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Why Buy You?: A Messaging Framework for B2B Startups

TL;DR

In a highly competitive enterprise market, there’s always a fit-in/stand-out challenge.

    You need to fit into what customers need or there’s no budget for what you offer. At the same time, you need to differentiate to win deals. Great messaging accomplishes both goals.

Business value quantifies the benefits of your product by three to four value drivers that either generate revenue or decrease costs for the customer.

    That’s it. If your product doesn’t help drive top-line growth or expense reduction, it’s worthless. And, of course, your company needs to create more business value than the competition to win the deal. You may want to invest in paying a consultant to interview your customers, figure out your business value drivers in detail, quantify the benefits, and prepare a spreadsheet calculator. If you don’t have the budget, you can create your own simple spreadsheet calculator. (Keep reading for instructions.)

The 6 primary steps to build a story about your product that wins customers:

    • Start with an authentic founder insight
    • Align on shared view of impact
    • Connect problem to business urgency
    • Frame new approach to solve the problem
    • Prove unique value

If you've worked through Why Buy Anything? and Why Buy Now?, we hope you're aligned on beliefs about your enterprise product. We also hope you have an understanding of how the impact of the identified changes has created a critically important need from customers that they cannot find an answer to any other way. 

Now you need to propose a new approach for solving the problem that meets the critical needs in Why Buy Anything? and Why Buy Now? AND demonstrates that your company is uniquely qualified to be the best solution for this new approach.

Put in formula terms, Why Buy You? is:

 

Required capabilities
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Your unique offering and value

 

Required capabilities

The best way to think about required capabilities is basically what a customer would put on an RFP. Or how Gartner would define requirements for a Magic Quadrant. It’s how the customer envisions solving the problem. There may be multiple vendors who meet this basic requirement.

 

Here’s a simple example: You and your spouse are having your first child and you decide you need a bigger, safer vehicle in short order because your small car that you currently own won’t work (eg., Why Buy Anything? and Why Buy Now?). Now you need to decide between an SUV or minivan, what child safety and family features are important, and how much you’re willing to spend. That’s required capabilities.

 

Next you head down to auto row and start the evaluation process. You’re looking to see which vendor exceeds your expectations the most. Some options have luxury stereo systems, others have better child safety features. Some get better gas mileage. And then there’s price — which car is the better value? Essentially in this phase, the customer is looking to see which vendor provides the most functionality for the lowest price. 

 

There’s a tricky turn in the story here. After Why Buy Now?, a prospect should be receptive to something new. But try NOT to jump straight to how your company solves the problem. There’s an element of thought leadership embedded in how you designed your product that should come out in this part of the narrative. You’re trying to set the table vs. competitive approaches so you are the best option to consider. Maybe your cloud-first approach makes your product easier-to-use.  Maybe your product provides visibility to some new problem that wasn’t important before.

When I worked for Okta, we latched on to "best of breed" vs. "integrated stack" as a core part of our approach. Customers liked thinking about how they regain control of products they choose vs. a vendor dictating what software to use. Again, you know the conversation is moving well when the prospect starts leading you to capabilities you’re about to reveal.

 

In short, there is a how to think about solving the problem before why a customer should choose you.

Your product’s unique offering and value

Let's move onto the specifics of your product. Every product marketer loves their messaging pillars — three to five "buckets" of product goodness that magically solve your customers' urgent problem. But to get there, you’ll want to take an iterative process — a bottom-up and top-down approach. For ease of reference for the bottom-up approach, I’ll use Okta’s single sign-on product as an example.

 

For bottom-up, you’re collecting an inventory of features that your product offers and grouping those features into concepts to simplify how to explain the product to a customer since there are usually too many features to discuss in one meeting. There should be no mystery or art to this part of the process — that comes in the top-down part of message development:

 

Features: the most granular level of product capability


“Web Portal” is a good example of an Okta product feature — a single pane of glass for users to access all their apps. I suggest creating a Google spreadsheet and sitting down with engineering / product management for this exercise.

Essentially, this is the handshake agreement for marketing and product management to describe any product. This spreadsheet could also include SKU and feature flag–level detail. That is, one “feature” may have many feature flags associated with them from an engineering perspective. But since customers don’t buy feature flags — they buy features — the feature is the lowest level unit of messaging.

