What is the role of product literature and sales messages? To position your products at functional parity with the competition so that the sales battle can be waged on some other turf, such as who can bring in the CEO to close the deal, or who can offer the biggest discount? If it comes to this, then your messages have failed in their primary purpose; eliminate competitors through differentiation.
What you do “better” than the competition and the value of being “better” should be conveyed at every messaging opportunity. Yet a great deal of sales collateral (and sales training too) fails to differentiate from competitors in any meaningful way. When marketing people are questioned about this situation they often respond, in some frustration, that their product claims are really true while their rivals’ are not. Perhaps; but how is a customer to tell? With no insight from differentiated messages to guide them, customers will make buying decisions on some other basis: a history with a particular vendor; trust of a particular sales person; or more often than not, a superior discount. Sales messages should establish differentiation and value from the start.
The problem with most messages is that they are crafted to “say what’s good about your product.” A more useful message would answer this question; “What do we need to teach customers so that they will choose our product?” Customers need to know more than simple or even complex product features. They need to know specifically why to buy your product in preference to all others.
For a sales message to stand alone as an effective vehicle for transferring confidence to customers, it must answer five basic questions:
1. What is the value to the customer of taking action?
2. What do you do better than the competitive alternatives?
3. What is the value to the customer of what you do better than the competitive alternatives?
4. What are the measures that capture both the advantage and customer value?
5. What reasons are there to believe all of the above?
Answering these deceptively simple questions for customers will enable them to understand the specific points that differentiate your product from competitive products. And in a way that helps them measure the value of that advantage to their business. In addition, your answers will contain support for your claims of value that will help customers to believe them. For the answers to be effective, they must be complete and precise.
At some point in our education, most of us were introduced to the understanding that in language, sentences consist of a structure of definable parts. Leaving out some of the parts usually produces ineffective (ambiguous) communication. In the same manner, sales messages consist of a structure of definable parts. Using messages with weak or missing parts has the same result – ineffective communication with “blanks” to be filled in by the customers themselves, or by your competitors.
Value Marketing Architecture can be thought of as the “genetic structure” for creating your messages. By creating explicit message architecture, you can reduce the likelihood of “defects” appearing in your messages due to an incomplete or inappropriate message structure. Moreover, you can increase the probability of identifying and correcting defects in messages that are already “on the street.”
Value Marketing Architecture helps produce complete messages constructed of three essential elements. The elements and their relationship to one another are shown below:
We have already accomplished part of the precision task above – by focusing not just on what’s good about a product, but on what’s better, and defining that “better” in terms that customers will value.
But there is much more to do. It’s not enough to describe “better” and the “value of better.” Don’t rely on vague measurement categories, such as “easier to use,” or “reduced cycle time.” A complete message that is not precise is little better than an incomplete message. Precision can enhance the impact of the message in two ways:
By showing customers the specific way in which the advantage or value will be felt.
Avoid general terms of advantage in favor of more relevant and impactful statements. Compare the following statements:
- “Product A is easier to use.”
- “Product A requires five hours less training time for first-time users.”
The second example offers the buyer a more precise metric from which advantage can be quantified.
By showing how much better the product is, and how much value the customer can expect to receive from “better.”
For instance, compare the following two examples:
- “With Product A errors are reduced substantially.”
- “With Product A there are 30 percent fewer errors.”
The second example is more factual and powerful because it enables the customer to calculate the return on investment from buying your product in terms of value received.
Precise language that borrows from the customer’s vocabulary helps connect what you are offering with what they are seeking. Differentiation can be strengthened when the measure of impact being used captures a meaningful difference. If a cloud-based selling tool improves seller productivity, why not promote its impact on “time to channel effectiveness” instead of the more commonly used and less precise “time to market”? Keep in mind that commodity measures create commodity products. Sales functions must team with their partners in Marketing to craft and deploy messages that matter…messages that demonstrate the real value of a product offering (or solution) relative to the competitive alternative.
Co-author Bud Hyler is a consulting advisor at Alexander Group.