In this session, Danilo discussed:

  • The three key components of a strong value proposition: Resonance, Differentiation, and Substantiation.
  • The "Messaging Cascade": How to tailor your value proposition across different stages of the buyer's journey.
  • The pitfalls of jargon: How to make your value proposition clear and relatable.
  • The importance of credibility: How to substantiate your value proposition with evidence.
  • The role of emotional resonance: Why being relatable is as important as demonstrating ROI.
  • How often should you review your value proposition? Timing tips for keeping it fresh and relevant.

Links and resources mentioned include:

Video Recording


Welcome everyone. Today we're going to talk about how to better communicate your value proposition. We will quickly talk about how it can be delivered in different messaging vehicles. And I'll also show you a very useful framework to strengthen your value proposition, right? For those of you who are here for the first time, BCC Bites are these quick chats we run every other week on a specific topic. They are followed by a quick Q&A. If you have any questions, feel free to put them in the chat and we'll go through them at the end, okay?

Just to make sure that we're speaking the same language here, let's start with a definition of what a value proposition is:

The promise of value you make to potential buyers based on the collection of benefits they gain from purchasing or engaging with you, your services or products. Three things I think are important to keep in mind in this definition here.

First, it's a promise. Your value proposition is a promise. It's not a simple statement or a marketing gimmick you use to attract attention. It's a public declaration that you use not only to create interest and demand for your services, but also to guide your business decisions as a consultancy founder, as a consultancy partner. It needs to be relevant, it needs to be somehow different and it needs to be true. And we'll talk about this in a bit.

The second thing I'll highlight here is your value proposition consists of a collection of benefits buyers will gain from engaging with you. And as you know, value is subjective. Especially in consulting, it's highly industry specific. So If you're in healthcare, for example, it may be about compliance. Banking or cybersecurity consultancies, for example, they usually craft their value proposition around risk mitigation. And of course, consultancies also highlight the differences they have from other firms in the same industry. What I want to remind you about is that all of the elements you include in this promise of value should benefit them, your buyers and not you, okay? So your value proposition is about what they gain from engaging with you.

And finally, here, your value, value proposition, and value proposition statement... these are different things, okay? I always try to keep these chats jargon-free, but I think this is a distinction all of you should understand. Business value is the benefits the buyers gain from investing in a particular activity, service or product. The value is subjective. It may be tangible, intangible. Your value proposition is how you communicate that value. It's a promise. It's how you articulate what they get and how you're different, right? And a value proposition statement or a positioning statement is how you communicate your promise in one single sentence. It's one of the ways or vehicles you can use to communicate your value proposition. But not the only one. And I'll get to that in a moment. But before that, I want to quickly add a caveat to this chat.

Many times you can't just decide to change your value proposition from one day to the next. Whatever the promise you're making clients is, you need to be able to deliver on the promise. And you need to be able to ensure that you can do this profitably. If you want to make big changes to your value proposition, you will probably need to make big changes on how your whole consultancy works, on your business model. That's why I highly recommend you to perform a comprehensive audit or assessment of your consulting practice before you make a significant change to your value propositions.

And here you can see the Boutique Consulting Canvas. It's a specialized framework we created for practices with less than 15, 20 full-time employees. It's a more fitting tool for consultancies with a small number of support staff, or even solo advisors, compared to other popular business model frameworks. So if you never did a business model review and you would like to learn more about it, feel free to drop me a line. It might be the single most important exercise you can do to really unlock growth and build a consultancy that supports your preferred lifestyle, right?

With that said, let's get back to consulting value propositions, right? And how we can make them stronger. And by the way, the source of the framework I'm going to present here came from this great book. It's called "Professional Services Marketing" by Schultz, Doerr and Frederiksen. It was published in 2009, I think, but most of the ideas there continue to be relevant, very useful. So if you're looking for something that's practical, easy to read, this is a good pick.

Now, remember, I said your value proposition is about the collection of benefits your buyers get from engaging with you, right? So let's put ourselves in the shoes of our potential clients for a moment. What do consulting buyers ask themselves whenever they become aware of a problem or an opportunity? This is a list of the most commonly mentioned things:

  • How do I know, who do I know that can solve these problems?
  • What is the business impact of solving this problem?
  • What happens if I don't solve this problem?
  • How difficult it is to find consultancies, providers who can solve this problem well?
  • What are the different options I have for solving this problem?
  • Pros and cons of alternatives...

