A 2009 survey of 9,000 decision makers in B2B companies found that 86% of the "unique benefits" touted by vendors were not perceived as unique or having enough impact to create preference.

Unwittingly, it appears, companies are creating value parity-positions, not value propositions.

Is it any wonder you are having a hard time getting customers to start sales cycles with you? The survey results would also explain the rising number of "no decisions" at the end of opportunities.

This article offers the following three rules for creating preference vs. parity in your value propositions.

1. Put It in Context

The Marketing Leadership Council of the Corporate Executive Board (CEB), authors of the survey, say the biggest failure point in most company value propositions is "proximity."

That is, because of marketers' proximity to their own company and products, they overestimate the uniqueness and relevance of the benefits they promote.

And one of the biggest problems with proximity is that it causes marketers to mistake customer touch points for value propositions.

Companies like to tout such things as customer service as a differentiator. But research has found that decision-makers see those touch points as marginal or poor drivers of preference.

Meanwhile, what really gets customers excited is hearing about clear, unique benefits that address their business needs.

Strategic agenda items such as "streamline my supply chain" or "help me get more out of my current capital investments" are what people will pay you for, because those items are relevant to their responsibilities and how their organizations hold them accountable.

Needs-based benefits that show customers how to do something better tomorrow than they do today were proven to be four times more powerful predictors of preference vs. touch points, according to the CEB research.

Also, remember that you get delegated to whoever you talk like. Make sure that the needs you address are presented in the context of the person who can make a purchase decision. The tendency is to drift toward the user of your products or services; typically, that person isn't the key decision-maker.

Preference vs. Parity Rule 1: No context, no value proposition.

2. Show It in Contrast

Do your value propositions create contrast for customers? Do they see themselves in enough pain with their current situation to replace, upgrade, or otherwise change the status quo? And, more important, do you clearly align what you do, and show the relevant gain, with regard to that pain?

If your prospects hear your message or listen to your story and they can't see themselves eliminating challenges and positively changing their strategic agenda in a significant way, you don't have a value proposition.

Value lies in the contrast between the pain and the gain.

Brain research proves that humans make decisions that are more adaptive than rational. They need to see a change in their environment that makes the status quo no longer acceptable. They need to see that change is coming now—and fast. And, they need to see your solution as critical to their survival.

In fact, you need to inject emotion into your messaging. Even in B2B, you have to get decision makers emotionally invested in the decision. They will justify with facts, but they will buy based on how your solution will influence their success or failure in their jobs.

It's only by creating a dramatic contrast between how bad things are today and how good things will be after they partner with you that you can get prospects to create an opportunity and champion a decision in their organization.

Preference vs. Parity Rule 2: No contrast, no value proposition.

3. Prove It With Corroboration

The third rule pertains to proof points. Most marketers think of proof points as quantifiable validation of the value you provide. That's true, but it's only partially true.

When you are trying to get prospects to care enough to consider a change and choose you, proof points must corroborate your solution on two levels.

First, you need proof points that will corroborate or turn up the heat on the problem. "Amping up the pain" is what I like to call it.

For example, at the beginning of this article I told you that 86% of unique benefits that companies cite don't create preference. I bet it got you thinking about your own benefits statements and value propositions. It hooked you into the story and got you to care about a potential solution.

Second, you need proof points that will corroborate your claims to be able to solve the problem in a meaningful way that eliminates the pain and brings measurable gain around the strategic item you are addressing.

One example of that in this article was the research finding that needs-based benefits are four times more powerful than touch-point-based benefits.

Do you have documented results that validate what doing something different tomorrow will mean to your customers—in terms they care about?

Preference vs. Parity Rule 3: No corroboration, no value proposition.

* * *

Use those three rules when creating your value propositions, and you will discover the difference between preference and parity.

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image of Tim Riesterer

Tim Riesterer is chief strategy and marketing officer of Corporate Visions Inc. He is the co-author of Customer Message Management and Conversations that Win The Complex Sale,

LinkedIn: Tim Riesterer