Remove “ity” Words from Your B2B Value Proposition

By Jeff Bennett and Darrin Fleming

value messaging b2b marketing

When building relationships with buyers, it’s important to choose your words carefully. We’re not just referring to small talk or the language of negotiation. We’re talking about the specific words you use to describe your offering and what differentiates it.

A lot of sellers and marketers make the mistake of using what we call “ity” words when attempting to convey the value of their offering. For example:

  • Reliability
  • Quality
  • Durability
  • Flexibility
  • Elasticity
  • Viscosity

We’re not down on these words in general. In fact, depending on who you’re talking to, they can be important descriptors. Although the words above might describe your offering, the problem is that they fail to convey the value of your offering.

For example, let’s say your product increases elasticity by five percent. That’s a fine statement for your messaging. It describes to engineers and technical experts what your product actually does. But it means almost nothing to the people in charge of giving up a budget to purchase your product. Unless you can describe exactly how that five percent increase in elasticity will advance your customer’s business, you’re not going to make the sale based on that statement alone.

The other problem with “ity” words is that they’re relative. Context is everything. For example, some would say that Energizer batteries have a high degree of reliability. But the assumption is that you’ll use that Energizer battery in a toy. If you tried to use it in a space shuttle, would you still be able to say the product is highly reliable?

“Ity” words can also be so vague as to become meaningless. For example, for years, Ford’s slogan was “Quality is Job 1.” But what does that mean? Say you’re in India manufacturing cars, and you call them “high quality” because they last for three years, and that conforms to consumer needs and expectations. If you want to expand to a U.S. market, the claim that you make the “highest quality” cars in India suddenly means something very different, because American consumers have a different expectation about the length of time a car should last.

Similarly, a person buying a Porsche isn’t looking for the same definition of quality as a person buying a four-door sedan. In those cases, quality means different things to different consumers. To translate product features into value, be specific. For example, does quality mean “lasts longer,” “uses the most advanced technologies,” or “requires fewer trips to the service garage”? (For more insight on this topic read “How Does Quality Relate to Value?”.)

Most words that end in “ity” are either so vague or so relative that they fail to usefully convey your value to customers. It’s essential to convey to the customer how your product will impact his or her financial statement. Adjectives might describe your product accurately, but for the purposes of your value proposition, you need to push beyond “ity” words. When you come across these words, ask “why?” several times to understand how this adjective conveys to the customer how your offering will impact his or her business.

Again, we wouldn’t advise removing “ity” words from your messaging, because if you make a material with a high viscosity, that’s something the customer should know. Just remember that you need to be able to push past features and benefits when talking to buyers (and particularly financial buyers) if you want to close the sale.

What adjectives do you use to describe your product when talking to customers? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

[Image: Flickr / Martha Soukup]

Three Ways Marketing Can Help Sales Get More Appointments

By Doyle Slayton

sales and marketing collaboration

The most difficult part of a salesperson’s job is finding interested prospects and getting the appointment.

The solution is in creating prospecting alignment between marketing and sales. We need to be more strategic about our prospecting list. Stop calling everybody and start focusing on real prospects.

Executing on the strategy can appear complicated, highly variable, and overwhelming at first, but teamwork between marketing and sales determines its success.

Here’s a list of 3 ways marketing can help sales get more appointments.

1) Market Research

How many times has a sales manager walked up to a struggling sales rep and asked, “Hey, how are things going today?” and the salesperson responds, “Just doing a little research…”

Of course sales has to do “some research” on individual accounts to figure our why a prospect might be interested… review their personal profilecompany website, market trends, and business intelligence to learn about current initiatives, etc., but it can’t be an all day, or worse, an all week kind of thing. Every minute your sales team spends on research is less time spent on selling.

Great marketing teams take the lead on research and then collaborate with sales on tactical decisions to define a process for identifying and satisfying customer needs. They target buyer personas and common industry challenges to maximize potential opportunities. Next, sales and marketing build a unified messaging program that aligns demand generation with sales prospecting activities.

2) Demand Generation

The first step to building awareness is to determine what questions your customers are asking and look for creative ways to provide answers. Focus around core topics that will intrigue, challenge, and inspire your readers. Be innovative and passionate about covering topics and trends that influence your industry, and share your ideas through a variety of channels and formats.

The best content doesn’t focus “directly” on what your company’s products and services do. Instead, it shares ideas and strategies for solving real business problems. When people like the way your company thinks, they’ll want to do business with you.

