Phoning Your Way To Strong Value Propositions

A strong value proposition answers the questions posed by desirable customers.

What do you do? – Uniquely well? – For me?

Your answers create a compelling Product/Desired Customer Fit


Strong value propositions help you choose the right opportunity for your product concept

Gather, through conversations with potential customers, information on expressed and latent needs associated with painful problems your concept can solve. Then sift the information for patterns fitting a high priority opportunity for desirable customers to gain relief by switching to your new product.

For each opportunity where your concept can solve an urgent and painful problem, build a strong value proposition. Then build a strong value proposition for the current solution used by desirable customers. Compare each opportunity against the current solution.  Choose for commercial development, the opportunity where you can profitably switch customers from their current solution.

Gathering and sifting information from desirable customers on their expressed and latent needs

Our experience is that telephone conversations with 40 desirable customers will gather the information for building a value proposition strong enough to move out of the fuzzy front end of B2B concepts. The conversations use the technique of elicitation, not the techniques of survey or standard interviews.

Relevant information is sifted from conversations with desirable customers in bordering, new, or existing markets for the concept. These customers are chosen randomly from more than 200 desirable customers.

“As a rule of thumb, prepare to interview 30 to 60 people over a six-week period”
Ash Maurya “Getting Ready to Interview Customers”  Running Lean, 2nd Edition,     (2012)

Listen to people who dislike the product concept. Often this draws out a major latent need … a job-to-be-done … they and others have. Elicit most of the information from strangers. They are often more open and provide more objective information than professional acquaintances.

Case Study: Satisfying a latent job-to-be-done in a mature market

The client, a European-based multinational, wanted to improve market share in the North American market for their specialty opacifier sold to the paper industry. Their distributor’s sales force said North American customers wanted a specialty opacifier with higher opacity for a given weight. The client’s process for manufacturing the opacifier was different from competitors. The process could, at an increased cost, produce an opacifier with the needed feature.

The client hired me to elicit information on marketplace acceptance of the new opacifier. Eighteen interviews with potential customers produced strong evidence they would not pay more for improved opacity.

However, during the nineteenth interview the respondent, a paper mill superintendent, surprised me by saying “There is no way I’d switch to your un-named client’s new product”. I asked him “Why”. He said “Because our mills use the only one that is both an opacifier and a frictionizer”.

“Why is that important?” I asked. “Because a frictionizer keeps the paper on the roll from slipping and building up a small bump”. “As the rolls revolve and take up paper, that small bump will build up into a huge bump that will shake the machine apart”. “You can put a frictionizer on in a separate step as most of our competitors do but that adds to the cost.”

“What is this unique opacifier you use?” I asked.  He identified it as my client’s current offering!

For the remaining twenty-one interviews I carefully verified that the nineteenth respondent’s observation was not common knowledge in the paper industry. By observation and a lot of hands on experience, he realized he could use this mature product for a latent job-to-be-done1 instead of using two products. The client built a strong value proposition using this fresh insight and improved their market share without changing their product.

Gathering and sifting intuitive information involves both skill and experience

Since 1985 I have quickly, through telephone elicitation, gathered and sifted fresh insights about …

  •  Who desirable customers are.
  •  What your product concept will do for them.
  • Why they will switch from current offerings.

1. Clayton Christensen, Scott Anthony, Gerald Berstell, Denise Nitterhouse “Finding the Right Job for Your Product” Sloan Management Review pp. 58-67 (Spring 2003 Issue)