A while back, I shared 10 guiding principles to help small digital agencies win more business. The pop-pickers amongst you would have noticed that ‘proposition me’ came in at number two. 

A relevant, compelling and credible value proposition is very much the foundation of a successful business development strategy, so let’s spend some time taking a closer look at what it is, why it’s important and how to go about creating one.

What is a value proposition? 

Run some ‘agency’ related searches on Google, pick a few sites at random and it won’t take long to find a homepage description that reads something like this…

“Hi, we’re an award-winning digital marketing agency with expertise in SEO, PPC, affiliate marketing and conversion rate optimisation.

Get in touch and we’ll tell you how brilliant we are”.

Besides the slightly exaggerated call to action, what’s the problem with this statement?

The fatal flaw is that it fails to express what the agency intends to make happen for their clients. In other words, it describes what the agency does, not the outcome. SEO, PPC and so on are just the vehicles used to meet an objective or solve a problem, whether that be to grow brand awareness, increase revenue or improve customer experience. 

While a prospect might say, ‘I need SEO’, this is not their end goal. Instead, it is the effect of SEO the prospect is looking to buy. 

The focus on effects or outcomes is the essence of a good value proposition; it is a statement less concerned with what you do (your services) and focused more on the problems you solve, and the experience and tangible results a prospect will receive from using those services. In other words, the value you will add (the clue is in the name). 

Why is a value proposition so important?

As a value proposition is an internal statement, it firstly ensures that your team understand the purpose of the agency, the problems you solve and for who. It therefore creates internal clarity in where the business is heading and also consistency in how staff describe the agency (the classic elevator pitch). 

Where marketing is concerned, it shapes external messaging, ensuring that, in the eyes of a prospect, you provide superior value compared to the alternatives. These alternatives are not just restricted to your competitors but also other options, such as in-sourcing (a growing trend in some sectors) or simply doing nothing at all. 

When it comes to business development, your value proposition is the means by which a prospect will (hopefully) qualify that your agency is likely to be right for them (or, on the other hand, qualify that you are not), thus ensuring you attract the ‘right’ leads.

It gives you the best possible chance of achieving ‘cut through’ in the highly competitive market for agency services, which can be both daunting and confusing to a buyer. By understanding the actual problems you are solving and the real needs of a prospect, you make yourself more relevant. Therefore, your sales efforts are much more likely to result in a prospect taking a desirable action, for example reacting positively when you collar them at a networking event or replying to your emails. 

How to create your value proposition

Firstly, start by talking to your team. Ask them to describe what you do. Is there confusion and inconsistency in how they talk about the agency and the impact they have on clients’?

Scrutinise your website and sales collateral. Do you predominantly talk about yourself rather than the needs of your clients? Are there regular occurrences of the word ‘we’ (“we do this”, “we do that”, "we’ve won awards”, “we’re brilliant”)? Do you elaborately describe the detail of your services instead of expressing the impact of those services?

If you answer ‘yes’ to the above, the chances are you are too inwardly focused and your proposition needs work. 

Once you’ve established that your proposition does indeed suck, next up, manage your expectations. Coming up with a genuine ‘point of difference’ is tough. That is not necessarily the aim of a value proposition. With around 20,000 agencies in the UK, it’s unlikely you have anything truly unique about you (apologies if I’ve just rained on your parade, but it’s true).

Instead, the purpose of a value proposition is to make yourself relevant to prospects by communicating (what are likely to be be) marginal points of difference more effectively than your competitors or the other options available.

Thirdly, run a workshop that explores and challenges each of the key components of a value proposition, those being the markets you are best positioned to serve, how you want to make clients feel (the value experience), your offerings, benefits, alternatives (and why you are better) and how you validate your claims (proof).

Components of a value proposition

Image courtesy of Bro J.Simpson

Involve the entire team if you can. Everyone will have something to contribute based on their experience, especially those ‘on the front line’ (obviously this is easier for a small agency than a large one). In running the session, keep an open mind. There are no wrong answers during the initial stages so capture everything (preferably on large sheets of paper and Post-It notes, fuelled by coffee and Haribo).

At the end of the session, write it all up, sit on it for a few days and then revisit. Highlight recurring themes, words and phrases and then construct your statement (no more than a couple of short paragraphs) ensuring it includes each of the component parts of the value proposition. Finally, road test it, both internally with the team and externally with clients, prospects and vs. the competition.

Just to complicate the issue slightly

Undoubtedly, it’s vitally important to have a value proposition. It’s your statement of intent. However, you can’t be all things to all people. While a value proposition sets the tone for sales and marketing collateral, it doesn’t mean you should stick rigidly to it when you are speaking to that dream prospect.

Wheeling out the same old, generic, ‘yawn-a-minute’ creds deck should be avoided at all costs. Every situation is different so whilst a value proposition ensures a consistent, overarching message, only by asking the right questions will you uncover the specific needs in any given situation. In turn, this allows you to contextualise your solution, tweak messaging and make yourself more relevant than the competition. 

The art of questioning is something I’ll explore next time.

Ben Potter

Published 9 March, 2017 by Ben Potter

Ben Potter is the former Commercial Director at Leapfrogg and now a new business mentor to aspiring digital agencies. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.

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