3) Follow-Up Strategy

It’s easy for salespeople to get into rut when working the phones, “Hi David, I’m just calling to see where you are in the decision making process…” as a common example.

Develop a collaborative follow-up strategy between marketing and sales. Share the campaign schedule with your sales team and develop a follow up strategy with core messaging sales should use to follow up via phone and email. Provide articles, white papers, case studies, videos, etc. that build upon your core topics and align with the current campaign.

You can change the game by providing the sales rep with value added content that allows them to say, “Hi Karen, the last time we spoke you talked about the overwhelming challenge of executing on new initiatives, I’m sending you a list of seven questions that will help you activate alignment between marketing, sales, and sales operations. I think you’ll find it helpful.”

Track engagement throughout each campaign. Observe which prospects are opening your emails, visiting your website, and engaging on social sites. Sales can take these insights and craft targeted reasons for why the prospect would want to schedule time to meet.

This post appeared originally here on the xoombi blog and is used with permission. 

Doyle Slayton xoombi
Doyle Slayton is an internationally-recognized sales and leadership strategist, speaker, and blogger. He is co-founder of xoombi, a sales acceleration company with the breakthrough software and methodology that aligns marketing, sales, and sales operations. Xoombi helps create elite performance teams that generate high conversion leads and close more new business. 

[Image: Flickr / Yahoo]

Three Tips to Drive Urgency Among B2B Decision Makers

Sometimes the way you talk about a customer’s problem can make all the difference. In our experience, there are lots of ways to encourage prospects to think about their business problems with renewed urgency. The next time you want to light a fire under your prospect, try one of the following conversational approaches.

Tip #1: Highlight the “cost-to-delay.”

The cost-to-delay is how much your prospect is losing per month (or week or year) by not investing in your solution. It’s an easy number to calculate (simply divide the value your solution delivers per year by 12) and can make a huge impact during a sales conversation. The minute you say, “Not doing anything about this problem that our solution solves is costing you $25,000 a month,” the prospect typically starts to think about the situation with new urgency.

value calculator ROI cost to delay

Tip #2: Show the payback period.

Calculating the project’s payback period (the amount of time usually expressed in months before the incoming cash flows from the project exceed the project’s costs) can lower your buyer’s perception of risk. Many buyers often ascribe a shorter payback period with the thought that less can go wrong in the short term. You can use this to your advantage by telling your prospects, for example, “If we start now, you’ll already be ahead three months from now.”

Tip #3: Focus on where you have the biggest impact.

Sometimes you can have more influence with prospects if you focus on only the biggest value drivers in your conversations.

This came to light with one of our clients, Nuance, which offers scanning and printing solutions. One thing we discovered was that the biggest value driver for them is labor savings — using Nuance solutions, companies no longer have to spend as much money on having employees deal with managing paper documents. Nuance was aware that this was one of their value points, but they were weighting this equally with other value points (for example, the savings in paper and print cartridges) in their messaging. By focusing the conversation to pinpoint labor savings (which is a much larger savings in their case), they help prospects understand their solution’s value right away. You can learn more about the Nuance story here.

When deals stall it’s often because the buyer lacks the financial justification for your solution. Using the three tips above can get you back on track to quickly close the deal by proving the buyer with business case necessary to obtain internal budget approval. The next time you face a deal that is seemingly going nowhere try out this approach and let me know your results.

To learn more about how value calculators can increase urgency and drive buyers through the sales cycle faster, visit

How to Credibly Show Revenue Gains in your Business Case


One thing that B2B sellers and marketers always have to contend with is buyer skepticism around proof points — and especially promised revenue gains.

I have previously written on how to handle indirect benefits in a business case (and tips on how to address one specific category, labor savings, is discussed here). But what about sales growth?

Specificity is the key to overcoming a customer’s natural skepticism in this area. If you say you’ll increase sales by one percent, that doesn’t really mean anything to the customer. They might be thinking to themselves, “Yeah, I’ve heard that one before.” By contrast, if you say you can take two weeks off their sales cycle that starts to bring your value proposition into focus and ward off objections. Customers will be more receptive to hearing about removing barriers to closing deals or increasing the number or quality of leads than just about generic promises of revenue increases.

How We Talk about Revenue with Clients

When we talk with customers, we focus on four specific aspects of how ROI-selling can impact revenue instead of talking about generic top line revenue gains.

