How Do You Convince Internal Stakeholders That Nobody Understands the Value Proposition?

The LinkedIn question I chose for this week was asked by Kevin O’Malley, Co-Lead at B2B Camp, in the B2B Lead Roundtable group. Kevin asks:

Any recommendations on how to convince internal stakeholders that it is more effective to use plain english in describing your value prop vs. adjective soup that no one understands?

Some great answers already provided to Kevin suggest that he perform exercises to ‘know his audience thoroughly’ and one woman quoted Einstein in saying “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t know it well enough.” Good one!

I think this is a challenge we all face at one time or another. Some of us enjoy the gobbledygook boilerplate and about us page, while others are fighting upstream to try to change the way we are describing ourselves to the market. It’s not easy especially if your internal stakeholders are a) the ones who wrote the stuff or b) so deadset in their ways that they just won’t ‘get it’.

Here is how I would approach this.

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Do you have any examples of how your competitors are positioning themselves? Now, Im not saying to ‘borrow’ their jargon and descriptive language but it’s a good barometer reading on how the market is currently being spoken to, how others are describing it and the types of content your prospects wil come across and ultimately consume. Get familiar and get examples to share.

How do your customers/prospects describe you? If I was someone looking for your product/service, what would I be looking for? Answer the question: how do people describe us? If your content, web copy, whatever doesn’t answer this, then you need to adjust the tone and context. And if you don’t know, just ask your current customers. I have found that running ideas by current customers gets them excited about being a part of the company because I value their opinion.

How do you describe yourself? In one company I worked for, I setup meetings with members of the executive team individually. I asked them to describe the company, what problem our solution solved, who wanted to buy it and how we could improve. When it came to describing the product and who we should market to, the answers were all over the place. Set that aside for a second and really think about how they described the company and the value prop. Did they speak in easy to understand dialogue or were they technical? Capture this.

Does your industry warrant the industry/techie tone and use of terminology? I will admit that in some industries this stodgy, formal tone is warranted. It’s actually expected and to be more informal and laid back, you could seriously deduce the value of your offering. Keep in mind who you are talking to and how they expect to be spoken to.

Why do your stakeholders why they feel so strongly about the way the value prop is written? Often we jump to change things and build plans to enable others to see things the way we see them but don’t ask why they feel the way they do in the first place. Put them on the spot and say ‘I’m trying to understand why you feel so strongly about describing ourselves in this format. Can you explain to me further?’

Put all your findings in a document (powerpoint, word, excel, anything) and present it to the stakeholders. Include the answer to the question you asked them and provide details on everything you discovered. Then, propose a solution or a new way to word the value prop.

If they are still ‘stuck’, suggest a compromise where you will use their language for 30-60 days and then switch to your own. Track what happens in each scenario from web visits, to the number of times sales successfully gets a prospect on a call to conversions.

Bring everyone back together and share the findings. You may be surprised by the results yourself.

I don’t recommend it for every situation but I have asked for forgiveness rather than permission on a few occasions. Why? Because I had a hunch that something would work but couldn’t get the buy-in for the life of me. I went ahead and took the approach anyways and 9 times out of 10, I was able to go back and say ‘yes I did this but look what happened’ and I had stellar results to back myself up.

Gaining buy-in from senior leadership and internal stakeholders is always a challenge. How would you go about this?

And you can always slide a copy of David Meerman Scott’s Goobledygook Manifesto acorss their desk. Get it here.

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