These are all questions that go through the minds of consultancy service buyers. This is backed by research, okay? Now I would like to ask you, how often do you think consultancies answer those questions in their communication, in their messaging statements? The answer is very rarely.

This is a quote I took from a real consultancy. I'm not sharing names, but feel free to Google it to check they exist:

From small business to large corporations, ABC has the people, tools and experience to meet your organization's needs. Since 1998, ABC has provided blah, blah, blah for business by forming long-term relationship with clients. We provide them with time-efficient, cost-effective solutions that provide results. We have expanded with a wide range of services meeting today's business needs.

Now, you can notice that it's quite long, but this statement doesn't answer a single one of the previous questions here. It's generic messaging. And unfortunately, this is more common than you think. Consultancies, and in specific boutique consultancies, small practices, they can do a much better job to communicate value, differentiate their firms and resonate with potential buyers. And you do that by working on your value proposition messaging.

This here is an extreme simplification of a marketing funnel, okay? All buyers, they go through these stages before they become a client.

  • So, awareness... if no one knows you exist, that's the first problem to be solved, right? Marketing requires you to compete for attention.
  • Now, buyers, they can become aware you exist, but they have no interest in what you do or in solving any of the problems that you solve. They might not understand what kind of problems you solve. They're not curious to learn more about you and your practice. That's the second stage.
  • Then, you can assume that now they're curious. "I know Boutique Consulting Club exists. I understand the problems they solve. But I don't want or need to solve these problems right now." So there's no purchase intent. And the question then becomes, "Why don't they want or need what I do?" Maybe a prospect has already hired someone. Maybe he thinks the problem is not an issue for him. Maybe he understands the problem, but it's not important enough right now. It's the timing. Maybe he doesn't believe that you can really solve the problem. I mean, the reasons go on and on. But you need intent.
  • And finally, if a prospect is convinced and determined to solve a particular problem, you need to translate that intent into a real pipeline opportunity. And we're not selling water bottles or software or products. Consulting is bought based on trust. And earning that trust takes time, right?

Now, why am I talking about the buying journey here if our topic is value proposition? The reason is to create awareness, interest, purchase, intent, pipeline opportunity...
We need to communicate our value proposition in different ways, okay? Your value proposition is not limited to one single sentence or statement. There are different ways to deliver and communicate that promise of value, your promise of value. And this is what we call the message cascade.

People start the buying journey with what we call positioning messages. This is how you communicate who you serve. The problems you solve. The methods you use to solve those problems, how you solve those problems. And what it's like to work with you as a firm, as a professional, as an advisor. So the positioning messages is where we typically start, buyers typically start their buying journey.

We also have the substantiation messages. And this is how you stop talking and start showing what you do and how you work, right? So deep dive messaging, I'm putting here, it might be any initiative that allows people to get more detail on who you are and how you work without you personally interacting with them. For example, long-form content, speeches, webinars, books, case studies, research. This is how you communicate the value you're bringing or the value you could bring in a more detailed way. Personal interaction, of course, throughout one-on-one conversations, you are also communicating the value you're bringing.

When we consider all of these, the positioning and substantiation messaging here, these are all the vehicles through which you can deliver your value proposition to the market. As you move down the list, and you can notice here, the delivery vehicles become longer or more detailed, right?

For example, we have the first item there, identity. Your logo, and we're talking about brand here, but your logo, it might give a hint of a tiny little attribute of your consultancy. It might give a little, a small hint of your personality or what you're trying to... how you work with clients. Your positioning statement or your elevator pitch, for example, they highlight a main problem you solve and who you work with. But it doesn't explain how exactly you solve it, right? Or present all your service offerings. So each messaging element here, it builds upon the other. And before we talk about what makes a strong value proposition message, there's another thing  I want to highlight.

Each of those branded messaging elements are vehicles for your value proposition but they serve different purposes. So again, let's take your name and your logo, for example. They are necessary to generate awareness, right? If you change the name of your consultancy every two years, people will struggle to remember it. However, even the most creative name and logo in the world won't help you build purchase intent. So in general, when we're looking at the message cascade here, the positioning messages, they are effective to build awareness and interest, but not generate actual opportunities and pipelines.

