The Case for Buyer-Aligned Value Models (3/4)

In Part 1 and 2, I suggested that it’s time for B2B marketing executives and their product marketing organizations to get serious about supporting a solution-oriented sales process. The first step in making this transition is to formally adopt a buyer-aligned value model. As a refresher:

I also described the three different kinds of value models and why two (center & right in Figure 1) can support a solution oriented messaging strategy. So, what are the key differences between a hybrid and a buyer-aligned value model?


The Hybrid Value Model

An overwhelming majority of marketing organizations adopt the Hybrid Value Model when they decide to support a solution-oriented sales strategy. The hybrid model combines both buyer-aligned and seller-aligned perspectives and supports high level problem-solution messages, along with more tactical and explicit feature-function messages.

To accomplish this, product marketing simply adds some form of problem statement or description to their existing feature-function list and then calls their product a solution. In fact, the hybrid value model is often called “Marketecture” because it’s really just a cosmetic wrapper that’s applied to existing product-oriented positioning and messaging.

As I mentioned earlier, in the hybrid model, the resulting flow of the message is both buyer-centric and seller-centric. The buyer-centric portion is pretty superficial and goes something like this; “You have a problem, we have a solution.” This customer point of view however, is quickly followed by “These are its features, here’s how they work, here’s the benefits, and here’s how they’re different from the competition.”

Since the seller-centric part of the model focuses on communicating value and differentiation, it’s just like all other product messaging. The customer has to connect the dots between the feature and the problem they’re trying to solve which forces the customer to translate the benefit into value. Since value is always contextual, this lack of context in traditional product messaging is why “benefits” are different and a lot less customer-relevant than “value.” More importantly, why would you want to leave that value translation in the hands of the customer?

Marketing organizations adopt the hybrid model because they don’t know any better – it comes naturally, it’s expedient, it doesn’t require much intellectual lifting, and it doesn’t force them out of their feature-function comfort zone. Unfortunately, as the symptoms below indicate, overly simplistic and superficial approaches to solution messaging have not been effective and have had little, if any, impact on sales. They are also why most sales-enablement initiatives fail to produce the desired results.

Sources:  Sales & Marketing Management – American Marketing Association – B-to-B Marketing – Escaping The Black Hole – SPI International – Value Mapping Consortium

The Buyer-Aligned Value Model

The Buyer-Aligned Value Model is the only value model that truly supports a solution-aligned strategy because it enables high-level problem-solution messages, as well as explicit cause-capability messages. Explicitly aligning causes with capabilities is the most effective way to communicate an understanding of the problem as well as your value and differentiation from the customer’s perspective. This is why as I mentioned in Part 1 & 2, the buyer-aligned value model has been universally embraced by what are arguably the most solution-aligned organizations in the world…pharmaceutical companies.

The buyer-aligned value model is based on a clearly defined problem-solution map. The problem-solution mapping process requires product marketing to identify the key customer problems their solutions solve. Then, they segment those customer problems by market and stakeholder, and break each one down into its key underlying causes.

Once the underlying causes of each problem have been defined, they are explicitly aligned with one or more capabilities of the company’s solutions. When the map is completed, you have two perfectly balanced hierarchies – one for your customer’s problems and one for your solutions. The resulting message flow goes something like this: “You have a problem. We understand that problem, as well as its underlying causes. Here’s how our capabilities solve those causes, here’s how we solve them better than our competitors, and here’s the value we deliver to your business.”

Well constructed problem-solution maps help marketing and salespeople do a better job of communicating their understanding of the customer’s problem and how their solution can help fix it. And, more importantly, by connecting the dots between causes and capabilities, marketing and salespeople are able to more clearly communicate two kinds of value from the customer’s perspective:

  1. A  solution’s generic value, which is the business impact of solving specific causes in a way that’s  similar to the  competition.
  2. And more importantly, a solution’s differentiate value, which is the business impact of solving specific causes better, cheaper, or faster than the competition.

Finally, even though they’re rarely adopted by marketing organizations, buyer-aligned value models are not a new idea for B2B companies. For the last several decades, sales performance organizations, like SPI, have been teaching salespeople to frame their company’s value and differentiation by using cause-capability conversations. So in effect, salespeople have been taught to use the buyer-aligned model while marketing has been using the hybrid model. No wonder that ineffective messaging continues to be one of the biggest drivers of the marketing-sales disconnect.

So, if adopting a buyer-aligned value model will go a long way in closing the gap between marketing and sales, and fix a lot of the symptoms mentioned earlier, what’s the best way to get started?

How You Sell Is the Last Advantage