How to convince clients to choose you, even when you’re not the cheapest, biggest or most well-known
If you’re a B2B (business selling to other businesses), you’re facing a sea of competitors all trying to grab your slice of the pie. You can’t — and likely don’t want to — win the competition by being the cheapest. There’ll always be somebody to steal that spot.
And you’re right. It’s not only about price. Verizon, Allstate Insurance, and Apple aren’t the cheapest options in their fields, yet customers choose them in droves.
Why? Because they know that with Verizon, they’re getting blazing fast connection. With Allstate, they’re in good hands. With Apple, they’re getting cutting-edge tech. In other words, these three mega companies have done a brilliant job selling themselves via a one-liner that shows exactly what unique value they offer you.
In the world of marketing, we call that a value prop (VP for short): a stellar, one-sentence pitch promoting something special about you that your competitors don’t have. Your VP is there every time you open a conversation with a potential new customer — be it on your website’s headline, the message on your voicemail, your proposals and marketing swag and even in your elevator pitch — making it clear why to customers why you’re different and better than anyone else out there.
Back in the ’40s, Mars and Murrays (M&M) was one of hundreds of chocolate brands, each competing for a slice of the pie in an overcrowded market. Until they unveiled the most famous value prop in history, and became a hit chocolate brand practically overnight.
World War II was raging at the time, the army was recruiting tens of thousands of men as soldiers, and they all needed long-shelf-life foods in their kit bag. M&M saw the need, and grabbed the opportunity to market their unique chocolate in a super-specific way with one of the most powerful and long-lasting slogans of all time: “The milk chocolate that melts in your mouth, not in your hands.”
That’s what the right value prop does for your business: It shows how you’re desirably different. Explains why customers should choose you over the thousands of options out there. Gets you remembered, wanted, and sold.
12 words, a VP is:
Something great your customer gets from your brand — that they won’t get anywhere else
In 4 words it’s:
How you’re desirably different
In three words, it’s:
Your wow factor
In 1 word, it’s, well…
Dumb. Sorry. But I’ve never seen a great value prop shorter than seven words.
Your value prop could be something unique and incredible about the product you provide, like the features, warranty, how it works, how long it lasts. It could be the way you service customers, like your return policy, US-based support, or the hours you’re open. It could even be the reputation you have, or the values your brand stands for, like Toms shoes — for every pair you buy, they’ll donate one to someone in need.
Really? Just create a VP and watch sales soar? Well, finding the right value prop for your biz isn’t as simple as pulling a cool one-liner out of a bag. How do you even figure out what your business’s unique value is? Here’s the five-step process I use to double, triple, and even multiply tenfold the selling power of brands I work with.
FIND YOUR UNIQUE ANGLE
What’s the one claim nobody else is making?
For your value prop to be effective, you’ve got to look through everything that makes your brand powerful, from your history to your process, to be sure nobody else is saying what you are. Ideally, you want your claim to be something nobody else can replicate. Like Coke’s secret ingredient. Or Amazon’s same-day shipping. Or the 24-hour service no other neighborhood pharmacy offers.
But what if you don’t have a super-unique angle to brag about? Here’s the wonderful thing about marketing: Even if you’re the same as everybody else, if you grab a claim before any of your competitors do, you get to own it.
Take VoIP phone service. Because it connects calls through the internet, connection isn’t completely reliable. It has a reputation for dropped/scrambled/delayed calls.
So when I was writing copy for 8x8 (one of the top five VoIP providers in the US) I noticed that their competitor Vonage marketed themselves as providing “99.9% uptime.” It meant their phone service (despite using VoIP technology) was practically glitch-free.
What a claim! I was impressed, and annoyed. How would my client compete against that?
Then, as I dug deeper into analyzing the competitor websites, I noticed that four of the top five, (including my client) could make the same claim. But because Vonage got to it first, we couldn’t use it.
“We also do 99% uptime.” Kinda feeble, isn’t it?
So I dug deeper, and discovered that my client used the same system used by hospitals, the US navy, and NASA. Honestly, it’s a claim most of his competitors could make — but they hadn’t. Bingo. Unique VP found.
How to find your unique angle:
- Check what competitors are saying — and more importantly, what they’re not saying.
- Then brainstorm to find that one detail that you do differently. Or that no one else mentioned yet. Your sales team (and customers!) will have some great insights here.
Some ideas (and there are hundreds of other ways you can differentiate):
Your process: Is there an extra step or delightful bonus in the way you work that would thrill customers if they knew about it?
Your team: Do you have influencers, authorities, or experts on staff?
Your values: Do you use higher-end materials, create healthier products, or support a cause?
Your product: Is there a cool feature you offer that nobody else does (or mentions)?
Your service: Do you offer faster shipping, better return policy, quicker answers, or unlimited help?
Your users: Do you cater to a specific niche, or have a celebrity client who uses/endorses you?