A partner, and I'll give you an example, a partner I know went to an industry conference and they distributed more than a thousand marketing brochures, one-pagers, to people who were in the conference. And later he said, "It was great, but I'm kind of disappointed by the low number of leads." And here, the problem was not the brochures. But it's the mismatch between the messaging vehicle and his goal, really. Once we understand this... The one-pagers deliver awareness. People now know the name of the firm. They have name recognition, brand recognition. But if he wanted opportunities, giving a speech and following up with attendees, for example, it would be much more effective, right? So each messaging vehicle here will be more effective in different parts of the buying journey, of your marketing initiatives. And this is key. This is really important for you to understand.

I see some questions here, keep sending them. And we'll go through them at the end. I'll try to answer what I can. Now let's get to the core here of the chat today because we don't have enough time, a lot of time. What do we need to build the strongest value proposition messaging we can build?

And Schultz and Doerr, they created this great framework. The strength of your value proposition, they see it as a three-legged stool. It consists of those three elements here. Resonance. Differentiation. And the ability to substantiate. Let's quickly talk about each of these.

Resonance is about need, right? So the question here is, do buyers really need to solve the problem you can help them solve? And again, I often talk in terms of problem, but it might be an opportunity, leveraging an opportunity. We solve problems. The question is, do buyers really need to solve the problems you can help them solve? And you can look at it  both from a rational and emotional perspective.

So if we want to increase what we call here rational resonance, for example, you show numbers. As the saying goes, "money talks and bullshit walks", right? How much solving this problem represents in business value for your clients? What's the actual impact that you would be making? What is the cost of doing nothing? What is the cost of ignoring this problem? When you put a dollar on their inaction, you defeat your biggest competitor, right? But to do that, you need to be solving important, expensive problems. If they're not relevant, if these problems do not generate a big considerable impact in your clients, your value proposition will not be as strong as it could be, obviously.

In terms of emotional resonance here, it's about the feelings people have toward a particular problem, or a solution, or your company. And here the question is, are you someone buyers can see themselves working with? Are you an easy person to work with? And here building rapport, nurturing relationships counts. And this is of course done through your deep dive messaging and your personal interactions, right? So the lower end of that message cascade. You start using those initiatives, those interactions to build emotional resonance, to show that there's a personality fit there. You might be the biggest authority in your field, the biggest expert in your field. If someone doesn't believe that you will work well together, nothing will get done, nothing will happen. So there's an emotional element to resonance here.

The second element to measure value proposition strength is differentiation. And here differentiation, it comes both from the different characteristics of you compared to other consultancies and the perception of availability of substitutes. How scarce, how difficult it is to find someone else to replace you, to do what you do. If there are thousands of other firms that solve the same problem you solve in the exact same way, then you probably don't have a strong value proposition.

And here, I think it's important to stay away from generic marketing advice. I've been seeing, mostly in this last year, a lot of marketers go as far as saying, you should "pick an enemy." You should raise a flag and kind of strongly opposed to a business practice and idea. And you need to take a very contrarian approach in order to differentiate. And I think that having a clearly defined point of view can be very rewarding. But consulting is about risk mitigation. Those who want to run new experiments or try crazy things, they usually do it themselves or with their internal team. Consulting buyers, they want to feel like they are hiring something safe. That they can understand, that will reduce the risk of bad things happening. So I would urge you to be careful here. I'm sure there are cases when taking a radical position makes sense. But there are many when it does not, right? I think that we should be careful in terms of differentiating ourselves, or our practices, in a radical way.

The last component, it's the ability to substantiate. Your messages, they might focus on the impact you can make for clients, so resonance. They can highlight how you're different from others. But they will not be effective if buyers or your audience don't believe you. And that's what the ability to substantiate is about. When people read or listen to your promise of value, they will ask themselves, is this credible? Do I believe in this? There are a few examples I can maybe share from the top of my head.

I have a few weeks ago, I was speaking to the partners of a cybersecurity firm that specializes in working with the food and beverage industry. So they're hyper specialized. And in their website,  they used to say, they are the leading experts. "We are the leading experts on this space", cybersecurity for food and beverage brands.
But when I scanned the website, I could not find any blog posts. I could not find any articles, books from partners, talks in industry conferences. I could not find proof of that expertise.

