There are, in the world of sales and sales systems, certain practices that have such an enormous impact on the company and the market that they are in a special class of activities that call for executive involvement at the highest levels.
One of that handful of activities is the creation of a value-added position (VAP). A VAP can be known by other names – an elevator speech is very similar, for example. It is a set of words that is crafted with great care and thoughtfulness. It is designed to reach out into the world of suspects and prospects, grab their attention, and convey your company’s value in a way that seems compelling to them.
Next to the company’s vision, mission and values statements, a VAP contains the most important words an organization can create. It often forms the first impression the market forms of your company, and frequently bounces around in their head like a tune from their teenage years.
Three steps to preparation.
I often recommend my clients start with one side of one page. Fill it up with answers to these kinds of questions:
Who are you (as a company)?
What do you do?
What do you do well?
What problem(s) do you solve?
Why should anyone care?
What difference does that make to your market?
Why should someone do business with you?
When you have filled up a page with thoughts, edit them into a coherent two or three paragraphs that convey your unique set of strengths and competencies to the market in benefits to them.
When you have finished with that, you have only just begun. Now, reduce that one-page document to one paragraph. Reduce it to 100-250 words that powerfully convey your company’s primary benefits to the market.
When you have that completed, you are still not finished. Now, reduce that version down to one line – maybe 5 to 25 words. This takes some serious and creative work. It can take weeks to refine your company’s unique value to the market into a powerful and pithy set of words. You may want to test it with a focus group of customers before you commit to it.
But it is worth it. You’ll have three versions. The one-line version can now be in every ad you create, every web page, every piece of marketing collateral. It can form the tagline to your email signatures, and become a part of every sales person’s banter. Everyone in the company can memorize it, and speak it in all kinds of situations. Every time someone hears it or reads it, you are making an intentional impression, forming their image of your company.
The one paragraph version can appear in letters, emails, and proposals, as well as in marketing brochures and web pages. In situations where the customer has a bit more time, the one paragraph version provides him/her with a bit more substance.
The one-page version can be posted throughout the company, hung in company lobbies and lunch rooms, added to the company’s orientation materials, and shared with every vendor and good customer.
While the focus is on communicating your unique set of strengths to the customer in a way that makes practical sense to him/her, it has another, just as powerful function. Think of it as a tool that reaches out into the market and conveys your image to them, enticing them to think of you as a possible source. At the same, the tool reaches inward, into your organization, and forces you to become who you say you are.
For example, if you say you provide great customer service, then you sure better have a great system in place, consistently hire the right people, train them thoroughly, measure the important variables, and continually improve. If you don’t, then your VAP becomes an exercise in hypocrisy. You must be what you say you are or the market will punish you.
The best example I have seen occurred a few years ago, as I was driving to my office from my home. My route took me past a number of fast-food restaurants and diners.
One day, I noticed a big banner hanging from the front of Denny’s restaurant. It said, “Breakfast – Five Minutes or it’s Free.” I recognized it as the one-line version of their VAP. Somewhere in the halls of Denny’s headquarters, an executive team probably met to determine their unique blend of strengths and competencies, and translate those into benefits for the customer. That sober analysis may have gone something like this:
“In a world of lots of competitors, how do we stand out? Our food is average; our prices are ordinary, our restaurants are acceptable. Why would someone give us a try rather than the competitor down the block?” The ultimate answer was this: “We are fast.”
So, “we are fast” morphed into “Breakfast – Five Minutes or it’s Free” on a banner in front of the restaurant.
I decided to give them a try and made a point of stopping in for breakfast. I noticed that when I ordered, the server looked at her watch, and wrote down the time of the order on her order pad. She then reached into the pocket on her apron, and handed me a stopwatch! I clicked the stopwatch and waited patiently. My breakfast appeared within the stipulated five minutes. I noticed the server looking at her watch, and noting the time of delivery on the order form.
Their VAP had reached out into the world and enticed me to try them. But, just as importantly, it sent tentacles into the organization’s operations and shaped them to be who they said they were. I suspect that some items came off the menu, and others were added as a result of the VAP. I know that new order forms had to be printed with a place for the order time and delivery time. Of course, they had to invest in stopwatches, and train the wait staff in the new procedures. I suspect there are some short order cooks who no longer work at Denny’s because they couldn’t perform to the new requirements.
So, the VAP impacted the company in two ways. First, it served as the initial foray into the market, establishing an image in the minds of the suspects and prospects of the world, and enticing them with a unique benefit. But, it also reached back into the operations of the organization and caused a change in the people, products, and systems in order to shape the organization into becoming what they proclaimed they were.
That is the impact of a well-conceived Value Added Proposition. And it is why it is the second most important set of words an organization can create.