👋 Hi, I’m James. Thanks for checking out Building Momentum: a newsletter to help startup founders and marketers accelerate SaaS growth through product marketing.
I care a lot about defining the value that our customers gain from our products.
Not the immediate, tangible benefits they achieve – but the true, ultimate value they derive.
I define value as an element that your customer wants to attain that:
- Is useful
- Is worth the effort (cost, time, energy)
- Is a priority for them
And ideally, all three things will be true. When we understand the true value our product enables customers to achieve, we are able to sell faster, charge more, fight commoditisation, and market more easily.
Value is deduced from the work we do to discover our personas. The patterns emerge in broad-to-narrow customer interviews as we understand more about their jobs (common activities), gains (personal/professional/organizational desires), pains (marks of failure and frustrations), and triggers (motivations to search/switch/buy).
This process can be messy. And sometimes it’s easy to miss the woods for the trees as value becomes less tangible, less related to how they use the product, and more about the tangentially-connected outcomes they’ll be able to achieve.
In my positioning process, I used to just extract value themes and then go straight into messaging, creating value nuggets that tie back to product features.
But as I rolled out more messaging to larger teams or in more complex arenas, I noticed that we had to go further, and give frontline sales and marketing teams the context of where our customers are today, the challenges they’re facing, and then showcase how fixing the problem enables value.
In this post:
Introducing the value story
I use the SPIN selling framework as a foundation for telling a story about what our customers are doing, why that’s not great, and how much better life could be.
Here’s the framework:
- Today, our customer is… (what are they doing, what’s the situation that sets context for the value?)
- However, …(the limitations or challenges that they’re experiencing)
- This means…(what’s the downside of continuing in the current way?)
- By… (what does fixing the problem look like, not necessarily your product)
- … our customer will…(detail the value they can gain)
Using the prompts for each section, it’s possible to craft a simple narrative that helps build empathy with customers.
It starts by detailing the situation our customers finds themselves in. Today, our customer is doing something – a painful process, achieving mediocre results, or struggling to make sense of something.
Then we learn the real problem they’re facing. The problem is not the situation; the problem is a blocker that prevents them from advancing.
Next we learn the implications of that – a core part that many gloss over. This is where we uncover the pain, the lost opportunity cost of what they could achieve.
Then we address the resolution. What steps would they take to fix the problem? This probably shouldn’t be anything to do with your product.
Lastly, we drill down on the value. By solving the problem, the customer will achieve a value.
I’ll use the same example as I offer for value nuggets; that of Xerox, and how they moved from selling printers based on features, to instead sell the value of increased student education performance (read more on that here).
- Today, our customer is… a school administrator, responsible for delivering quality student education experiences whilst managing slim budgets.
- However, … students find it hard to retain information from their black-and-white workbooks, and there’s limited budget for alternative study methods
- This means… students may not achieve good grades, reducing the school’s performance.
- By… printing workbooks in color, students will be more likely to focus and retain information, and
- … our customer will… provide the best possible educational experiences while managing year-over-year budget pressures
Using value stories
I find value stories an invaluable way at every stage of the positioning and messaging journey.
It helps sanity-check whether the ‘value’ is really important, or whether it’s missing an important point. It helps recenter messaging around the challenges and intended outcomes, providing structure. And it’s so useful for training sales reps on specific use cases, building a simple narrative to frame pitches, and for building website/marketing copy.
Ultimately, this is a simple way to help frame customer context for almost anyone who needs to get up-to-speed. We’re not using jargon or business-speak. We’re simply trying to detail what our customers are facing today, and how solving their problem will help.
Extract value, don’t make it up
It’s important to restate here that value stories shouldn’t be built on anything that sounds good. We can’t position based on assumptions, and we can’t just assume our customers think about.
Buyer personas must be discovered, not created.
Value stories must detail the challenges that our customers are facing.
This allows us to connect the dots and create messaging showing how our product supports customers in achieving those outcomes.
And only then can we position ourselves effectively in the minds of our customers.
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