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 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 https://tools.estimatebusinessvalue.com/stratavant/ValueCalculator/Home/Home.

Test Your Credibility as a Sales or Marketing Professional

Last week we published some thoughts from RainToday editor Michelle Davidson, who offered three great points about what buyers want from sellers and marketers. The very first point she made was that buyers want to deal with knowledgeable sales and marketing teams. As she stated, today’s buyer has no need or patience for a sales pitch. They want answers, analysis, and advice.

Image via freedigitalphotos.net / samuiblue

Image via freedigitalphotos.net / samuiblue

This is a message we are passionate about and feel it cannot be stated often enough: trust in B2B selling and marketing is built on credibility.

In the past, knowledge mostly meant knowing everything about your product or solution (as well as that of your competitor). And credibility was about how you acted — prospects preferred to buy from vendors who were helpful, honest, and delivered on their promises.

Those things still matter, of course. But credibility today now encompasses knowledge of a more sophisticated nature. As I wrote in a blog post last year, I believe buyers now take for it granted that you’ll include a business case as part of your sales pitch or proposal. I believe credible sellers and marketers are those who can answer “yes” to the following questions:

  1. Do you understand your prospect’s business challenges and do you have tools to help you express those business challenges in financial terms?
  2. Do you understand how to highlight business/financial challenges the prospect has but might not be aware of?
  3. Can you demonstrate an awareness of how the prospect’s options (buying from a competitor, doing nothing, or buying from you) compare to one another?
  4. Can you talk about ROI knowledgably with the Chief Financial Officer and/or CEO?

Beyond looking for integrity in all the traditional realms, buyers today trust vendors who can demonstrate this level of business acumen. Today, you must help prospects see their problems, envision solutions, overcome internal objections to investing in your solution, and achieve measurable results. That is how we need to start thinking about credibility as sellers and marketers.

How well do you score on the credibility scale? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Read This before You Talk about ROI

How frequently do you use the term “ROI” in front of customers and potential buyers?

I frequently hear sales and marketing professionals talk about “ROI” inaccurately. In a casual conversation, people might still give you the benefit of the doubt and have faith that you know your stuff. However, if you’re making a formal presentation or having a serious conversation with a prospect who’s well versed in financial terminology, any misuse of the term could obviously leave a disastrous impression about you and your company.

For example, I hear both sellers and marketers say things like this all the time:

“Your ROI is $100,000.”

Why this is incorrect: If you’ve ever expressed ROI in terms of dollars, you’ve likely confused ROI with net present value (NPV). NPV answers the question, “What is the cash benefit minus the expenses required to achieve the benefit worth in today’s dollars?” ROI is not a dollar amount — it’s a percentage. Specifically, it’s a percentage that represents what your net gain will be on any investment.

ROI = Gain of Investment – Cost of Investment / Cost of Investment

In other words, if your benefit is $100 but you spend $50 to achieve that benefit, your ROI is 100%.

NPV is still an important consideration because the term takes into account the value of a dollar over time. Obviously a dollar today is worth less than a dollar five years from now. Let’s say you invest $100,000, with an expected return of $120,000 within the next two months. That investment would be worth more to you than an investment of the same amount of money, with an expected return of $120,000 five years from now. The reason is that $120,000 is worth more two months from now than it will be five years from now.

Speaking of periods of time, I’ve also heard sellers and marketers say things like this:

“You’ll get a six-month ROI with our solution.”

Why this is incorrect: If you’ve ever expressed ROI in terms of a period of time, you’ve likely confused ROI with payback period. Again, ROI is always a percentage — never a period of time.  If I invest $100,000 in a project, the payback is the length of time it takes for the cumulative benefits to become greater than the cumulative investment.  Payback period is always measured in time (typically months).

During my first job out of college as an engineer, I became an economic evaluator. That meant part of my job was to evaluate capital investments and decide whether they represented a good investment for the company (including evaluating the payback period, NPV, and ROI). So that was where I learned a lot about financial analysis and how to talk about numbers with CFOs.

