Visiting The V.P.
Monday just before 11 o'clock, Ryan marveled at the Brooklyn neighborhood in which Lenny had chosen to grow Golden Box Packaging, Inc. It seemed to be a mixture of business and residential buildings, and most of the men were wearing hats like Lenny's or the black skullcaps.
The area was busy but not wealthy; the cars parked on the streets were almost entirely functional - SUVs, caravans, old clunkers. The cars parked outside Lenny's building were nicer, but still modest. The building itself was almost indistinguishable from the ones near it, red brick and stone, with a sign bearing the logo on Lenny's card. Inside, Ryan was relieved to be in the air conditioning, out of the late August heat. The company was obviously doing well. There was a buzz in the place that signaled a positive, growing business.
While he waited, (Lenny was finishing a call, the receptionist told Ryan), he picked up a Golden Box brochure from the coffee table, and noticed that the design and language was very similar to the website he had visited over the weekend. He smiled again at the cleverness of the web URL, www.NoNakedProduct.com, and liked the way Lenny's marketing people had tied the copy to that theme. He also noticed one of the pizza boxes that had been highlighted on the website.
Apparently many pizza restaurants didn't recognize the beautiful canvas they had available for marketing messages. Lenny's company had helped increase revenues at several pizza places by "clothing" their pizza boxes with advertisements for pizza and even for other products. Ryan mused that he'd probably buy more pizza if his favorite place had similar coupons on their boxes for other local services.
Just then Lenny walked out and greeted Ryan warmly. "Come into my office. We'll chat for a bit and then we can head off to lunch."
They wound their way through several large rooms of busy people at their desks, on phones, and talking with each other in low tones. "You've built quite a company here," Ryan said.
"We're pretty happy," Lenny responded. "We have about 120 people working here, and they do a great job. We're a sales-driven company and we've found a sales process that works well for us."
"You mean this 3500 year process?" Ryan asked skeptically.
Lenny smiled, "Yes that." He paused and looked thoughtful. "But before I am ready to share that process with you, I should really introduce you to our V.P. of sales and marketing."
"Great!" exclaimed Ryan, "I would love to meet him!"
Lenny grinned knowingly. "Did you visit our website?"
"Of course, it's always the first thing I do whenever I get a business card or meet someone."
"I figured you might," Lenny said. "Most people do these days. I do it myself."
"So you've been to ours as well, then?" Ryan asked gingerly. The website was his responsibility, and although it had been moderately effective in generating some online leads and home office sales, it wasn't bringing in the customers or orders it once did.
"Yes, and quite honestly that's the reason I think I should introduce you to our V.P. before we talk about our 3500-year-old process. One won't do you much good without the other. The good news is that since you've been to the Golden Box website, you've already seen the V.P. of sales and marketing."
As they arrived at a hallway that obviously housed the company's executives, Ryan thought for a second. He had gone through the site thoroughly. He remembered the listings of the management team, but didn't remember seeing a Vice President of Sales and Marketing. There was an Operations VP, and a Business Development VP, but he would have remembered the Sales and Marketing person since he held the same title for his company.
They arrived in Lenny's office. "Here you are. This is our VP," beamed Lenny as he pointed to a large plaque on the wall. The plaque read:
Golden Box Value Proposition
Ryan stared at the plaque for a moment. "Ah," he said. "Right, cute play on words. V.P., Value Proposition." Of course Ryan was familiar with the term. He had helped develop the value proposition for Wolfson Furnishings. It was a list of 10 features that, Wolfson executives believed, made the company better than their competition. It certainly wasn't as clean and concise as this, but this didn't seem to have nearly the depth of Wolfson's list. And it didn't talk about pain, which Ryan appreciated because he figured doing so was probably a downer.
Of course, looking at the plaque, it certainly seemed clear and compelling. He abruptly realized that the value proposition, the website, and marketing materials all played on the naked vs clothed concept. It was creative and certainly distinguished Golden Box from other companies.
"Huh! How'd you develop this?"
"Before I answer that, there's one more thing I want to show you, then I'll explain over lunch. Let me grab my hat." Lenny grabbed his fedora and placed it on top of the yarmulke he was already wearing. "Oh, and here's a copy of our V.P. We give it out to all our people, and I think you'll find it helpful for our conversation." Lenny pressed a small laminated copy of the V.P. into Ryan's hand. As they started the walk back through the large rooms with the desks, Lenny whispered to Ryan, "OK. Pick any of my people and pretend to be a customer." Interested, Ryan nodded towards a young attractive brunette just hanging up the phone. Ryan noticed on her desk she had a copy of the V.P. attached with a clip to a little figurine of a lion. He looked around and realized that every desk had the same little lion figurine with a clip holding the card.
