Book Review: Selling Your Value Proposition

The global company we now know as Unilver began its live in the 1880s in Victorian England when William Hesketh Lever, founder of Lever Bros, developed his ideas for Sunlight Soap – his revolutionary new product that helped popularise cleanliness and hygiene in Victorian England. This soap was “to make cleanliness commonplace; to lessen work for women; to foster health and contribute to personal attractiveness, that life may be more enjoyable and rewarding for the people who use our products” (ref).

Credit: Unilever

An example of very early innovation in product marketing and branding, the soap contained “copra or pine kernel oil, which helps it lather more easily than traditional soaps made of animal fats. Unusually for the time, Lever gave the soap a brand name – Sunlight – and sold it wrapped in distinctive packs” (ref).

Fast forward to today and in the United States we find a company worrying about the lack of raw fruit and vegetables in American’s diets. The company is called Juicero, and the founders successfully manage to pitch their idea to various investors, leading them to raise around $120 million in funding.

Credit: Juicero

In March 2016 the company launched its $700 juicer which required a wi-fi connection and a subscription to its proprietary juice packets, resulting in much ridicule, including Bloomberg who published an article and video showing that the juice could be produced from the packets with someone’s bare hands, without the need for such an over-the-top connected machine (ref).

What Juicero had produced was a product for the top 1% of the population, and not for the 90% who have a very real need for a more nutritious diet. The result in the end, as Forbes recently announced, was the suspension of Juicero’s operations (ref).

I wanted to start this book review with two contrasting examples of business success and failure which both had the purpose of improving the health of people in fundamental ways, hygiene and nutrition. The difference in these offerings can be described by their differing value propositions. In their 2009 best-selling book Creating and Delivering Your Value Proposition, authors Cindy Barnes, Helen Blake and David Pinder describe value as ‘benefits minus costs’. However, while this definition appears simple enough, the term value proposition is understood in many different ways, and often poorly.

No matter what a business, enterprise or organisation does, at the core is the serving and delivering measurable value to clients. If you are not familiar with this as a business concept, you may wish to read my previous article The Future of Value Generation: Value Propositions Where People and Planet Matter where I discuss Creating and Delivering Your Value Proposition in more detail.

In my recent article for Sustainable Brands I mention that “customer experience is the forgotten dimension of sustainability”. I have also recently written about the shift into the experience economy, with people buying less things, and desiring more meaningful experiences in their lives. For this reason, one of the most significant insights which comes from the new book Selling Your Value Proposition: How to Transform Your Business into a Selling Organization is not only the framing of value propositions in the context of the new economy, but particularly the focus on the very nature of experience itself.

As Cindy Barnes, Helen Blake and Tamara Howard explain, the Value Proposition Builder™ is a framework which uses a psychology-based approach (a mix of transactional analysis and phenomenology) to conduct stakeholder interviews. This is a deeply systemic approach which is much more than just about selling products and services. It is an approach which can help companies make “more profound changes to the way they work and act” with their approach to selling becoming more ethic, authentic and successful. By as the authors acknowledge, “the difficult part is changing the structures, processes and behaviours in a business so as to build on what customers value”.

For this reason, I really like the emphasis in the opening chapters on the need to really understand people in the most complete way. While there are of course many different techniques for exploring the attitudes and opinions of people, the challenge has always been in obtaining “a clear and honest picture of what the customers genuinely like and dislike about doing business with a particular company”.

Positing that “traditional interviewing techniques don’t work”, techniques such as surveys, directed questioning and scripted questioning, “a great deal of the most important feedback is not quantitative, rather it is qualitative, it is about emotions and feelings and it is these that are crucial to the understanding of a customer’s relationship and likely future behaviour with any business”.

In writing this book, the authors interviewed many people who are contributing to the transformation of the way in which organisations conduct their business and relate to people, not just their clients but to everyone involved in, and impacted by their activities and operations. I was one of the interviewees, and the reason I was happy to contribute is due to the way in which the work of Cindy, Helen and Tamara really complements our own work relating to both Holonomics and Customer Experiences with Soul.

We too take a phenomenological approach to organisation design and the design of the customer experience, and in this book these themes are built on with a discussion of the way in which phenomenology, and particularly a new approach called Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis can deepen the way in which we understand people and what they truly value. This type of research is based on exploring how people make sense of their personal and social world and focuses on “the meanings and particular experiences, events, states or objects hold for individuals”. The outcome of taking this approach to customer research for companies are “powerful insights that can lead to transformative change”.

This for me is the crux of matter, the reason why it is so important for a business or organisation to have such a profound understanding of its value proposition, and not a more superficial one that understands the value proposition as say a sales message, a packaged offering or a narrative about the brand which is not coherent with what customers are actually offered or experience. The deep value of having a value proposition lies in the actual process itself, one in which many different people from many different parts of the business learn to see things the way their customers see them. As the authors point out, “many businesses, especially those that are technically focused, find this shift particularly difficult. They struggle to make the leap from thinking about their own capabilities and products to thinking about what the customer really wants, from his or her own point of view”.

Credit: Museu do Amanhã

Here in Brazil there is a relatively new museum in Rio de Janeiro called the Museu do Amanhã (The Museum of Tomorrow). It is currently showcasing many different creations designed and developed by Brazilians in order to transform our world. It is an incredibly inspirational collection of social technologies, but these on their own are not sufficient to gain traction and to become successful, from commercial, social and environmental perspectives. Entrepreneurs need the tools to help convert their ideas into products and services in which their whole value is fully understood and which provide meaningful experiences for people.

Selling Your Value Proposition: How to Transform Your Business into a Selling Organization answers this challenge by showing senior executives how to develop authentic and systemic value propositions in a world where both technology and societal awareness is changing how and why people choose to buy. It provides detailed guidance not only on how to develop a value proposition, but also on how then to translate the value proposition into a sales proposition, and how the whole sales process works.

This is not a typical sales book though, focused on promises of exponential growth. The case studies are carefully chosen to show how a new approach to value proposition design and the sales process is needed for both the new economy and new consciousness about consumption which is emerging.

The book provides clear guidance on how to implement genuine change through their proven methodology and ten laws of value proposition selling. I recommend this book to both established businesses and the new generation of entrepreneurs who wish to create genuinely engaging companies in which the whole organisation is totally focused on understanding and meeting customer needs.

Further Information

You can find out more about the book and can download a chapter via Futurecurve’s website here.

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