Another example from a previous client of mine. They are a process improvement consultancy. In their website also they used to claim having achieved millions of dollars in savings for their clients. So I looked at the website and I asked the two partners: where are all the case studies and testimonials then? How do you back this up? Millions of dollars in savings. And in this case, the claims were true. They didn't have a clear process to collect the testimonials and display them in the website.

But sometimes those claims are not true, those value propositions, this promise. And I think that's one of the reasons why marketers often have a bad reputation. In many cases, they embellish and exaggerate the message to the point where the message is simply not true. And you need people to believe what you say. This is how you earn trust. So the ability to substantiate here is: Can you really show proof that you will deliver on this promise if we ever hire you?

These are the three components of this framework to measure value proposition strength. And here you can see why this three-legged framework is useful and what happens when you miss one of the components, right? So if your value proposition doesn't resonate, it will be ignored. If it's similar to what everyone else is doing, you will be seen as a commodity or you won't be able, it will be difficult to support the premium pricing for your services. If it's not credible, it will lead to low margins and a lot of frustration, because you will have a poor sales effectiveness. Prospects will often reply with, "I'm skeptical, I can't risk it." "It's not the right timing", even though it might be.
But it's just a matter of trust. So these are the three main components every consulting value proposition must include.

Now let's take a look at the questions. George:

"I struggle to make my value proposition message less technical and jargon free. Any tips?"

Well, first, congrats for recognizing this as something you need to correct. People should read and understand your value proposition, right? Now, of course, depending on your industry or focus area, buyers might use more technical jargon. And that's ok. But when we come back to the messaging cascade here, you probably want to leave it to your substantiation elements. Your white papers, long-form content presentations, one-on-one conversations with prospects. Then you can add jargon. You can be as technical as you want or as they want. The positioning elements in special, they work best when they are clear and easy to understand, right?

And that's why you might have heard that one of the best practices here is just using the language of your clients. When they read or listen to your message, people should immediately, I mean, it should immediately "click". They should relate to a conversation that's already going on in their heads. And to do that, You need to know the language your clients use to describe your services and how they benefit from it.

And the thing is, you cannot guess what the right language is. The way you speak about your services is almost always very different from how your clients describe it.
So you need to look outside. You can do informal research and just interview clients. Chat with clients, past clients, current clients. Or you can look at your past interactions, emails, testimonials, if you have recorded meetings... And then you use them as a starting point to make your value propositions less technical, more clear, adopting the language of your clients. That's the best practice.

Now, another question. Maria:

"Any recommended process to develop my value proposition?"

We typically help clients develop and review their value proposition through a workshop. It's facilitated by me or an independent consultant. But it's totally possible to get to a kind of V1, a first set of usable value propositions through journaling, written brainstorming. I can share some guidance and best practices via email after the BCC Bites.

But whatever process you choose to go with, the result, it should be one value proposition for your consultancy and one for each one of your offerings. And you need to be able to communicate them in different ways, using the messaging cascade that I presented here, right?

Let's take a look at one last question.

"How often should consultancies review their value proposition?"

So ideally, you want to review your value propositions once a year. This seems to be a good time frame for most consultancies. The exception to this is if you launch a new service offering if you change your targeting strategy, narrowing your positioning or you're moving to a new market, a new vertical. Or if you see that your target market is going through some kind of a fast and radical change. If everything is changing and you need to quickly adapt. But I think that every 12 months, once a year seems to be a good timeframe to kind of review your value propositions.

Great. Thank you all for joining. So the next BCC Bites will be in two weeks time. So on the 26th of October. And we're going to talk about alternatives to discounting. That's the name of the chat. We will discuss practical alternatives that boutique consultancies or solo advisors can use to address discounting requests from clients without reducing your fees. So how do you go about this conversation without reducing fees, without reducing your margin, hurting your margins? I'll share the link with the recording of this chat here. But that was it. Thanks again. Stay safe. And I wish you all a great end of the week.

Thanks for watching or reading. You can get more specialized and actionable growth insights for micro consultancies in our newsletter. Every Tuesday, you get one idea from Danilo, one quote from other experts, one number you need to hear, and one question for you to level up your consulting practice.

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