One, ROI selling increases the number of leads and the quality of leads. Here’s how it works. First, we work with our clients to create a value calculator. Then, the client makes the value calculator available on their website. When prospects visit our client’s website, they can use the value calculator to evaluate whether our client’s offering delivers enough value to be interesting. However, to download the report, prospects must first fill out a registration form, which then goes to our client as a lead. That results in not only more leads for our client but leads that are typically assigned higher lead scores because they have spent the time to evaluate the value of the offering.

Two, ROI selling improves close ratios. Obviously when leads are better qualified, close ratios will also improve. Also, because the tool itself provides a cost justification for purchase, using our tool helps increase the probability that the project will be approved during an internal evaluation. This will also impact close ratios positively.

Three, ROI selling shortens the sales cycle. An ROI tool helps take the legwork out of building business cases via spreadsheets. Less time on preparing a business case means a shorter sales cycle. And the business case compels prospects to make a faster buying decision, especially when you include such metrics as “cost to delay per month” (which we will talk more about in an upcoming post).

Four, ROI selling increases the average selling price of an offering. Value calculators, ROI tools, and the like quantify for buyers the value they can receive from a solution. In turn, this reduces pricing pressure because buyers already believe they are getting a good deal. It can also enable you to quantify the value of add-ons and options, thereby increasing the selling price even further.

Only when the specific impact on the buying process is established can you credibly show how your offering will increase sales revenue. The conversation then turns to, “What impact on sales would more and better qualified leads have? What if your close ratio was higher and your sales cycle shorter?”

One final point on revenue growth. Be prepared for the prospect to still push back and discount the impact of revenue gains. Lots of things need to happen to achieve revenue growth and typically the company is already engaged in many activities designed to increase revenue. It is OK to show the total potential revenue increase, but you need to allow the prospect to discount the net result to ensure that both they and the project approvers will believe it. Since revenue gains will usually have the largest impact of any type of benefit, even discounting it by 50% or more will still likely result in significant value.

It is fine to show top line growth using case studies from your other customers as part of the discussion, but I believe you’ll get better traction if you tie those proof points to the process changes that drove that revenue growth (shortened sales cycles, better leads, etc.). That is the best way to justify the cost of your solution and show the customer the level of value your offering can deliver.

Does your offering enable revenue gains for your customers? If so, how have you been able to convince prospects of the revenue gains? 

[Image: Flickr / Spike55151]

How Much Does Brand Awareness Matter?

Recently I read a MarketingProfs blog post reporting that business decision-makers are 10% more likely to consider B2B brands that consumers know and feel connected to.

The report, which was based on data from a survey of 9,500 global consumers and 450 business decision-makers, included some interesting charts and categorized companies in four ways.

  • Known, but not relevant
  • Highly relevant
  • Limited relevance
  • Not relevant

According to the blog post “relevant” meant that consumers knew the companies and felt an attachment to them. “Known but not relevant” meant customers recognize the name but aren’t sure what the company does and do not feel a strong connection to the brand.

I found it interesting to compare some of the companies on the “known but not relevant list” to ones on the “highly relevant” list.

Known but not relevant


Highly relevant


Namely, I thought it was interesting that BASF landed in the “known but not relevant” quadrant. Does anyone else remember the old BASF commercials? The tagline was, “We don’t make a lot of the products you buy. We make a lot of the products you buy, better.”

I’m sure BASF has spent tens of millions of dollars on advertising campaigns; if their goal was to raise brand awareness, it worked. If their goal was to raise awareness and create a sense of connection with consumers, then they fell short (at least according to this one study).

In a B2B setting, I do think awareness and relevance can help you. But it will generally only help you get a seat at the table. In B2C, that brand awareness is absolutely crucial, because people will buy based on brand. But, as we’ve said before, B2B buyers care more about value than branding. My belief is that B2B branding — whether in the form of positioning, messaging, colors, slogan, logo, advertising, brand strategy, or any other form of promotion — will only be effective in the long run if it supports a company’s true value proposition.

Are companies that have good brand awareness more successful? According to the study:

Besides increasing the likelihood of purchase, high consumer awareness was also linked to better financial performance: When the 10 most-known B2B brands examined were compared with the 10 least-known, those with high consumer awareness had 27% more growth in stock value between 2010 and 2013, and 31% greater growth in revenue.