The magic of these financial metrics is that together they give you a great picture of the impact of an investment. Essentially, you can measure ROI on anything. The formula is simply to subtract the cost of your investment from the gain of your investment, and divide it by the cost of your investment. That’s how we’re able to build ROI calculators for so many different scenarios for our clients.

People confuse financial terms all the time, so if you’ve gotten this one wrong in the past, don’t feel bad. Just don’t let it jeopardize your ability to close a deal.

What’s your understanding of the term “ROI,” and how frequently does it crop up in your discussions with prospects and clients? Share your thoughts in the comments section. 

Three Ways to Rev Up Your B2B Demand Gen Results with Online Calculators

Most marketers would agree—effective business-to-business demand generation revolves around three tenets:

  • Customize the message,
  • Encourage involvement,
  • Demonstrate financial benefits.

Fortunately, online value calculators meet all three of these masters. In fact, every day, sales reps use these calculators to successfully shorten the sales cycle and close deals. And many (if not most) B2B marketers have a calculator or two parked on their corporate websites.

But imagine the power of online value calculators when they are put directly in front of a larger group of prospects. Easy-to-use calculators that ask a few simple questions are a great way to help your prospects take the first step in understanding the value your solution can bring to their business. They can help you:

1. Spark an immediate reaction that generates more leads. As offers go, online calculators are uniquely engaging; prospects often find themselves interacting with the tool before they know it. Whether you ask your respondent to profile before using the calculator to maximize lead collection, or require them to profile to download a summary report to optimize lead quality, calculators are a proven way to generate stronger click-through and response rates than other, more traditional offers.

2. Engage prospects in ways that improve lead quality and conversion. A prospect who has used your online value calculator now understands your solution and its potential value to his or her business. Although other forms of online content (such as white papers, videos and infographics, for example) can be effective offers, they don’t have the power to provide a custom assessment of your solution’s financial benefits.

Engaging email featuring an online calculator.

Engaging email featuring an online calculator.


3. Cultivate existing leads and thus shorten the sales cycle.
In addition to lead generation, online value calculators are ideal for use as part of lead nurturing. Exposure to one of these tools can take top-of-funnel leads and move them along the lead qualification spectrum by demonstrating to them the specific financial upside of your solution.


Ultimately, the best way to make the most of your online value calculator is to build a demand generation campaign around the tool. First, create a microsite to host the calculator and tell your marketing story. Drive prospects to the microsite by promoting it on your corporate website, promotional microsites, or in third-party media buys. Showcase the online calculator in email to cross-sell and up-sell current customers and prospects, or feature it in lead nurture streams. Plus, include links to your online calculator in your online user communities and social media properties.

No matter how you target your customers and prospects, a demand generation program built around an online calculator is an ideal way to ensure a wider audience has every opportunity to understand the true value of your solution.

Is it your experience that online calculators are more successful than other offers? Have demand generation campaigns focused around the tool provided a boost to your results. Share your thoughts in the comments section.

This article was written by Linda Lucido, Partner and Planning Director of Integrated Marketing Partners (www.imarketingpartners.com).

Helping Prospects Visualize the Need for Change: The Halogen Story

Sometimes the earliest stage in the buying process isn’t when a prospect realizes he or she has a problem. It’s a nagging feeling they have about the status quo. Even though things are going well, they still feel they could somehow be better.

This is an opportunity for sellers and marketers. Your job is to paint a vision of what “better” looks like (including, hopefully, the idea that your product or solution can help them get there).

One of my clients, Halogen Software, decided to help its target market of HR managers identify ways they could improve their succession-planning strategies. The challenge for Halogen’s typical prospect is: how can we identify, develop, and retain a talented workforce? Halogen’s succession planning software solves this problem by easily allowing users to:

  1. Understand their workforce’s potential
  2. Develop internal talent pools,
  3. Recruit successors from within.

We worked with Halogen to create a succession planning assessment tool that would give prospects an idea of their status quo, and show them areas for possible improvement.

