How do you know if your value prop is incomplete? Maslow can help.

You know the importance of a strong value proposition. Without one, your sales team can’t focus on uncovering the needs and issues that are most likely to close a sale. Sales cycle times increase, margins erode, and customers are left with differing and unsatisfied expectations.

So you have a value prop. But is it complete?

If you’re like many B2B firms, you might be missing some critical elements. You may be focusing only on what you deliver, not how what you deliver affects them.

The renown branding expert, David Aaker, proposes three critical elements of a value proposition: 

  • Functional: what are we helping our customer accomplish?
  • Emotional: how do we want our customer to feel from the experience they've had with our firm?
  • Self-expressive: how do we want to shape the way our customers view themselves? 

Many B2B firms construct strong functional value propositions, but fail to integrate the emotional and self-expressive elements. They inundate you with features and capabilities until your head explodes. 

You’ve felt it. Remember the last time you visited a website (maybe even your own) that had so many things coming at you, you closed the window out of self-preservation? 

That’s cognitive overload. And B2B companies, in particular, are notoriously bad at creating cognitive strain.

But go back and look at Aaker’s three elements again. Do they look familiar?

Perhaps putting in a diagram will help:

Three elements of a value proposition.

That should look familiar. 

Back in 1943, the renowned psychology professor Abraham Maslow posited a theory that people respond to higher level needs only after their lower level needs have been met. Nourishment, health, and safety will be sought before the higher level needs of purpose and meaning. 

The five levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (physiological, safety, love/belongingness, esteem, and self-actualization) could be generalized as:

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What Aaker hit on with his three value propositions elements was, in essence, a reframing of Maslow’s Hierarchy. 

Prospects place a priority on their immediate, business-critical needs, like creating a profit or shipping a product. That’s why crafting strong functional elements of your value proposition are so essential.

Once your prospect is convinced those needs will be satisfied, however, the higher level psychological/emotional factors become important. 

Don’t assume because you’re selling business-to-business that emotions don’t factor into a sale. Businesses don’t buy solutions. People in businesses do. And the most stoic among us have emotional needs, even if we’re not aware of them.

To get at possible emotional propositions, start with this question: All other solutions being equal, why do our prospects prefer doing business with us or with our competitor? 

Understanding the “why they buy” beyond the capabilities of your offering is essential to uncovering the emotional element of your value proposition. 

Self-expressive elements take a little more work, but can prove to be the most resilient to competitive threat. The self-expressive part of your value proposition appeals to how your customers perceive, or want to perceive, themselves.

When I worked at Cray Research, we had a very strong self-expressive component of our value proposition: if you owned one of our $20M+ supercomputers, you were considered part of an elite community of innovative, forward-thinking leaders. It would not be an exaggeration to say that we sold a number of these systems because of the cachet they brought to their owners. 

Your offering may not be able to evoke that kind of response. People may not be beating a path to your door because of how your product affects their esteem. But it’s a crucial element to develop, nonetheless, because people will strongly defend and repeat buying decisions that are tied to their identity in some way.

Just ask one of those forward thinking, environmentally-friendly Tesla owners. 

That brings us back to your sales messages and the opportunity you have to rethink them. 

Here are three things you can do to shore up your messaging:

  1. Rediscover your prospect’s functional need. Your market may have changed. Their attention may have shifted to more urgent, lower-level issues on the Maslow Hierarchy. As a result, the functional components of your value proposition may no longer have the appeal they once did. 
  2. Rid your website and sales collateral of cognitive overload. Are your web pages, sales messages, and value propositions stuffed with features and functions, hoping to appeal to a broad range of possible buyers? Do the hard work. Create personas for your ideal clients, and kill those messages that are not aimed at their foremost needs right now. Stop trying to be anything to everyone: where everything is equal, nothing is special. 
  3. Message across the pyramid. Decide on the emotional and self-expressive benefits you want your customers and prospects to experience, and design ways to deliver that experience to them — not just in sales, but across your company.

So, take a look at your current value props. If they don’t clearly address the three hierarchy of needs, you may have an opportunity to create greater clarity–and more sales.

Looking for more?

If you’re looking for an experienced, outside perspective to help you test your market assumptions and develop a value proposition and messaging that can help accelerate sales in this changing market, our team can help.

Simply reach out for a free discovery session to learn more.

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