opt for the latter).
Again, while you can do this yourself, be careful that your view doesn’t become skewed by your knowledge of the competition and the wider market. More often than not, a potential customer won’t have anywhere like this level of understanding. They will simply make up their mind based on what they see on the business’s website. A third party can bring this impartiality to the exercise.
Which brings us to some value proposition examples…
As you’d expect, we can’t divulge the value propositions we’ve created for our clients. However, we can use the same retro-fitting process we use in our positioning projects to look at the value propositions of a range of B2B businesses.
Again, bear in mind that we do not have any special insight into their strategies (none are clients). But potential customers don’t have that insight either. We’ve tried to select brands from across the B2B spectrum (not just the usual suspects).
We’ll use the Crossing the Chasm framework covered earlier.
For large enterprises facing the complex challenges that typify modern business, PWC is a leading advisory business that blends human ingenuity and the latest technology to deliver sustainable solutions to society’s biggest issues.
For manufacturers looking to accelerate and streamline how they develop next-generation products, 3M is a science-based technology company dedicated to applying cutting-edge thinking and innovation to help customers meet their most pressing challenges with maximum efficiency.
For international businesses who want to manage increasingly complex global supply chains, Maersk is a fully integrated logistics partner who simplifies and streamlines the entire process of moving goods and materials across sea, land and air.
For businesses who want to integrate how they attract, serve and retain customers, HubSpot is an integrated CRM platform that brings together all the tools you need in a single solution you’ll love to use.
For businesses looking to safeguard themselves from an ever-evolving threat landscape, Darktrace is a cutting-edge cybersecurity provider that uses AI-powered solutions to proactively protect their customers.
Great value propositions are often the result of hard in-depth effort and numerous false starts and pivots. In B2B, even a simple value proposition for a relatively straightforward market takes time.
So is it worth it?
Absolutely. A well-considered, compelling value proposition will provide a robust foundation for how you go to market, what you say to customers and how you build and sustain competitive advantage. It’ll extend beyond marketing to every aspect of how the business does business.
So, yeah, it’s pretty important.
Fundamentally, this comes down to 6 core activities:
We’d love to talk.
Simply contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a time.
Jason Ball is the founder and managing director at Considered. With a multi-decade career in B2B marketing, he’s worked with world-leading brands such as Adobe, Google, EY and Cisco together with niche specialists in technology, manufacturing and professional services.