"Good choice," smiled Lenny. "Courtney, please come over here for a moment. I would like you to meet a long-time friend of mine, Ryan. Ryan, this is Courtney Franks. Courtney is one our most successful salespeople. Courtney, we're headed out for lunch, but before we go Ryan has a question for you."
Courtney smiled and shook the hand Ryan extended. "What can I help you with, Ryan?" Courtney asked.
"Could you briefly explain to me why I would want to do business with Golden Box? I mean, why you instead of one of your competitors?" Ryan inquired.
"I would be happy to," said Courtney. "I assume you're evaluating our company because you have something that requires packaging." Ryan nodded. "Good. Well, we don't want your product sitting out there on the shelf naked, do we?"
Ryan couldn't help but smile. Courtney continued. "I also assume you have concerns about how the packaging is going to add additional cost to your product. We've found that the best way to solve this problem is to create attractive packaging with a sales message that sells more of your product. That way you can recoup some of your packaging cost from the messaging.
"At Golden Box we have some distinct advantages over our competition to help you build such a solution. First, unlike our competitors we keep creative packaging experts on staff so we can work with your marketing people to create effective messaging in attractive packaging." She winked at Ryan and subtly smoothed her shirt against her side. "Clothing, as we like to call it."
"Second, while we can do large runs, we have the ability to do small runs as well so we can test different packaging options and quickly change to the option that works best.
"Finally, and I hope this addresses your biggest concern, we do a lot of work with major suppliers. Our large volume gets us great discounts on materials, allowing us to pass that savings back to you."
Courtney stopped. There it was, as efficient and compelling as the plaque itself. The whole conversation took less than a minute and she had clearly communicated the entire value proposition in a clear and attractive manner. She had identified key differentiations between Golden Box and their competition. And all in less than the time it would take an elevator to get from lobby to penthouse for a cocktail party.
"Thank you, Courtney," Ryan said. "That was extremely helpful."
"Happy to oblige," Courtney replied. "Let me know if I can help with anything else. Enjoy your lunch." Courtney returned to her desk.
Ryan turned back to Lenny, thinking hard. Courtney was obviously a smart woman. No wonder she was a top salesperson. He really liked the way she kept to the script, but also seemed to make it her own. Of course, this was the luck of the draw. He'd obviously happened to pick a rainmaker.
Lenny sensed Ryan's skepticism. "Pick another." Ryan looked around and pointed at a young guy sitting in the middle of the office a good distance from Courtney's desk. Lenny called out, "Gary, could you come over here for a moment?" Again Lenny whispered an aside to Ryan, "Jerry has been with us in sales for about four months. He's doing fairly well for a newbie. Fresh out of Rutgers, still a frat boy." Ryan knew how hard it was to get these newly minted college kids to follow the company line. They all seemed to either want to do it their own way to prove something to the boss, or they wanted all the reward with none of the work. Gary was introduced and the inquiry began. While Gary didn't personalize the Value Proposition as well as Courtney did, he still did a very effective job of communicating each point without his delivery sounding canned or disingenuous. Ryan thanked Gary for his time and turned to Lenny.
"Would you like to try one more?" asked Lenny.
"No, I have a feeling they will all do just as well. Very impressive. You must have an intense sales training program."
"It's good enough," shrugged Lenny. "But truth be told, it didn't do us much good until we got the messaging right. We struggled for a long time with getting our people to say the same things, let alone the right things. Not because what they were saying wasn't true, but mostly because what we had them saying wasn't compelling or memorable. It wasn't until we nailed our Value Proposition that everyone started to really become aligned with our sales process."
Lenny led Ryan out the door. "Come on, I'm starved. Let's talk over lunch and I'll explain why it works so well."
A short walk later, Lenny guided Ryan into a kosher Argentinean restaurant, El Gaucho Glatt.
Ryan was slightly aware of the connection between Jews and South America since post-WWII, but just like in the old days, Lenny never ceased to surprise him. The smell of meat wafted over them, and Ryan felt a little relieved they were going to a meat restaurant. He didn't mind eating in kosher restaurants that were either meat or dairy (which couldn't be mixed), but he really wasn't much for vegetarian food. Of course he knew his odds of getting a Reuben sandwich or a BLT were definitely nil. Being kosher was really limiting - he couldn't imagine restricting his food like that!
