customer value propositions in business markets

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  • Vlerick Sales Center Article Summary Series

    Customer Value Propositions in Business Markets (by James C. Anderson,

    James A. Narus and Wouter van Rossum, Harvard Business Review, March 2006)

    Summarized By Ellen Croux and Deva Rangarajan, Vlerick Sales Center

    Article At a Glance: This article is a must read for every marketer and sales professional. It clearly

    highlights the importance of differentiating your offering with the competition,

    while focusing on those benefits relevant to the customer. The authors go on to

    discuss the different kinds of value propositions that have been put into practice

    and suggest ways of developing a relevant value proposition.

    Defining the problem

    Customer managers are increasingly under pressure to keep costs down and dont

    have the luxury of simply believing suppliers assertions. Sales forces should create a justifier in line with customer needs and they should help customers understand

    and make them believe in the customer value proposition. Suppliers that are not able to offer this often revert to price concessions, which are expensive and

    might not even help the supplier to make the cut. A management-practice research was conducted to understand what constitutes a customer value proposition and

    what makes it persuasive to customers. This article describes a systematic approach for developing value propositions that are meaningful to target customers

    and that focus suppliers efforts on creating superior value.

    Three kinds of Value Propositions

  • Substantiate Customer Value Propositions

    Many suppliers offer dazzling value propositions but do not actually have the people, processes, tools and experience necessary to back up their claims. This has

    led many customers to dismiss value propositions as marketing puffery. Suppliers must be able to demonstrate and document customer value propositions in order to

    persuade customers.

  • A way to do this is by using a value word equation, which expresses in words and mathematical operators how to assess differences in performance between an

    offering and the next best alternative. The data needed for the value word equation to provide value estimates is collected from the customers business operations

    through collaboration between the supplier and customer managers or even from outside sources.

    Demonstrate Customer Value in advance

    In advance, prospective customers must be able to see the cost savings or added

    value they can expect from choosing a suppliers offering over the next best alternative. Best-practice suppliers use value case histories or value calculators to

    demonstrate this. Value case histories document the cost savings or added value that reference customers have received from their use of the suppliers offering.

    Value calculators, on the other hand, are customer value assessment tools that salespeople use to demonstrate the value that potential customers could receive in

    using the suppliers offerings.

    Document Customer Value Only demonstrating value to potential customers is no longer sufficient to be a best-practice player. Suppliers must also document cost savings and incremental

    profits in companies that have purchased their offerings. The use of value documenters makes it possible to refine customer value models and to create value

    case histories. It enhances the credibility of the suppliers offering and enables customer managers to receive credit. As value provided to customers is documented, a supplier also gains knowledge, experience and confidence about

    how their offerings deliver superior value to customers and how this delivered value varies across kinds of customers.

    Superior Business Performance

    Properly constructed and delivered customer value propositions make a significant

    contribution to business strategy and performance. Some businesses have already made these value propositions a fundamental part of their business strategy. For

    example at Sonoco, a global packaging supplier, each value proposition should be distinctive, measurable and sustainable. They also track the relationship between

    business unit value propositions and business unit performance.

    Customer value propositions can be a cornerstone for superior business performance, it is not only the responsibility of marketing, but also of senior and

    general management. Best-practice suppliers realize that constructing and substantiating a value proposition is not a onetime undertaking. They make sure

    their people know how to identify what the next value propositions ought to be. Doing customer value research pays off in finding that simple, yet powerfully

    captivating customer value proposition that businesses can implement to communicate the superior value they offer to target market segments and


  • Vlerick Food for Thought for Sales Executives

    1. Always link the features of your solution to the needs of the customers.

    These are the relevant benefits to the customers.

    2. In almost all cases, the number of features of your offer will ALWAYS BE

    GREATER than the number of benefits.

    3. You will have as many value propositions as number of customer


    4. A shot video demonstrating the above points can be found here:


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