Fun fact: If you notice, price isn’t on the list. Why? Because the goal of a good value prop is so that you can stop competing on a price, and start making real money.
IS THIS WHAT CUSTOMERS WANT?
Now that you’ve come up with a couple of solid, unique value props to use, you’ve got to choose the one that will actually bring customers in.
Here’s where the trouble often begins. Because it’s not always the angle you love that wins more sales.
I saw this firsthand when I was working on a website for an insurance agency. After talking to the sales team and conducting some customer research, I had a couple of powerful ideas we could use as their value prop.
One was that their agency puts in the same effort to get you a terrifically competitive policy each time around (insurance agencies are notorious for roping you in as a customer with a six-month really low rate, which goes up excessively as soon as the policy renews.) So with them, even when you renew, you’re still getting the same incredible deal.
Another idea was that they check an average of 17(!) insurance providers to make sure you’re getting the best policy at the lowest rate.
(While it’s possible that some of their competitors do this, nobody spoke about it in their marketing. And as we said in Step 1, if you’re first to make a claim, it becomes yours.)
But the angle the CEO was really passionate about? That their agency has a four-step-check system to make sure your insurance is airtight — zero exclusions or loopholes — so that whatever happens, you’re covered.
When I interviewed their customers, only one person mentioned worrying about his coverage being loophole-free. (He’d had a flood in his home, and his insurance didn’t reimburse him because of a mistake in the policy.) When we validated our findings through a survey, this angle came in third. So while this could be a powerful argument (and we included it as a selling point), it couldn’t be the key message. Or the main headline.
You might be offering something insanely valuable, but if your prospects don’t want it — they will not buy. For example, people don’t want to think bad things will happen to them, so marketing something as a way to prevent future problems is usually ineffective. What does work? Marketing something as a way to prevent problems for people you love. And that’s the way life insurance, car seats, and even anti-cavity toothpaste is marketed (“Look, Ma! No cavities.”)
Bottom line: There’s a big difference between what people need and what they want….
So how do you know if your angle will work? Ask your customers. Find out why they said no to other companies, why they chose you, and why they would recommend you.
How to test your angle (so you know it works):
Before going all out with your new value prop, make sure it actually attracts the people you’re trying to win over. Here are some inexpensive ways to try it out:
The cheaper route:
- Send out a customer survey or conduct five to ten interviews with clients who most represent your ideal prospect. Some great questions to ask:
What were your top three priorities when looking for a [insert your service/product here]?
What made you choose us over the competition?
Which of the following is most important to you in a [insert your service/product here]? (Give them a list of options and have them rate in order of priority.)
The more expensive route:
- Run several online ad campaigns directing people to a matching landing page for each. Each ad and landing page headline focuses on a different selling point. Track data to see:
Which ad gets the highest click-through rate? (So you know which offer is most desirable.)
Which landing page gets the most people to take action? (So you know which offer converts best.)
Done. You’ve found your strongest value prop concept.
INJECT SPECIFICS TO MAKE IT WORK
Does your VP show — in clear, easy-to-picture detail — exactly what the prospect gains? That’s your third step, and it’s what I used in a recent campaign for the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation.
They’d been marketing a machsom l’fi concept for years, and people were tired of it. We needed to grab people’s attention by changing the way we marketed. So we used simple fill-in-the-blank headlines, where the genius was in the specifics — “I’m doing my hour as a zechus for my sister who needs a shidduch.” And we got 200% more signups (so far) than their last campaign.
Another example: this 1960 Rolls Royce VP sold so many cars that Rolls Royce didn’t dare run the ad a second time — their production wasn’t big enough to handle any more orders. At a time (1960) when cars were so noisy you had to scream to get heard, they said this: “At 60 miles per hour, the loudest noise in this new Rolls Royce comes from the electric clock.”
Fine, so we can imagine why that would be a big draw back then. But what was it about this VP that had people buying out the entire production run — and more?
They don’t just say we’ve got the quietest, smoothest car — they show you the electric clock. Because when you’re speaking in general terms, people think you’re exaggerating. They also don’t picture what it looks like.
“Quietest car? Gimme a break.”
But specifics scream truth. They also paint a vivid picture. And that works sales magic.
Another example? The bestselling business book: The 4-hour Work Week by Tim Feriss.
The only thing that makes the title so powerful is the fact that it’s specific — 4 hours. Would you be even half so interested in picking up a book called The Super-Short Work Week?
How to inject specifics to give your VP selling power
Add in specific detail, numbers, or data that makes your value prop sound like solid, incontestable fact.
fluff words (like “best” or “fabulous”)
abstract or conceptual words (like “scalable” or “personalized”)
Replace “best” with “award-winning” (and show the award).
Replace “popular” with “91% of dentists use our toothpaste.” (Studies show odd numbers are believed more.)
Replace “save time” with “Save 3.25 hours each day.” (A specific number.)
Replace “healthiest snack” with “six organic, wholegrain ingredients. That’s it.” (Details that prove, and don’t just claim.)
Rule of thumb: If your value prop is four words or less, you’re probably not being specific enough.
MAKE IT MAGICAL AND MEMORABLE
Does it tell a story, make a promise, evoke a powerful emotion? So that people don’t just understand it, they feel it?
Value props that drive sales don’t just make a bold, powerful claim nobody else does — they do it in a way that doesn’t just appeal to logic, but evokes emotion.
The Fedex VP is a perfect example of this: “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.”
The words “positively” and “absolutely” don’t have to sit there, right? But check out how it looks when you cut them out: “When it has to be there overnight.” Meh.
Because when someone really needs it overnight, they aren’t just saying, “I need it tomorrow.” They’re yelling: “I absolutely, positively gotta get it shipped here overnight!”
Walmart management probably thinks its current slogan, “Save money. Live better.” is an improvement over, “Always the low price. Always.”
And yeah, I get it, the new slogan is broader. It tells you why you want to save money (in the unlikely case you needed to be told). But it doesn’t hit an emotional button like the promise in “Always the low price. Always.”
Once you’ve found a value prop angle that works, it’s about painting a dream in words.
How to make your promise pop:
Take your value prop, and use this formula as a starting point:
“The only way for “___________” [insert target audience]
to “___________” [insert benefit].
Or “The only way to “_________”.
You can change “only” to any other adjective, like “fastest,” “cost-effective,” “surprisingly simple,” or anything else you think up. Have fun!
Here’s how I used this formula to promote a self-help program for parents to keep their family and guests respectful at the Shabbos table.
The only way to lead a Shabbos meal where everyone gets along.
That’s it. The value prop for this program… done in three minutes.
Then I added some specifics and humor, and here you go: “Lead a Shabbos meal where everyone gets along. The kids. The guests. The guy who spilled the Fanta.”
TIGHTEN IT UP
Are there extra words you can cut? (But only without losing punch or promise?)
I put this one last on purpose. That’s because too much is lost in the fight to cut words down until they’re meaningless — and you end up turning your powerful promise into an empty tagline.
I get it. The pressure is on to keep it short.
But in the quest to cut down on words because “Hey, people don’t read…” or “Well, this doesn’t talk to every lead,” what happens? A powerful idea gets chopped down into an abstract (and meaningless) four-word phrase.
To illustrate this, let’s go back to that first-ever value prop in marketing history: “The milk chocolate that melts in your mouth, not in your hands.”
This line checks (almost) all the boxes.
It’s desirable: Their biggest target audience — World War II soldiers — needed a quick, portable, high-energy chocolate they could keep in their kits (or pockets) without heat damage … or mess. And so did practically everybody else.
It’s unique: Nobody else was making this claim at the time (or had ever made it before).
It’s memorable: In fact, in a 2014 Texas Tech University study, participants had to vote on their fave marketing slogan, and from a list of the 250 most popular slogans of all time, this one was rated the number-one most-liked slogan and the number-four most-recalled.
But… concise? Not really. Compare it to Nike’s “Just Do It” and McDonald’s “I’m Lovin’ it,” and it’s four times the length.
So let’s see what happens when we chop the word count down:
“M&M’s: Mess-free chocolate.”
“M&M’s: Hands stay clean.”
Blech. It doesn’t work. The powerful picture the slogan created is gone. Instead, you’re left with a vague, abstract tagline that doesn’t really sell anything.
Let’s take some more examples of long VPs (I dare you to try to cut them down without killing their impact):
Geico: “15 minutes can save you 15 percent or more on car insurance.” (12 words)
Secret deodorant: “Strong enough for a man. Made for a woman.” (9 words)
How to cut the flab, and make it tight.
(Just three fixes. Otherwise this guide would run another ten pages and you’d think this was the Pesach edition.)
Write like you speak. Do not = don’t. You will = you’ll. Loving = lovin’. (Kidding. Only in McDonalds.)
Nix “very” and “really”
They’re the lazy man’s way of powering up a very weak adjective. Proof: Wouldn’t the previous sentence sound better if I replaced very weak with feeble, or insipid?
No, you don’t have to say the same exact thing twice. Double points if you spot the redundancy right there.
And… done! You’ve got your value prop.
Does this five-step process work? Yes. A recent value-prop change for a small travel business I worked with got them five times the sales calls.
But it doesn’t stop there. Now that you have it, use it! Post it on your site. Your ads. Your voicemail. Your shopping bags. Make your brand known for this one thing, so when prospects come across your name, they immediately think of your unique value. Then watch this simple change bring you more sales and referrals, every time.
Devorah Hager of Sapphire Copy is a conversion-focused copywriter and marketing consultant specializing in B2B healthcare, tech, and IT/telecom. She has helped over 100 businesses increase sales, and sign on clients like Disney, Toyota, Lego, and Johnson & Johnson. She can be contacted through Mishpacha.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 851)
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