Business leaders often express frustration with what they see as a disconnect between their company's perceived value and its true value — a disconnect that's impeding growth. They've got great people, great products and services, they say, but their organizations aren't selling as much as they should, and aren't appropriately valued.
Many think that if they just increase awareness or brand "visibility," that will unlock their organization's real growth potential. But in my experience, visibility is rarely the real issue (especially with B2B companies selling bigger-ticket, complex services and products). Far more often, the problem has to do with clarity of communication.
To find out if this is the case, a good place to start is with what I call the True Value Test:
- Take a representative sample of your organization's priority target customers.
- Provide them with any of the organization's communications vehicles — sales collateral, website, a press release, an investor presentation, an ad, or even a tweet — and ask two simple questions based solely on that communication:
- Who does this organization serve?
- What distinct value do its customers or clients get from it?
If the answers are inconsistent, or don't reflect leadership's intended positioning strategy, that can indicate one of two issues. Either there's a bottom-up communications problem where the messages aren't connecting with their targets, or there's a top-down problem where management isn't clear on what its message is.
You'll often find this top-down problem in decentralized matrix organizations where business unit heads have different and sometimes competing agendas. One unit may be less discriminating and chase any revenue, whereas another might focus on higher-value, relationship-based business. Such organizations send mixed messages to the market, muddying their value proposition. Here, what might seem like a communications exercise can serve as a catalyst to help leadership commit to a refined positioning strategy, and then prioritize resources and collaborate in customers' — and the organization's — best interests.
For now, though, let's assume that there's just a bottom-up issue — the business strategy is clearly defined and understood within the organization, but isn't connecting to drive the desired transactional behavior. This suggests that the organization isn't successfully making its value case — it needs different, more compelling evidence communicated more effectively.
Here are three steps toward building a better value case:
1. Lead with Issues
Research a representative sample of aspirational, "sweet spot" clients — the best customer relationships you can credibly win and maintain. Identify their greatest areas of pain and/or opportunity where your company offers relevant solutions. Determine what these clients value most (speed, cost, etc.) and how they measure the impact — tangible and intangible — of their service providers/partners.
For example, take an IT security firm targeting the CEOs, CIOs, and general counsels of small healthcare providers. By researching these individuals, the firm determines:
- Targets' pain — The organizational and individual burdens associated with regulatory compliance in the face of increasing threats to data security; the costs (money and time) related to mitigating and managing breaches.
- Issues-based platform — Prioritizing and making prudent investments with limited resources to address IT security issues effectively.
2. Build a Value Narrative
Issues-based platforms serve as the foundation for a value narrative, a statement defining whom the organization serves and the particular value these constituencies (customers, investors, employees, etc.) achieve as a result. The most effective value narratives are "trued up" — genuine, aligned, full, compelling, and up-to-date.
This is not about providing a laundry list of capabilities and products, or making broad statements about quality, innovation or customer focus. It's about leading with the issues most salient to your customers and how your organization has been able to address them.
Consider the IT security firm above. Its issues-based platform focuses on cost-effective IT solutions that take into account targets' limited resources. The firm's true value narrative could be: "Executives at smaller healthcare providers can focus on their core responsibilities and growing the business rather than on IT security with our balanced, cost-effective approach that mitigates risk and minimizes loss in the event of an incident."
Value narratives are dynamic, and should be "trued up" continually to remain relevant in the wake of economic, regulatory and other changes.
3. Create a Sense of Urgency
The goal of communications is to create a sense of urgency and provoke a target to pick up the phone or be more receptive in a selling conversation. Once you have a true value narrative, it needs to be translated into high-impact messages that accelerate these desired behaviors.
For the IT security firm above, a high-impact message could be a new business presentation that leads with two contrasting scenarios:
- First, a small healthcare provider that did not invest in effective IT security and then suffered a breach, leading to hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees to attorneys, investigators and media consultants, as well as loss of business and hundreds of hours of management's time.
- Then, a case study focusing on how the firm helped a similar company in a similar situation, quantifying the amount of money and time saved and demonstrating that a relatively small investment had a sizable impact for the company and, critically, for the leaders responsible.
Accelerating growth and enhancing long-term equity value all comes down to a tight connection between perceived and true value — a connection forged by developing and maintaining a clear, compelling value narrative that is aligned and consistently translated into communications across the organization.