Concepts: a group of features that customers would logically understand if presented during a first meeting

 
“Customizable User Experience” is a concept that includes the Web Portal feature above.  

 

Top-down, the next step is to cluster concepts into pillars. 

Pillars


Pillars are the highest level of product messaging and need to be developed using a “MECE” approach — mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive. No concept or feature should sit under more than one pillar, and the pillars should come together to tell a complete product story. So, SSO has four core pillars:

  • “Always-On Single Sign-on”
  • “Customizable User Experience”
  • “Secure Directory with Integration”
  • “Real-time Security Reporting”

Pillars are organized to lead with the most important feature and end with the "back of house" reporting feature. 

 

Pillars should be differentiated wherever possible. At Citrix, we used a three-point scale to determine differentiation of a particular pillar:

  • Table stakes: required capabilities that everyone has and where there’s no clear uniqueness
  • Competitive differentiators: everyone has the capability, but your company does it better
  • Purple cows: your company provides this capability and no one else has it

Table-stakes: required capabilities that everyone and where there’s no clear uniqueness. 

Competitive differentiators: everyone has the capability, but your company does it better

Purple cows: your company provides this capability and no one else has it

 

The goal, of course, is that over time, "table stakes" features become more differentiators and the company develops more "purple cow" capabilities and product. In the early days, however, some juggling of concepts into different pillars may be needed to beef up the competitiveness of pillars that need more differentiation. 

 

Continuing on the Citrix example, when we entered the market for mobility management, we had to redefine what was at the time a very crowded category. To differentiate from other mobile device management (“MDM”) vendors, we came up with a new term called “enterprise mobility management” (EMM). EMM was MDM plus app management and data management. We did this because we had unique app security capabilities and had acquired ShareFile, which was essentially Dropbox for enterprise. Here’s how we ranked the capabilities in our messaging source document:

 

  • Mobile Device Management: table stakes. Everyone has it, no one had a big advantage
  • Mobile App Management: differentiated. We put a security "wrapper" around applications that protected them from security breaches. Not unique to us but the easy wrapping capabilities were novel.
  • Mobile Data Management: purple cow. No mobility vendor offered a secure Dropbox-like capability. We generated 70% of our mobility sales based on this unique capability.

 

The best part? The term “EMM” was adopted by Gartner, Forrester, and the rest, and really took off. In a highly competitive market, there’s always a fit-in/stand-out challenge. You need to fit into what all customers need or there’s no budget for what you offer. At the same time, you need to differentiate to win deals. Great messaging accomplishes both goals.

 

As an aid to help messaging development, see this Customer Storytelling: Why Buy Now Worksheet. This tool provides a good way to organize all of your company and product-level messaging. The entire document doesn’t need to be done all at once, but at a minimum, going through the bottom-up / top-down exercise to define capabilities will result in a nicely defined product that stands out from the competition.

 

Proving business value

Finally, and most importantly, we look at the business value that your company offers. This is where the rubber meets the road and where, ideally, you’re able to quantify the benefit of your solution to a customer. 

 

I never really understood the power of business value until I worked for Okta, where it was essential to win deals vs. Microsoft. Microsoft used their Enterprise License Agreement (“ELA”) as a financial weapon to essentially give their competing product away by rolling it into a larger agreement that could include Office and/or Windows.  How do you win vs. free? Compete on business value.

 

Business value is a topic that usually requires a consultant to explain (we hired Forrester to do a Total Economic Impact assessment at Okta), so here’s the reader’s digest version:

Business value quantifies the benefits of your product by three to four "value drivers" that either generate revenue or decrease costs for the customer. That’s it.

Ultimately, if your product doesn’t help drive top-line growth or expense reduction for your customer, it’s worthless. And, of course, your company needs to create more business value than the other guy to win the deal. At some point, you might spend six figures to get Forrester to interview your customers, figure out your business value drivers in great detail, quantify the benefits, and prepare a spreadsheet calculator. It’s a worthwhile investment, but if you don’t have the budget or time, just create a simple spreadsheet calculator to get started. Here’s how.

