Value is at the heart of what every customer wants to buy. If you can't position yourself and your company as a source of value, executives will not want to talk to you. If you can't clarify what that value is to a specific executive, those executives will not take any action and most certainly won't buy. The issue of value is inescapable. Every conversation with an executive, or anyone within the customer's organization for that matter who has any power or influence, must include a conversation about value. The irony is that the more we try to differentiate ourselves by portraying our value through a value proposition, which we present to our prospects, the more we all sound the same.

So the question most of us ask ourselves is how do we fix that? How do we set ourselves apart? First, we take the focus off ourselves and the value we are capable of providing. By the way, that's all a value proposition is -- a description of the value we are capable of providing. A capability is simply not relevant unless and until the executive we wish to engage has a requirement for that value. Take for example the drug Lipitor. Lipitor has the capability to reduce cholesterol levels. It delivers value if you have high cholesterol levels. If you have low cholesterol levels, Lipitor has no value to you.

The problem is that the way most salespeople present their value can often be described as a "value assault." Most salespeople present their value proposition as, "This is the value we provide, this is what it has enabled customers like you to do and you will be able to do the same if..." It is definitely seen as "selling" and therefore, whatever value you suggest it is, the customer is likely to reduce its value because they will assume it is likely exaggerated to make the sale. The second problem is that it leaves it up to the customer to translate that value into elements relevant to their business and their job responsibilities.

Creating value with customers is like helping them work a connect-the-dots puzzle about their business. As we've seen, because of the complexity of problems and solutions today, the value of our solution is rarely obvious to the customer. Instead, they more likely see random elements of solutions, better known as value propositions, and random problems in their business or their job. They have great difficulty connecting those elements together. Additionally, the more complex your solution is, the less likely the customer will take the time to do that translation on their own, and the more likely you'll be sent away.

What is the alternative? How do we help customers "get it?"

The alternative is not to present your value proposition, but rather create and position a "Value Assumption." To explain, the Value Assumption is developed by the sales person, it is specific to a particular customer or prospective customer and it is used as a premise to perform a deeper diagnosis. It becomes a hypothesis regarding the value that may be relevant to this specific prospect and this specific individual. We create value assumptions by focusing on the specific executive we wish to engage and by asking ourselves these questions: "What would this executive be experiencing in the absence of our value? What are the physical signs they would be seeing in their business if they didn't have what our value could provide? What would their direct reports be seeing and what would they see in their measurement and management reporting systems?" We need to make the connections with them and then we can work with their team to make the translation into their business.

This approach of focusing on the value assumption versus presenting a value proposition will begin to differentiate you and your approach from the approach taken by the majority of sales people. By positioning your value as a capability and suggesting it could be explored to be proved or disproved, you are positioning yourself and your company as a credible resource and a professional that would be good to work with. You'll begin to interact on a mutually beneficial exploration of the issues the customer is experiencing and the value you could bring. The likely outcome is a long-term and mutually profitable relationship.