I’m not sure the data in this study is enough to prove that brand awareness causes high revenues and stock value. I think there might be a correlation (where variables move together), but not causation (where one variable causes another to move). In this case, correlation doesn’t imply causation. The companies with strong value propositions end up being more successful resulting in a stronger brand, not the other way around. Success is not caused by brand, brand is the result of success. In a B2B world, brand is the result of the sum total of the market’s experience, and therefore not the cause of success.

For example, consider Google and Microsoft, both of which landed in the “highly relevant” category. Google doesn’t do much advertising. But they don’t need to, because they’re Google. Same with Microsoft, which spends relatively little on advertising, given the size of the company. (Microsoft spends less than 1% of sales on advertising whereas P&G spends greater than 11% of sales.) Yet almost every PC (except those from Apple) shows a Microsoft logo when you fire it up.

I’m not saying that building a brand name doesn’t help sales. But saying that spending lots of money on branding is going to increase your sales is a bit off the mark. Even if that’s true, it’s going to cost a lot of money — and who’s to say there aren’t other, more valuable areas of the business you could choose to invest?

It comes back to this: Branding is not the same thing as advertising. Your brand is the sum total of everything you do. And, if that’s the case, of course the companies with the best brand — the best overall experience — will have the highest sales. What’s the real takeaway from that? I would argue that it isn’t to invest a lot of money in brand awareness. It’s to be the best company — the best sum total experience.

Think of it this way. You can’t take a bad company with bad products and go out and try to improve your brand by advertising and promoting it because that will just accelerate the awareness that your products aren’t valuable. In a B2B environment, success comes from delivering value and creating something that people want to buy. If you have those two things first, branding will likely help you get a seat at the table. But it won’t necessarily help you close more business.

Which do you think matters more, brand awareness or value? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Why Having an ROI Calculator Is Good for Sales

I truly believe in the power of ROI tools and value calculators to help generate better, more qualified leads for B2B marketers and enhance a B2B salesperson’s ability to close a deal. (If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be in the business of selling them.)

So when I read Jean-Marc Bellot’s blog post, “Why You Should Get Rid of Your ROI Calculator,” last month on LinkedIn, I felt compelled to put together a response.

Here is a summary of his points:

  1. Putting an ROI tool on your website assumes that all customers are identical.
  2. Having an ROI tool on your website provides your prospects with the justification to buy from your competitors.
  3. Encouraging your salespeople to use your ROI calculator encourages them to make “really stupid statements.”
  4. Reducing the concept of value creation to a calculator decreases the customers buying experience and castrates sales.
  5. For a customer, ROI calculation is not an event, but a process.

Let’s examine these points one by one.

Point 1: Putting an ROI tool on your website assumes that all customers are identical.

It’s true that no two customers are alike. The thing is, good ROI calculators actually account for that fact.

A good value/ROI calculator is built to help a prospect decide if a given solution is a sound economic investment. That means the tool incorporates industry and benchmark data; but it also allows the prospect to modify any data inputs or assumptions to make the calculation reflect the economic realities that drive his or her business.

Takeaway: Look for an ROI tool that provides the ability to modify the inputs, not one with hidden assumptions and blind calculations of value.

Point 2: Having an ROI tool on your website provides your prospects with the justification to buy from your competitors.

So, prospects are using your ROI calculator to research pricing and then they end up buying from your competitors? If this is the case, I’m not sure your ROI tool is the problem.

When you think about market definitions, you’ve got two ends of the spectrum to consider. On one end, you have sales teams that sell absolute commodities. In this environment, competitors all deliver the same amount of value. In that case, the lowest-cost competitor should always win. Any company that invests in an ROI calculator on their website to help prospects evaluate their purchase decision in a commoditized market is wasting money. (After all, you don’t need a calculator to tell you which company offers the lowest price.)

On the other end of the spectrum, you have companies that provide differentiated offerings that deliver more value relative to the competition. In that case, the value calculator or ROI tool only emphasizes why the prospect should buy from you. (Unless you do not, in fact, offer the value you think you do.)

Takeaway: If your offering delivers value differently than your competition, a value calculator on your web site is one of the best ways to communicate that value, generate buyer interest, and capture leads.

Point 3: Encouraging your salespeople to use your ROI calculator provides them with an incentive to make “really stupid statements.”

No respectable tool incentivizes salespeople to make stupid statements.

