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The problem with value propositions

by Hank Barnes  |  December 29, 2015  |  1 Comment

Lately, I’ve seen a lot of clients come to me very focused on their value proposition.    And I get it.  Having a good value proposition is important.   It’s kinda obvious–if you can’t offer value, then why would anyone become a customer?   But I still believe stories are more important.    And the foundation for stories is positioning.

The problem with the value proposition focus is that it reinforces the patterns that are the cause of problems with technology messaging.  In most cases, value propositions are all about the provider.      I’ve rarely seen a value proposition that is about the customer.   They always seem to take the form of “this is what we do and what makes us great.”   And most of the time, they feel meaningless and empty to me.  Value propositions are like forcing a square peg (all about me) into a round hole (what the customer cares about).


Rather than try to create value propositions, create stories first.   The story, as all that follow me know, should describe the target customer’s situation without you–the pain they are feeling or the opportunity they are missing.  Then it should summarize and capture the impact that is having on their business. Effectively, this is the reason they need to prioritize addressing this.  Finally, capture how you resolve the situation and the outcomes you enable.

Once you have a few stories, you’ll have the building blocks for a potential “value proposition.”  That proposition is built around a customer situation, or situations, that you address effectively.

Look, let’s face it, we have to get attention, but a single statement (value prop) does not win you any business.   Maybe it is time to stop trying.

Rather than gain initial interest with “what we do”.  Get that interest through empathy–describing quickly situations that customers are facing (side benefit-you are qualifying them at the same time–if they don’t have the need, then you can move on).  Then you can tell your story of how you help them.      In the content your write, you’ll need to summarize this (in headlines, for example) with the ultimate outcome you deliver and the context of how you do that.

But rather than try to start from a value proposition (and please don’t call a value proposition your positioning–it is not), start from a story.

Side note:  I could have substituted “elevator pitch” for value proposition in this post.  For me, most elevator pitches I hear are for the shortest and fastest elevator ride ever.   Tell a story, don’t try to describe yourself.



Additional Resources

Category: go-to-market  

Tags: messaging  situational-awareness  storytelling  value-proposition  

Hank Barnes
VP Distinguished Analyst
6+ years at Gartner
30+ years IT Industry

Hank Barnes explores the dynamics, challenges, and frustrations enterprises face when buying technology products and services. Using that customer-centric lens, he advises those responsible for marketing technology products and services, general managers responsible for product portfolios, and startup CEOs on next practices to drive success for their customers and their business. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on The problem with value propositions

  1. As I learned from Hank many years ago when I worked for him. You always need to think from the “outside in” write for the reader, the customer. Excellent article Hank, as always!

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