They were guided to one of the tables near the kitchen and were soon eating a fantastic appetizer of marinated beef tongue, which Ryan couldn't recall having tried since he'd dined with Lenny's family one Sabbath evening in high school. He was positive it hadn't been this good in high school.
A good salesman, Ryan made sure he had his pad and pen out so he could jot down a reminder to himself when he heard something useful. As they finished their appetizers and waited for their steaks, Ryan started asking questions.
"So this V.P. of sales and marketing, this is the key to your success in this market?" Ryan asked.
"It's part of it. It was a necessary step before we could apply the..."
"I know, I know!" Ryan interrupted, impatient. "The super-secret 3500 year process."
"Don't worry, my friend," Lenny said. "We'll get to it. But the V.P. is key, otherwise you'll never get to use the 3500-year-old process."
"All right, fine," Ryan retorted as their steaks arrived. "Go for it. Tell me how this V.P. came about."
Over a really great steak - perfectly cooked and juicy - Lenny explained that he had attended a conference on raising venture capital back in the 90's, when dot-coms were just entering the mainstream. Most of the conference was useless, but there was this one speaker who talked about pitching venture capitalists and used this model of pain, solution, and best provider.
Lenny told Ryan how the notes had sat in a drawer collecting dust until a few months after the dot-coms were no more, when sales were sluggish and he had been frustrated with lackluster performance from his sales crew. He had hired and fired more sales managers than he could remember and, exasperated, had gone to his notes looking for anything that would turn the business around. That's when he reacquainted himself with this Value Proposition concept. He brought in Courtney and a couple of other producing salespeople and together over time they identified the three components. The Golden Box V.P. of Sales and Marketing was born.
"So why does this Value Proposition work so well?" Ryan asked.
"Well first there's the mechanics of the V.P.," explained Lenny. "Many value propositions at other companies are either one sentence or they're a laundry list of features that only take into account what executives think makes their company better than the competition. They assume the potential customer already knows why they're approaching the company."
"I'm not sure I follow," said Ryan. "Isn't a value proposition supposed to tout what your company does best? And why would a customer come to your company if he didn't need you?"
"Well, sure, the V.P. should talk to your company's best qualities," replied Lenny. "But what good is pushing your solution if you and your customer don't understand or agree on the problem in the first place? In today's market there's a lot of messaging out there, and answers become much more compelling when the customer identifies with the questions."
"Hmmm, valid point. All right, tell me about the first statement in your V.P. I don't know if I like this pain idea." Ryan grimaced. "It sounds so negative."
Lenny nodded. "Yeah, I felt that way myself, at first. But then I understood. We're not creating pain for people. The pain is already there. Their products really are naked, and clothing them really does have costs. We're looking to articulate it clearly so that the customers who already feel that pain can find us."
Ryan was intrigued. He'd often had problems getting his salespeople to show the customer they cared about them, rather than about the salesperson's own commissions. Lenny continued. "We immediately demonstrate that we understand the pain customers are already feeling. This helps them progress down the sales process. When they hear us state the pain, and they identify with it, our credibility level is immediately raised in their minds. By providing this statement we're doing something that's unfortunately considered very rare in business." Ryan looked quizzical, and Lenny chuckled. "We're showing empathy."
"Huh!" Ryan grunted.
"Once the pain is established, we provide resolution to the pain with an objective solution. In our case we say that products should be clothed such that the buyer wants to buy more product."
"Yeah, I noticed that," Ryan said. "Why is it objective? Why not just hit them with your features right there and then?"
Lenny leaned forward, excited, as he got to the good stuff. "People don't like to be sold. By giving them an objective solution to the pain, they are still absorbing and identifying information in an open manner. If we hit them with the features now they'll put their guard back up and may get defensive."
"Fascinating," Ryan thought. "These guys have really thought this through."
"Of course the solution has to be exactly on target," Lenny continued. "It must be the most obvious answer to the pain. The really cool part is that when the solution is on point it resonates perfectly with the pain and the customer gets a big AHA! That emotional impact with the customer makes us look like very smart experts. Now the customer is receptive to how well we know our business and their issues. At this point much of the initial sales job is done."
Ryan thought for a moment, moving the remains of his steak around his plate, then asked, "Doesn't the pain and solution statement become limiting? What if a potential client isn't concerned about the cost on their packaging or doesn't want to advertise on the package... or doesn't really feel they need packaging at all?"
