W. Edward Pierce, ITA Communications

As any great sales per­son will tell you, sales is not about a great prod­uct or ser­vice, it’s about the customer’s per­cep­tion of value.

For corporate buyers, value is help­ing to max­i­mize the con­tri­bu­tion of his or her area of responsbility to the company’s strate­gic goals and/or the sav­ings derived from con­trol­ling costs.

The more mean­ing­ful the value story, the bet­ter the chance that a ser­vice or prod­uct provider can begin, or move along, the sales process.

Even if the com­pany has been an indus­try leader for 100 years, insists that every man­ager earn a Six Sigma Mas­ter Black Belt, reg­u­larly wins pres­ti­gious “Best of” awards, and reports fan­tas­ti­cal total cus­tomer sav­ings every quar­ter … even with all of that, it’s impor­tant that you under­stand how to dif­fer­en­ti­ate your value propo­si­tion in terms that are mean­ing­ful to the cus­tomer – because that’s the real key to win­ning and keep­ing business.

As explained in the last col­umn, “earned media oppor­tu­ni­ties” — print and dig­i­tal adver­tis­ing, pub­lic rela­tions, trade shows, direct mail – are impor­tant tac­tics for telling the value story. Yet, many times that story gets lost in trans­la­tion, espe­cially in advertising.

Here are three com­mon exam­ples read­ily iden­ti­fi­able in most trade mag­a­zines rep­re­sent­ing every industry:

1. Smug­ness (The “Top of the Moun­tain” View) – The mes­sage: “We are XYZ com­pany, the indus­try leader, with the best peo­ple, the best ser­vice, and the best technology.”

The Hype: The name says it all! A customer can be con­fi­dent that this company’s “star-power” will rub off on him or her. It is the safest bet even with­out sub­stan­tive proof.

2. Prod­uct “Fea­turette” – The mes­sage (an exag­ger­a­tion): “Our G-Wiz gizmo uses a pro­pri­etary motion­less thermo-nuclear gen­er­a­tor that snatches free energy from a vac­uum to deliver pre-real-time data.”

The Hype: Daz­zling prod­uct fea­tures will blind prospective customers into think­ing a com­pany has the best prod­uct or ser­vice despite the lack of ben­e­fits or real-world application.

3. Buzz(word) Kill – “The mes­sage: “Our inclu­sion of indus­try buzz­words reflects our high level of indus­try knowl­edge! TCO. Telem­at­ics. Life­cy­cle. Bot­tom line. Ana­lyt­ics. 360 degrees. Web-based. Real-time. Pre­dic­tive. Big data. Excel­lence. ROI. Look how many we crammed into this ad!”

The Hype: Buzz­words sound excit­ing, espe­cially as they echo inside the halls of the ven­dor. How­ever, in the mar­ket­place, they quickly become clichés used by every adver­tiser, con­firm­ing prospec­tive buy­ers’ belief that the prod­ucts or ser­vices are undif­fer­en­ti­ated commodities.

Most assuredly, every B2B com­pany offers value. Yet, when it comes to pro­mo­tion, the value is too often lost in the hype. Mean­while, managers are on the hot seat every day, in need of real-world fixes for day-to-day problems.

I will dis­cuss form and style of pro­mo­tional mes­sages by spe­cific media tac­tics in next month’s col­umn, but reap­ing the ben­e­fits of “earned media oppor­tu­ni­ties” begins with a clear mes­sage, a dec­la­ra­tion of the product/service/company value from the customers’ point of view.

How is that value expressed? How-to arti­cles (problem-solution). Suc­cess sto­ries. Tes­ti­mo­ni­als. Blind case stud­ies. Thought lead­er­ship (from the cus­tomer point of view).

The more spe­cific the prob­lem descrip­tion, the bet­ter. The more detailed the facts, the more believ­able. The more numer­ous the cases, the broader the rel­e­vant audience. Reach­ing out to what may seem to be a single tar­get mar­ket with a sin­gle mes­sage doesn’t work. And, ss seen in the inef­fec­tive exam­ples above, gen­er­al­iza­tions obscure value.

At the start, I noted that any great sales per­son will tell you: it’s about the customer’s per­cep­tion of value. Note that ref­er­ence is singular! Micro-marketing aims to get mar­keters to the indi­vid­ual level, but it is expen­sive, and most business-to-business com­pa­nies have yet to address the much more viable approach – mar­ket seg­men­ta­tion. Again, I will make this a topic for a future column!

I wel­come feed­back, ques­tions, sug­ges­tions, expe­ri­ences and dif­fer­ing points of view from fleet prod­uct and ser­vice providers as well as from fleet man­agers, cor­po­rate buy­ers, con­sul­tants, trade asso­ci­a­tion and media rep­re­sen­ta­tives who want to help build bet­ter connections.

Just send an email to ExceptionalMarketing.com If you have a spe­cific mar­ket­ing issue or ques­tion, call me at (215)839-1306.