Traditionally, the legacy model’s value proposition was found in the company's products, services, or "solution" (a word I expect will soon be replaced with "outcomes"). But it’s long past time to retire that notion: The problem-pain-solution pattern that defined sales for decades is now inadequate, as it does nothing to address the problems of buying.
One of the first ideas in Eat Their Lunch: Winning Customers Away from Your Competitors is that you are the value proposition—an idea that, when understood and acted on, changes your relationship with your clients and your prospective clients. The reason this idea is necessary is because the world has changed dramatically, creating a more complex, more disruptive, and increasingly more difficult environment for decision-making.
Value Proposition: You Are the Emissary
An emissary is a person sent on a special mission. Here, your mission is to provide your client or prospective client with help improving their results. However, your client cannot generate the better results they need simply by learning about your company and your products or services. The "solution" you want your prospective client to buy likewise doesn't provide the help that the client’s decision-makers and stakeholders need to make the significant change necessary to improve their position.
No matter how much you believe your client needs whatever you sell, they won’t be swayed by a sales conversation designed by marketing (a group of people paid to appeal to groups, not to acquire actual individual clients), or by the product managers who believe that the product sells itself once a compliant salesperson explains its feature, benefits, and how it solves the client’s problems.
You are the value proposition because your client's deeper problems prevent them from solving their surface problems. Unless you can help your contacts solve both kinds of problems, they will not be able to improve their results.
The Value Proposition of Solving Buying Challenges
Overthrowing the Status Quo: One of the most difficult challenges buyers face is gaining the escape velocity to break free from the status quo. The longer a client lives with their problems, the longer they can live with their problems. If the pain itself were enough to compel change, your client would have already changed without your help. The prospect of change often feels more painful than keeping on with the devil they know.
Because you are the value proposition, you compel your client to change. You are part catalyst, part instigator, part agitator, and part prophet—both a doomsayer and one who sees the bright future available to your clients. The certainty sequence that starts with a client being uncertain about change advances when you explain the certainty of increasingly negative consequences, should the client continue with the status quo. Once you've provided your stakeholders with what's at stake, you help them leave their uncertainty about the future by providing them with the path to the positive outcomes that follow change.
You are the value proposition because your prospective clients aren't compelled by your company, your product, or anything else external.
Facilitating the Buyer's Journey: two holdovers from the legacy approaches to sales also require you to be the value proposition. The first one is the linear sales process, a construct designed to help salespeople learn how to sell. Like all best practices, as the world evolved, it became something less. The sales process was never designed to serve clients; it was designed to make sales a repeatable process, one that anyone could use to win deals.
The second holdover is the belief that buyers know how to buy. While it's important to recognize the buyer's journey, it's done little to improve B2B sales, mostly because there is no universal "buyer’s journey," only individual buyers’ journeys. You might believe that selling is hard enough without teaching your buyers how to buy effectively, but that’s abandoning your duty as a consultative salesperson.
You are the value proposition because you are guiding your client on their buyer's journey, giving them the best leadership possible to help them move from their current state to a better future state. The "solution" you put on a pedestal offers no help in pursuing change.
Consultative Selling: Perhaps you believe that you are a consultative salesperson. You point to the fact that you ask good questions, ones designed to force a confession that the client has a problem or pain point (welcome to 1988), and that you never use a high-pressure approach. While it's good to respect your client’s time and intelligence, asking questions doesn't make you consultative—but it does offer proof you are not the value proposition.
What really makes you consultative is the same thing that makes you the value proposition: your insights, your business acumen, your advice, your counsel, your advice, and your recommendations. These capabilities and competencies allow you to solve the complicated, human challenges that must be resolved for your prospective client to improve their results.
One sign that you’re an effective value proposition is that your advice and recommendations contribute as much (if not more) as your products do when it comes to improving your client’s results. You will know this is true when the changes you help your client make don’t rely on buying from your company, but you win the deal anyway because you create greater value than any of your competitors.