Last week we explored the ramifications of a Bain study published in HBR that identified an Elements of Value Pyramid for B2B buyers. At the bottom of the pyramid were very basic values, like meeting specifications or legal compliance. As you move higher in the pyramid, the values become more personalized and emotional. The study revealed that successful B2B companies are able to deliver on multiple values, especially on the values higher up the pyramid, tended to have greater loyalty and satisfaction. As we said last week, the Pyramid suggests just how important getting more personal and emotional your messaging should be and how it needs to INSPIRE.
The Elements of Value Pyramid can be also used as a framework for positioning and messaging as B2B prospects move through the traditional marketing funnel. Let’s start with the values at the bottom. Compliance, Meeting Specs, Having an ethical organization etc. These table stakes items are generally less important in terms of communication until the later stages of the marketing funnel. That’s not to say they aren’t important, but they’re generally boxes that need to be checked somewhere along the line. Any B2B company that moves this message earlier in the prospect journey does so at their own peril. (Believe it or not, we see this all the time – web sites that lead with Six Sigma Certification, for example) Your product’s compliance or certification is a feature – it’s not a benefit. Prospects who need 6 Sigma certification will be more interested in what 6 sigma does for them than in the certification itself. You don’t lead with this message unless your ability to meet specs or get certification is revolutionary. Later in the journey is better for these values.
The next level up on the Elements of Value pyramid are the Functional values. Economic and Performance values like Cost Reduction and Scalability. Again – these are messages that sit at the top of the funnel for a lot of b2B companies. Reduce costs by 30%! The CRM solution that scales with your organization! Messages that appeal to these values usually fall flat with prospects at the top of the funnel. That’s because they’re generally assumed to be part of the deal. Has anyone ever brought on a SAAS solution to INCREASE costs by 30%? And solutions that don’t scale are generally not great solutions in the first place. The other big problems with these types of claims is that they are generic. It’s typically the best-case scenario of 30% cost savings that’s being touted. Your mileage will vary. The solution might scale for some companies – but does it scale for your exact process and needs? Prospects are wise to this stuff. These kinds of functional value messages should come in to play at some point of the funnel, but they’re better in mid-funnel, when you’re in the consideration/evaluation stage – at which point they can help bolster your case. They are best used as proof points to a larger promise that’s been made earlier in the prospect’s journey. They’re better than table stakes values, but only slightly.
As you migrate up the Elements of Value, you get to the “Ease of Doing Business Values”. In our experience, these values are where most B2B companies focus at the top of the funnel. Things like Time savings, Visibility, Risk Reduction, Configurability, Responsiveness, Ease of Integration. Appeals to these values can sometimes hit the mark. They identify a problem that prospects may have, and attempt to focus on their solution to it, but these messages belong in the mid-funnel range of the prospect journey. They often assume a familiarity with the solution/product for the value to be understood. You have to have a strong need for the product and a clear understanding of its benefits before you start to think about whether it integrates well with other solutions, or whether it can be configured as you would like, or whether you will get the level of support you’ll need. These issues can often disqualify you for a deal, but they aren’t something that will draw you into the funnel in the first place. As such, they will only appeal to prospects that are already aware of their problem and are actively searching for a solution to solve it. Someone who’s less aware of your category and product will be baffled by this mid-funnel message. We call this “Hot leads messaging” – someone who’s having an awful time with configuring their existing solution, or who is getting killed by lack of visiblity will respond – but not many others. As a result, it’s a completely useless message for a new category or solution. If you lead with this message, you are saying “If you know you know” – and ignoring anyone who doesn’t. Few B2B marketers can afford to do this.
The individual and inspirational values sit at the top of the pyramid, and these are the messages that should sit at the top of your marketing funnel. A message that appeals to a prospect’s emotional needs can intrigue and capture their attention at the top of the funnel. Big promises that offer benefits that they will feel. Less stress, reduced uncertainty, deeper connections with customers and teams. The ability to uncover new opportunities, or make changes with big impact. At the highest level, messages that connect with the prospect’s (or their organization’s) purpose and vision for the future are the messages that make prospects stop and take notice – to click, register or take action. These aren’t messages that work best in the middle or end of funnel – they’re the organizing, driving principle for the prospect to move down the funnel. They should be introduced early, and referenced regularly on their journey. The ease of doing business values, the functional values and Table Stakes should be presented within the context of how they serve the larger personal, inspirational value. If you wait till the bottom of the funnel to talk about these bigger messages you may not get the opportunity. They may never find your value proposition compelling enough to move through to the bottom.
The one wrinkle to this Values Messaging Funnel comes at the last stage – the purchase decision. At this point B2B messages should generally revert to the Personal and Inspirational messages. As prospects make their final choice, you should be reminding them of the highest value you provide – the emotional trump card that offers the promise of something that is very near and dear to them. It’s sort of the closing argument for your brand – it gets away from the little things to leave them pondering the big things.
Here’s a visual representation of the traditional marketing funnel overlaid with the kinds of values and messages that are best suited for each stage. As you think about the marketing deliverable, and the stage of the marketing funnel to which it belongs, try developing messages that correspond to the values we’ve identified. Coordinating your messages in this way will help accelerate the prospect’s journey to becoming a customer.
Now, of course this isn’t a hard and fast model. As we all know, prospects have different journeys to their decisions, and they are decidedly non-linear paths. For example, you may need to address Product Specs or Certification earlier in some prospects journeys – when they are using it as a qualifier before they proceed further. As a general rule, however, Tables stakes conversations should be done further down in the conversation, or further into your web site or product sheet, rather than as the big headline in top of funnel demand generation. Conversely, inspirational messages work best at the beginning an end.
Let us know what you think about the Buyer Values Funnel. Does it work for your company?
We’ll offer ideas on how you can sharpen your message to resonate with prospects and energize your team.