“We have widgets” is not a value proposition

I was speaking to a prospective client the other day who was looking for help attracting more leads to their web site, and converting more leads into sales. The company offered useful technology, an impressive self-serve portal, free trials, and on-line payment processing. So why wasn’t this thing taking off?

The problem was the value proposition presented on the web site — there wasn’t any.

Of course, technical experts can sell technology to other experts — because they both know what the technology does and can see what how it might be useful (also known as “benefits”). They can establish credibility and create a bond. That’s why technology companies often have success recruiting technical people for sales positions.

Unfortunately, mere mortals need a lot more help.

Consider the sales cycle for someone who wants to sell widgets on-line. Their buyers have to:

  • Be aware that such a widget exists (e.g., torque wrenches)
  • Know what the widget does (tightens bolts to a specified maximum torque)
  • Understand what the benefits of using the widget are (won’t damage the fastener — or the material being fastened — while ensuring it is sufficiently tightened)
  • Know that your web site sells these widgets (through your promotional efforts such as search engine optimization, etc.)
  • Evaluate your widget by deciding “is this for me?” (Maybe the buyer is a DIY’er who wants good value at low cost, or a professional auto mechanic who wants a robust tool and is willing to pay more for it, or maybe a heavy-equipment mechanic who needs the biggest and strongest tools available regardless of cost, or maybe someone who needs some sort of specialized tool?)
  • See how your widget is better than others (our widgets are the best quality for the price and we offer free shipping, or our widgets never break so they save you money replacing them, or maybe our widgets can adapt to any situation because they are so versatile)
  • Decide to buy now (or not), and process a transaction

This company had a product and the back-office customer service parts, but none of the strategy.

You may do okay if your company sells a commonly-purchased item with a large and broad addressable market and your web site is highly-ranked by the search engines. But that doesn’t describe most technology companies, especially start-ups.

Instead of immediately focusing on SEO and conversion rates, I suggest that the path to improving a company’s performance is to address the strategic issues first by defining your target customer and developing a compelling value proposition.

About Market Metrics

Market Metrics Inc. helps knowledge-based businesses with strategy, planning and innovation. We offer our clients a unique combination of top-shelf professional skills, competitive pricing, and real-world industry experience in business planning, marketing, and technology.

The consultancy was founded in 2003 by Greg Graham, a seasoned strategic marketing professional. Greg is a Certified Management Consultant (CMC), a Fellow of the Ontario Institute of Management Consultants (FCMC), and an Accredited Small Business Consultant (ASMEC) in the United States. He holds MBA/BEE degrees plus a Certificate in Strategic Management.

Prior to founding Market Metrics, Greg's 21 years of corporate experience encompassed tech start-ups through Fortune 500 companies. He is an expert in subscription-based business models (including SaaS). Greg frequently performs consulting engagements on behalf of the National Research Council's Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP).