All sales professionals defend their indispensability by saying the “people buy from people”. Yet when it comes to the value that we present, most of the value propositions are corporate, sterile, and financial–anything but personal.

  1. I can save you money
  2. We can drive more productivity
  3. We can streamline accounts receivable
  4. We can solve _______ problem

All of these benefits are valuable, but they are relatively powerless until we connect them to the deeper motivations–the things the prospect really values.

There is always a deeper motivation behind every decision.

What’s really driving behavior? What could compel someone to change?

One way to get insight into what buyers want is to consider the product adoption curve. In Crossing the Chasm, Making High Tech Mainstream (one of my all-time favorite books) Geoffrey Moore reminds us all of the product adoption curve.

Is your buyer an early adopter, a mainstream buyer, or a laggard? Their position on this spectrum gives an indication of what they value.

Early Adopters Value Innovation

In This Is MarketingSeth Godin calls these people neophiliacs. They like novelty. They search out new experiences. They want to go first.

“Neophiliacs want hope and possibly magic. They want the thrill of it working and the risk that it might not. They want the pleasure of showing their innovation to the rest of the crew. And they want the satisfaction of doing better work faster, as well as the anticipation of being rewarded for their innovation and productivity.”

How do you recognize an early adopter? They want to know what’s new. They have a reputation for going first. They have the latest technologies. They comment on your LinkedIn shares about future trends.

As an early adopter, I love the latest and greatest. I love thinking about new ways to do things. When I buy something for myself or my businesses, I’m looking for a partner that understands my need to be first and make changes. The real value to me is a company and a sales person that brings me the latest ideas.

Your early adopter prospects value ideas. They want to know that they’ll be first. They value a partner that stays on the cutting edge. When they do buy something from you, they value recognition.

Mainstream Buyers Value Security

The bulk of the product adoption curve are the mainstream buyers. Do you have any prospects or clients who are skeptical? Let me guess–about 80% of them. These are the people in the middle of the product adoption curve.

Mainstream buyers want to avoid getting in trouble with the boss. They are prudent, afraid of doing anything that might bring too much risk into the organization. Seth says, “They want to avoid trouble. And if trouble does happen, they want an airtight alibi and a great way to avoid responsibility.”

The driving motivation behind the mainstream buyer is security. They don’t want to go first. Instead, they want to know other people have adopted the solution you’re recommending. This is why case studies are so critical to reaching the bulk of the market. (Why You Need Case Studies)

Your mainstream buyers are skeptical. They want security. They need guarantees. They need to know that you’re not alone and that you’ll back them up.

Laggards Value The Good Old Days

The tail end of the product adoption curve drives me mad. These people don’t want to do anything.

If they could, they’d still be using a car phone hardwired to their car while they wait for the typewritten contract to come in on their fax machine. I have no time for these people. However, we do need to sell to them.

They truly want yesterday’s (or last decade’s) technology. They live with nostalgia in the past. They are fossils that probably will have trouble paying their bills as they slowly erode into nothingness.

Fortunately, these people only represent about 5% of the market. So, when you run into one, don’t waste too much time. If you do have to sell something, offer them a reconditioned version of a previous generation of technology. They’ll value the relic and relish in the good deal they just got.

Bonus: Dominance of Affiliation

Overarching these stages of the product adoption cycle is another important distinction. Seth Godin calls this dominance or affiliation.

Some buyers value dominance. “They want to win. And if they can’t win, they might be willing to settle for watching their opponent lose!”

Does your buyer have trophies all over the wall? Are they a driven personality, focussed on the high level details and bottom line. These people value dominance. Show them how your offering helps them win.

Other buyers value affiliation. “They want to fit in, to be in sync, to feel the pleasure of people like us do things like this without the risk of being picked to be the leader.”

Is your prospect social? Do they want to bring other people into the decision making process to “make sure it’s a good fit” for the team. Then you probably have a buyer that values affiliation. Show them how your offering will fit well in the team and make everyone succeed together.

Value Is In The Eye of The Beholder

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” So is value. As sales professionals and marketers we need to dig deeper behind the “features, advantages, and benefits” of our offering to communicate value in a way our prospect appreciates.

Larry Levine

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