How to avoid a half-baked value proposition

Why a lack of perspective can hamper CEOs and Founders when they’re making the most business-critical decision of all.

Image: Second Life

 

One year, when I was young, my Mum – a baker’s daughter – began baking me a birthday cake. And because I’d usually lick the bowl clean once the mixture went in the oven, this time I somehow convinced her to skip the whole cooking bit and just let me eat the cake mix.

It was literally the best present I’d ever had. Until I was sick. And even then it only slipped down to number two (I love you, Millennium Falcon).

Now, my Mum’s not a terrible parent – she’s ace, obvs – but just imagine what kind of bastardly devil-child I must’ve been for her to want to shut me up that much.

Anyway, I digress. But this is why kids don’t get to write the menu. Fair play if yours love kale and chia seeds – whatever they are – but most would choose Creme Eggs and Angel Delight.

The lesson here is that, without much nutritional perspective, children rarely make great choices – not unlike company leaders when refining their proposition.

Beware your own tastes  

Prior to Cake Mix Day, it wasn’t just the slim lickings from a nigh on empty bowl that did my head in, it was the endless wait while cakes cooked and cooled. And proposition development often feels just as long and painful.

No wonder it’s all too easy to leap on the first committee-thunk idea without a soggy bottom. Phew, problem solved. But that relief masks an inconvenient truth – you might not be the best judge of what good tastes like.

The stakes rise once you share your half-baked proposition with clients and colleagues. If you’re oblivious to them discreetly spitting into their napkins – as it were – then just as writers struggle to ‘kill their darlings’, being wedded to the wrong answer wastes time and credibility.

So if you’re only high-fiving yourself or restarting the internal debate is too terrifying to contemplate, then the cherry is wagging the cake. Not good.

What is a proposition?

Like the eternal debate over Jaffa Cakes’ cakey status (don’t care; hate ‘em), another complication is that few people agree on what constitutes a proposition.

This isn’t fatal. It just depends which recipe you prefer.

For me, the important distinction is that a positioning tells people what business you’re in, but a proposition lets them know what they’ll get. And time-poor clients are desperate to know what problem you solve.

That’s why leading with a specific outcome for a discrete audience really helps. Offering ‘growth for brands’ isn’t enough. Could the opposite ever be true? Exactly. So dig deeper.

Get beyond an empty slogan

Another common pitfall is relegating your proposition to packaging; just snazzy bait to lure passing clients. But a superficial approach creates cheesy chat-up lines, not a Siren’s song.

Newsflash: your clients want meaningful relationships based on substance. Finding innovative partners in a complex world isn’t easy. So they’re asking harder questions – scraping off the icing to see if your sponge is up to scratch.

That’s why you’re best served by building your entire customer experience around your proposition. Then everything you say and do helps prove your claim of expertise.

A good proposition succinctly reflects your business plan. It provides clarity and direction, informing everything from your commercial model, pricing and process, to routes to market, resourcing and more.

If consistently expressed across every touchpoint and baked into every decision you take, you’ll move down your sales funnel faster. That creates a tonne of value – not just financially, but also momentum, focus and fun.

Your proposition is just the start

Ultimately, a great proposition is transformational – but it’s still only half the battle. To consistently win the right clients and maximise your profit potential, simply having scarce and proven expertise isn’t enough – you also need to leverage it.

Think of your value proposition as a statement of intent. Then back it up by committing to carefully chosen behaviours and company body language.

The rewards are pretty tasty. From an oversupplied market and shoddy pitch practice to eroding margins, many of your daily frustrations can be addressed by defining – and rationing – something that particular clients really need.

Being invited to pitch is okay. Being the first name on the shortlist is better. But when clients are relieved to discover you exist, then you’re cooking with gas.

Time to act now

Despite all these benefits, propositions are often only reviewed at certain lifestages – a new CEO, the slowdown after the first flush of growth or most commonly around a merger or acquisition.

Outside of necessity, because the process is rarely fun, quick or productive, rethinking your strategy is an easy priority to nudge down the to-do list – despite a speedy dose of focus being the antidote to much of the grief in your life.

So hats off to anyone who decides enough is enough and is ready to make a meaningful change.

But if you go it alone, remember the greedy sod with a bowl full of cake mix. When you’re gleefully showing off your new creation, high on the sweet relief of simply having finished, consider whether a lack of perspective blinded you to a healthier option.