“Why should someone spend time with you?” That was the question I asked the six sales people who were the subjects of an intense week-long training session. The response? Blank stares. Some uncomfortable fidgeting. Nothing anywhere close to a coherent, persuasive response. That experience made me realize the need for what I call a “value-added proposition,” and what many people refer to as an “elevator speech.” It is a well-thought-out, meticulously prepared and memorized set of ideas that ultimately answer the question above.
It should exist in several different versions. There should be a one-page (250 words or so) description of who you are, what you do and why your customers and prospects should care. That should be reduced to a 30-word version that should be memorized by everyone who has contact with the customer. Finally, that should be further reduced to a four- to eight-word version that can accompany every communication, from website advertising to face-to-face interactions.
Why this is important
“Five minutes or it’s free.” That was the banner hanging over the fast food restaurant near my house. I noticed it as I drove past one day. Interesting.
In a mini-environment of intense competition (there must be a dozen fast-food options within a mile of this road) they chose to focus on one aspect of their offering — speed — and turn it into a “value-added proposition.” In a world of other options for the customer, they chose to take their strength, turn it into a benefit for the customer, and boil that down to say, “Buy it from us. We’ll guarantee quick service.”
It had its desired impact. I noticed the banner and decided to stop in for breakfast. The waitress took my order, noted the time on the order pad and handed me a stop watch! I took up the challenge, clicked it on and waited to see if they would perform. The order arrived within five minutes. I noticed the waitress look at her watch and note the delivery time on the order pad.
Let’s consider what we can learn from this experience. First, the value-added proposition consolidates some of the strengths of the organization and turns them into benefits for the customer base. Then, it translates those benefits into a “proposition” that challenges the customer to become involved. It reaches out into the world and says, “Consider me. Here’s why.” It serves as a proactive way to interest and attract potential customers.
Just as important, it helps refine who you are as an organization. You will become who you tell people you are. For example, I suspect that the restaurant did not have a quantity of stop watches in their inventory prior to deciding to toss “five minutes or it’s free” into the world. I suspect that the order forms were modified to accommodate the claim; that the wait staff was trained in the processes to implement it; that some items came off the menu and others were added; and that some cooks don’t work there any more because of their inability to be who the restaurant said they were.
Once you say that you provide “outstanding customer service,” or “the highest quality products,” for example, you have to back that up. You must become who you say you are, and actually do what you claim you do. The value-added proposition brings tremendous power to focus your image to your customer base and organize your internal operations to deliver what you say you will.
From the point of view of the sales force, the value-added proposition gives them a focal point — a place to hang their claim for uniqueness. But it also gives them a wedge into the doors of the prospect, and an appropriate topic of conversation with every contact. That’s why the 30-word version should be memorized and practiced until it can be delivered accurately, fluently and persuasively.
How to do it
The creation of a value-added proposition can be much more significant than it may look at first glance. Once you understand the power of this set of words to attract customers, equip sales people and shape operations, you will realize that this can be a “bet the business on this” strategic initiative.
Get it wrong, and your organization’s very survival may be in jeopardy. Get it right, and it can provide fuel for your growth for the foreseeable future. So, it ought to be treated as a major strategic initiative in your organization and given the allotment of resources that accompany such efforts.
Gather your best people for a brainstorming session. Capture the output and bring it to a more analytical group to refine. Put it in the hands of your best communicators to create the three versions mentioned above. Test it before you commit to it. Put it in the hands of some sales people and gather their comments. Float it by some of your customers whose honest opinion you expect. Run it through the search engine optimization folks. Refine it until you are ready to live with it.
Then, publish the short version in every conceivable place. On business cards, letterheads, voicemail messages, websites, email signatures, etc. Bring the sales people in, require they memorize the 30-word version, and train them in persuasively presenting it. Lots of role-play and practice here. Do the same with anyone who has regular customer contact. Finally, publish the one-page version. Make it into a hard copy leave-behind for the sales force. Publish it on your website. Hand it to every vendor. Distribute it to everyone who has an interest. Then, watch as it begins to flow into every aspect of your business, stimulating and shaping your growth.