The Death of the Value Proposition

I had a very interesting conversation with a close friend of mine yesterday and his insights were incredibly enlightening.  First, some background.  My friend is a very successful defense attorney specializing in food-borne illness cases.  You have probably heard about many of them –  tainted peanut butter, cookie dough, spinach.  According to the news, it seems like eating is now hazardous to your health.  Anyway, my friend finally decided it was time to have someone manage his money, a role he had played successfully for the past 10 years.  So I asked him about the process he went through to select a manager and his response was quick and unflattering.  He said, “I interviewed 10 different people – some large, some small.  The process was infuriating.  Everyone came in and asked a few basic questions designed to ‘get to know me’ and then proceeded to tell me about their firm and how they could help me.  The funny thing was everyone sounded the same.”  He then pulled out a file and handed me pitchbooks from six different firms.  Looking through them confirmed what I already knew to be true; everyone really does look and sound the same.”

This gets to one of the questions I am most often asked as I travel the country working with our clients.  Almost daily I am approached by professionals who ask, “What makes us different from everyone else out there?”  I invariably follow with a simple but more important question, “What do you feel makes you different?”  The responses are incredibly homogenous – large firm with global resources delivered by professionals in the local market, a team-based approach, commitment to client service, blah, blah blah.  Please do not misunderstand.  These descriptors may be true of you and your organization.  However, they do little or nothing to distinguish you in the marketplace.

So, this begs the question.  How do you develop a message that distinguishes you in today’s intensely competitive marketplace?  Conventional thinking in the industry says you should get everyone together and define your “Value Proposition.”  This exercise invariably results in carefully scripted platitudes that are quickly seen by clients as nothing more than a sales pitch.

This is why I contend the “Value Proposition” is dead.  Clients are tired of hearing us talk about “us.”  In the words of country music star Toby Keith, clients are saying “I Wanna Talk About Me.”  When clients ask “What makes you different?” what they really mean is “What will I get if I choose you?”   While the difference may seem subtle, taking a deliberate approach to addressing the real question clients are seeking to answer is the key to differentiation.

Stop with the Elevator Pitch and start with the Client Promise.  The difference between the Value Proposition and the Client Promise is simple.  The Client Promise is:

  • Client-centric:  Defining the Experience every current client gets from you today.
  • Exclusive:  Focusing on “What our clients value most in their relationship with us.”  If this is what you are looking for, then we should continue to talk.  If not, then we would not be a good fit for you.
  • Engaging:  Creating emotional engagement by helping the client envision themselves in this type of relationship.

To define your Client Promise, spend some time addressing two basic but profoundly impactful questions.

  • What do your clients value most in their relationship with you?
  • What do you enjoy most about your job?

Take the time to write down your answers to these two questions and then step back.  What are the common themes? What is the resulting message, i.e., your Client Promise?  How can you communicate this Client Promise concisely?  And most importantly, “How do we ensure we will deliver on this Client Promise through a thoughtfully-designed Client Experience?” I assure you that spending the time to engage in this exercise will transform your approach to positioning your firm, re-energize your professionals, and have a lasting impact on how you engage clients and prospects alike.

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