That’s because a well-built value calculator or ROI tool doesn’t make any absolute or fixed assumptions about the value that will be delivered. Instead, it provides the salesperson with a tool to have a discussion with the customer about the problems that they are having and how their solution could

  1. solve those problems,
  2. provide value to their business, and
  3. justify the investment in the proposed solution.

We’ve written before on our blog about how some sales teams put the focus on the wrong benefit with certain customers (for example, serving up “labor savings” as a benefit to companies that, for a variety of reasons, really aren’t interested in labor savings). Salespeople definitely need a basic level of business acumen to understand these kinds of trade-offs that customers make. However, they should not be expected to become financial experts.

Takeaway: If your ROI tool causes the salesperson to make a “stupid statement,” then it isn’t an effective tool and should be updated.

Point four: Reducing the concept of “value creation” to a calculator decreases the customers buying experience and castrates sales.

Customers are now in the mode of conducting the majority of their buying process online before ever talking to a salesperson. Consider these statistics.

  • A CEB study of more than 1,400 B2B customers across industries revealed that 57% of a typical purchase decision is made before a customer even talks to a supplier.
  • Sirius Decisions research indicates that 67% of B2B buyers begin their purchasing journey online.
  • Other B2B sales and marketing experts have put this figure as high as 92%.

The bottom line is, if you aren’t providing tools to help a customer learn more about you and what you can offer, you are likely being eliminated before they even talk to you. It is hard for me to imagine a better way to castrate sales then to not allow them to talk to over 50% of prospective buyers.

Takeaway: Any tool you can put online to help prospects make their buying decision — especially if it helps them to understand why they should purchase your offering — is a good thing.

Point five: For a customer, ROI calculation is not an event, but a process.

That’s true. Many companies treat the business case analysis (or ROI analysis) as a one-time event, but every business decision should be evaluated continually. Once you make the investment in a solution, however, the cost of that initial investment becomes sunk cost and is no longer relevant in the ongoing analysis of the investment.  However, vendors can use ROI tools at renewal time to justify the ongoing investment in their solution.

Takeaway: Every company should continually evaluate the performance of its investments and ROI tools can aid in that ongoing evaluation.

What’s your take on the value of ROI calculators in your marketing and sales process? Please share your thoughts in the comments section. 

How Can You Create the Most Value for Your Customers?

If you’re in B2B sales or marketing, it’s your job to understand the prospect’s business well enough to know exactly how you can deliver value. In other words, you need to know where the big drivers of value exist within your customers’ businesses. Let’s take a simple example.

Suppose that you sell an offering into a manufacturing environment and your typical customer’s income statement looks something like this:

Income Statement Impact








Now imagine that your offering, depending on which features you use and how you choose to deploy it, could have several impacts. For example, it could:

  • Increase customer’s sales volume
  • Increase customer’s average selling price
  • Decrease customer’s raw material cost
  • Decrease customer’s manufacturing labor
  • Decrease customer’s other manufacturing cost
  • Decrease customer’s SG&A

So, which of the above benefits should you focus on? One way to think about it is to estimate the magnitude of the value created for each of the potential impacts. For instance, if each of the benefits listed above would yield a 1% improvement, the net impact would break down as follows:

Magnitude of valueFrom this perspective, you can see that you can achieve the highest possible value for this type of customer by focusing on increasing their average selling price. The lowest value you offer is in the area of “other manufacturing costs.” If you want to showcase the highest value possible to your customer, then you should prioritize your offering’s benefits in the following order:

  1. Average selling price
  2. Raw material cost
  3. Sales volume
  4. Manufacturing labor
  5. SG&A
  6. Other manufacturing cost

This sounds pretty straightforward, but I guarantee that many sellers and marketers are engaging in various self-defeating behaviors by choosing to focus on features that create little or no net value. For example, sometimes engineering will focus on developing products that reduce raw material costs, despite the fact that you could develop or enhance an existing offering that will have a greater impact on the customer’s average selling price. Or, sales will pitch the benefits of a 1% improvement in sales volume, when in fact your highest value proposition is in the area of “manufacturing labor.”

Remember that each customer will have a different financial framework, so it makes sense to constantly reevaluate the order in which you prioritize the benefits of your offering. Whether you’re working on closing a deal with a prospect or looking to develop new features or products, you must first understand where you have the most potential to provide the highest value possible for your customer.

In an upcoming post we’ll explore a related issue: creating a sense of urgency by highlighting the biggest sources of value.