"Ah," Lenny nodded, pleased. "First of all, I'm not sure I know of anyone who feels they're paying too little for their packaging. But look, we're not out to convert the whole world to our way of thinking. We can't be everything to all customers. So this helps not only to attract like-minded customers, but also to repel those we'll probably never close. This creates much greater efficiency in our sales process. My salespeople don't have to spend a lot of time selling people who most likely will never buy. The salespeople are happier because their sales percentages are higher and they don't waste time on difficult sales."
"All right," said Ryan. His writing hand was starting to hurt - he was getting so much good stuff!
He thought for a moment, then pulled out his copy of the Golden Box V.P. "So I love the way the 'Best Solution Provider' part works," Ryan commented. "How'd you get your pitch so clear and compelling on what makes Golden Box the best solution provider?"
"I have to admit for this part I had help," Lenny confessed. "At first we struggled to make it concise. Like you, we had a long list of features, but, truthfully, not all of them were that interesting or different from our competition. Some didn't even really relate to the pain we were identifying. This was part of the reason our salespeople were struggling. They were all presenting different sets of features. They would talk about the features they thought were interesting or sometimes just the ones they remembered. Some of the statements were stuff our competitors were also claiming.
"Their pitches were clumsy, inconsistent and mostly ineffective. Customers were walking away with different perspectives of what Golden Box was all about. It was very rarely compelling. We didn't even have agreement on which customers we were trying to sell to! Once we whittled down to three differentiating features that related to the pain we identified and the solution we presented, it was easy for our salespeople to get their pitch down and start attracting clients."
"So what sort of help did you get?" Ryan asked.
"We brought in a business growth guru to work with us on creating what he calls a brand promise. He told us that the heart of our marketing message had to be a clear statement of the three reasons we truly matter to a customer, and that also make us different from our competitors.
"We used his material, looked at what we were doing differently from our competitors and used the criteria to form the last statement. It's worked well."
"Interesting, I'll look him up online," said Ryan. "Hm. I think we may need to work on revamping our Value Proposition. Actually, I think we need to work on creating one in the first place. It seems such a simple set of statements, though. Does a short pitch like that really make the sale for you?
"Generally, no," Lenny replied. "It's a conversation starter. It needs to be quick and memorable. But it should be rich enough to get the customer interested in moving forward. If they hear you say it, they should want to know more. If they see it in your collateral they should want to go to your website, and if they see it on your home page, they should want to click on specific phrases to dig in further in the site."
"It's also a conversation ender if done correctly," Lenny continued. "If you present it to prospects and they don't relate to the empathy then you know they aren't the right customers for you. That saves you time and resources."
"I like that," Ryan noted. "Is there anything else I need to know about the Value Proposition before we get started on rewriting it?"
Lenny paused to think for a moment. "The key is that the V.P. has to be pervasive. It must be the core of all of your marketing materials, including your website. And make it true and meaningful so your salespeople don't feel conflicted when they go out to sell it. Your people have to make it their own and be consistent in the way they deliver it. If it's not memorable for your sales team, then it's probably not going to be memorable for your clients, either."
Lenny started, and checked his watch. He tossed some twenties on the table and stood up. "Hey, Ryan, I've gotta go. I booked another meeting for after lunch, and I just barely have time to get back to the office."
"Wait! What about the 3500-year-old secret?" Ryan asked.
"Describing the process the right way will take a long time, my friend. I'm happy to share it another time. Next week starts the high holidays, then Sukkoth, and then the fall trade shows... I won't be around for at least six weeks. Tell you what," Lenny said. "You've got a lot to do if you're going to revamp your V.P. Call me when you have it figured out and we'll get together again. Hey, it was really great seeing you, Ryan!"
And with that Lenny left the restaurant.
As the check came (less than Lenny had dropped - apparently he had paid for Ryan's lunch), Ryan looked through the notes he had taken during their discussion. He knew his machine was nowhere near as well oiled as the sales division at Golden Box, and suddenly realized he had a lot of work to do.
"Fine," he thought. Before the CEO of Wolfson Furnishing has reason to fire the current V.P. of Sales and Marketing, Ryan would bring in a new V.P. ...a new Value Proposition, that is.
Copyright 2010 Kevin Daum and Daniel A. Turner. Order your copy of Awesome Roar online at http://www.awesomeroar.com/roar/index.htm
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