How to create a business value drivers spreadsheet calculator

 

1. Figure out your top-level value drivers. Usually, you’ll have "hard" value drivers and "soft" value drivers. In Okta’s case, we had three value drivers: IT Cost Savings, Increase Productivity, and Secure Your Environment. 

 

2. Figure out the sub-drivers of value for each top-level driver — sort of like the concepts/pillars process above. Here are some examples:

 

  • IT cost savings: We led with IT cost savings because it’s a hard value driver. Server maintenance avoided by going to the cloud, reduced time spent on provisioning users, reduced time spent on password resets, etc. were examples of hard savings that could be quantified by asking our early customers how long these activities took and multiply by the cost of an IT admin FTE.
  • Increase productivity is a little squishier. “Day 1 access” for new hires was quantified by assuming the amount of time saved vs. day two or three. “Faster application adoption” was quantified by assuming a two-hour productivity loss per app used. “Forgotten passwords” would quantify all of the 10–20–minute employee calls to the help desk that were avoided (ie: there’s IT expense reduced and employee productivity improved from the same activity).
  • Secure environment was pretty soft but important to include. We used a $6M cost of security breach that we got from a Poneman study and 10% reduction in likelihood to quantify that value. It’s a low-ball estimate based on the actual economic impact of a data breach but that’s what you do with a squishy but important value driver.

 

For each sub-driver of value, you’ll need to either make an assumption based on external data (like the security example above) or by interviewing customers. Or, if you don’t have customers, try to think about what it might be based on average FTE rates and conservative estimates — á la fake it ‘till you make it!

 

Check out ROI tool vendors like Alinean or VisualizeROI to create a web-based version of your business value tool for lead-gen purposes. Here’s one that we did with Alinean at Okta: https://www.okta.com/roi-calculator/. Notice how we just need to know two pieces of data: number of apps per user and number of employees (users) to create a nice business value report. This gets refined during a deeper engagement, of course, but you get the idea. 

 

In summary


In the Unusual Academy, we kick off our first session for founders with a critically important startup truth: Only desperate customers buy from startups.
(Pictured from left: Unusual Ventures Co-Founders Jyoti Bansal and John Vrionis)

Let’s recap the steps to build a perfect story that wins customers:

6 steps to build a story that wins customers

  

Step 1. Start with an authentic founder insight 

This is the shift in the market that created the opportunity for your business.

 

Step 2. Align on shared view of impact 


Remember, this is about you and your customer agreeing on how the <move from="" on-premises="" to="" cloud,="" shift="" monolithic="" microservices="" apps,="" etc=""> has impacted a particular team / persona in an organization.</move>

 

Step 3. Connect problem to business urgency 


This is the CUSTOMER language, NOT vendor language. For us, “protect against data breaches”, “collaborate with partners” and “increase pace of M&A” were urgent business initiatives that we could latch onto… and the start of solution selling.

 

Step 4. Show current solutions are ineffective


Sometimes referred to as the ‘pit of despair’, think of the worst case scenario that your customer could be in without your solution and then back off a bit.  That’s desperation.  That’s where this stage needs to end.  ANYTHING less will stall your sale.

 

Step 5. Frame new approach to solve the problem

 
Set the table with the key requirements to solving the new world problem. This is the time for thought leadership and framing the narrative to your favor. Think back to the Citrix example, MDM is not enough to enable mobility for your company. You need Device, App, AND Data Management to empower a truly mobile workforce. You need Citrix EMM not MDM. You get the idea.

Step 6. Prove unique value

There are hard and soft value drivers. Start by quantifying the hard drivers and lead with these (hardware retired, work avoided) and then round out with soft value drivers like productivity, security, etc. For some businesses, there’s top-line growth as well. Fake it ‘till you make it with your own knowledge and online research, but you’ll eventually need to interview customers and probably get a professional vendor to help you do this to win bigger deals.

 

So, there you have it! An end-to-end story that starts with a market shift and ends with a customer seeing the most value from your company. As a next step, we’ll look at three examples of how these stories come together and we’ll then flow this story into a brief customer presentation to bring it to life.

Written by
Scott Schwarzhoff
Operating Partner
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