The tool essentially asks prospects “How does your succession planning strategy stack up?” by taking users through a 20 question self-assessment. Each question elicits rankings, ranging from “Not at All” to “Very Well.” The tool then provides a score to show users how well their organization is doing in succession planning (scores appear in four areas: identification, assessment, development, and management). Users can download a report that features their scores, plus tailored recommendations for improvement based on best practices extrapolated from Rothwell & Associates research.

Use an assessment tool to help prospects visualize the need for change

When prospects understand their shortcomings, they respond more urgently to invitations to try new solutions and find new ways to improve. Because Halogen offers this assessment tool on its web site, the company paves the way to have more effective conversations with prospects that now have an idea about how they can go from good to better.

What’s your biggest challenge in getting prospects to engage with you? Do you use assessment tools to paint a vision of success? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

ROI Selling: Four Opportunities to Advance Your Sale

When customers make a purchase, they typically go through a few different stages. As a seller or marketer, your job is to help shepherd the customer through these stages quickly and efficiently.

Based on our experience, here are the four most common stages of buyer purchasing behavior, plus the tools you can use to advance the sale to the next stage.

1. Customer assesses the problem.

In this stage, the customer is trying to assess the problem and figure out how their performance compares against benchmarks. At this stage, a simple assessment tool can help customers get a feel for how they’re performing in the market.

(To capture more leads from your website, provide visitors with an assessment tool.)

2. Customer quantifies the value of the problem.

At this stage, the customer is saying, “This solution looks interesting … but is it worth it to me to implement it?”

This is when sellers and marketers must quantify the value of the problem for prospective buyers. In other words, if the prospect were to solve this problem, how much money will they either be able to potentially make or save by doing so?

It’s important to note that when customers quantify value, they’re simply trying to figure out how big the problem is. Is this a two million dollar problem, or a 10 million dollar problem? (Note that you’re not yet discussing how much investment it will take to fix the problem — that happens at the “justify the cost of making a purchase” stage, explained further below in this list).

(To capture more leads from your website, provide visitors with a value calculator. )

3. Customer compares alternative solutions.

Frequently (but not always) customers reach a stage where they want to compare offerings. Essentially, at this stage you’re trying to show the customer why this company should buy from you and no one else. Your Company has one offering; XYZ Company has a similar one: which one is best?

At this point, we advise using a TCO (total cost of ownership) tool, which will provide calculations showing the value of one solution over another, over the same time period.

(To close more competitive deals, provide your sales team with a TCO tool. )

4. Customer justifies the investment.

One of the final questions a customer will ask is, “Is there a cost justification for me to make this investment?” In other words, the customer wants to know what the return on the investment will be if he or she buys your solution.

Unlike the stage above in which the customer assesses value of the problem, this stage identifies the cost involved in investing in a solution to that problem. In other words, the problem could cost $5 million, but if the solution requires $10 million to solve, the company should probably address another area or spend resources elsewhere. On the other hand, a problem that costs $2 million and only would cost $150,000 to solve would be worth doing something about. (A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself whether or not you’ve made a case that will cause any Chief Financial Officer to sign off on a major expenditure.)

(To close more deals rather than losing to “no decision” provide your sales team with an ROI calculator.)

Many sellers and marketers won’t have to use all of these tools — very commonly our clients end up using just two or three tools in combination. For instance, a TCO tool is not really of interest unless you’re losing lots of bids to competitors. Similarly, if you’re losing business to “no decision,” or only have a 10% close rate on a large funnel of opportunities, then you need an ROI tool to help you justify the cost of investing in your solution.

Also, not all customers go through each of these stages. Some customers, for example, go straight from “quantify value” to “justify investment.” (In fact, a value calculator plus an ROI calculator is what we most commonly deliver for our clients.)

What’s your biggest selling/marketing challenge, and what tools are you using to overcome it? Share your thoughts in the comments section.