We should start at the bedrock of human motivation, as described by Maslow many decades ago. It describes the tussle between self-interest and contribution… but really it’s so brilliant, it’s more or less common sense. So, having acknowledged greatness, which we’ll refer back to, let’s jump into the phrase itself, simply deconstructing its elements to reveal their powerful truths.
Does what you’re offering cause me to take action? Us humans actually need very little. Water, air, food, shelter, relationship… that’s about it. The fact is we want more than we need. So this shifts things away from mere survival towards improvement. When I have my basic needs met, problems (or perhaps more accurately, “problems”) start to arise. Convenience, quality and efficiency begin to form in my reality as attractive, if not necessary, properties. Compelling, you might say. A remotely controlled garage door that’s reliable and consistent, especially in freezing weather, becomes a thing of beauty. A music service that streams tracks that delight me, quite quickly becomes something I can’t live without. Clearly we’re talking about pain points here, but we’re also pointing to something a bit more refined: the “nice-to-have” becoming the “have-to-have”. Today, the average 20 year old’s smart phone is as “compelling” a possession as her left kidney. Great companies create and sustain these deep needs.
I’m going to suggest that an interesting way to think about value is to zoom in on the margins. This is where the serious players hone their offering. This is where “value” — in the minds of the customers — is actually formed. Beautiful marginal execution takes things from good to great. Unbox an Apple product and you’ll feel it through your fingers; the silky-smooth swish of the cursor on the UBER app is no accident. These features may be surface but they speak loudly of the depths of obsession that run through the DNA of such companies. Once the “compelling” is in place, “value” is all about experience — and that about brilliant, marginal execution.
The proposition is the backbone. We can see that FedEx or Dropbox or Spotify’s propositions are so solid, they evoke the customer’s gratitude, let alone loyalty. Let’s look at this through the lens of what my friend Philip Lay points out is the difference between “compelling reason to buy” and “compelling reason to sell”. Most tech company CEOs, marketing, and salespeople tend to think and act from the perspective of their strong motivation to sell their product, rather than seeking to understand the relevant problem that customers are anxious to solve. Often their “solution” only addresses part of the customer’s problem. They focus way too much on the features and benefits of their technological masterpiece, missing out on the full power of their proposition. So from the beginning, and at any stage in fact, the question that most needs answering is always: “what’s my customer’s compelling reason to buy?”, rather than “what’s my compelling reason to sell them my product?”. Ideally, the first should describe a broken mission-critical process that’s causing havoc in the business. By contrast, the second tends to sound something like, “they need a cheaper, better or faster way of …..”
I grew up in Silicon Valley and began my career at HP the year the first PC shipped. Today, the thrust needed to achieve escape velocity — or to even get noticed — is an epic challenge, even for the best young companies. To attract capital, boldness as well as brilliance is required, as much in Europe as the West Coast. Fortunately entrepreneurs — the real ones — are unusual animals. By definition they have what it takes to punch through, assuming all the above criteria are in place. However, many entrepreneurs, and their ideas, do not pass the test — they do not communicate a proposition that is both compelling and has real value to the intended target buyer. This bar is higher than you might think, and getting higher every day.
The Compelling Value Proposition is not a mysterious concept, but its real meaning can be over-looked. Take each of these words — Compelling, Value, and Proposition and make sure your offer passes the test before you let your “sales pitch roll off your tongue” unexamined as to your customer’s POV. All businesses need do is hold themselves to the real meaning of these words and the best ones will deservedly shine.