In the first and second articles in this series on value propositions, we discussed how to craft a value proposition, and how to execute it. For our final article in the series, we’ll share advanced tactics for value propositions based on years of experience.
We’ll discuss how to trade-off against time, how good value propositions kill misaligned features, and why “customer surprise and delight” may not actually be desirable.
Trading Off Against Time
In the previous articles in this series, we dove very heavily into an ideal workflow on creating and validating a value proposition. Of course, executing against such an ideal flow can be incredibly time-consuming.
As product managers, we rarely feel like we have enough time to dive so deeply. We have so many other tasks to juggle, after all!
Yet, if you don’t dive so deeply, you’re likely going to make major mistakes that wind up costing you more time and money in the long run.
After all, if you wind up shipping a product that doesn’t align with the market, then you’ve wasted months of time and effort. Thoughtful research is never wasted - every insight can eventually be used.
There is one particular caveat, however - there’s a specific set of conditions where you should actually bypass the value proposition creation and validation process entirely.
If you are tackling a product area that is entirely new to your - new users, new customers, new competitive landscape, new industry - you should ship a very rough prototype immediately.
When you run this prototype by prospective users and customers, you’ll get immediate high-level insights that provide you with key details of this entirely foreign product landscape. You can then bring this knowledge back to the start of the value proposition creation process.
For example, say that I know nothing about coal mining (which is true, by the way).
If I wanted to get a quick lay of the land, I could ship a low-fidelity, bare-bones mobile app for coal miners to voice record their status every hour. Right out of the gate, it’s likely that my users would complain about missing functionality and would request new features.
From there, I could then pull in the pain points and the field observations, and decide where I really want to focus my efforts in serving coal miners.
However, if you do use a cheap prototype, remember that your prototype is meant as a learning tool.
It should never be the first version of the product that you eventually want to ship because your prototype came from a place with no customer research foundation.
Why Good Value Propositions Kill Misaligned Features
When you craft your value proposition and consider features that you’d like to ship, you’re almost guaranteed to find that at least one of your favorite features doesn’t seem to fit the value proposition.
What should you do in this situation?
You have 3 good options: 1) kill the feature to keep your existing value proposition, 2) create a whole new value proposition around just that feature, or 3) kill the existing value proposition and all over.
You also have 1 bad option, which many people take: stick the feature into the value proposition anyways.
Let’s be real. Too often, we try to shoehorn a “sexy” feature into an existing value proposition. We usually think, “what’s the harm of adding just this one little thing?”
This option is incredibly bad because it destroys your entire value proposition and wipes out all of the hard work that you’ve done up to this point.
Your value proposition is based on your customer and your user, who is the foundation of your business. When customers and users validate your value proposition, they’re telling you that they find value in what you’d like to provide.
If you provide them something that doesn’t align with your value proposition, you’ve betrayed their trust and their expectations, and you’ve consciously decided that your customer is less important than “a cool idea.”
In summary: don’t put misaligned features into your value proposition. That's what any product expert would tell you, within the PMHQ community and outside it too.
Here’s a real example from my own experience, to make the discussion more concrete.
I was working on mobile apps for real estate agents, and our original value proposition was something like the following:
For experienced real estate agents who seek more well-qualified leads to work with, our product is a mobile CRM that sends a high volume of qualified leads, enables agents to accept or reject the leads, and tracks these leads through the lifecycle of the real estate transaction. It costs $XX per completed transaction.
We really, really wanted to ship a chatbot that would enable potential leads to be automatically connected to real estate agents on our website. On the surface, this sounds awesome - we can get real estate agents many more leads, and we can enable our leads to get matched to better agents much more quickly. Win-win, right?
The problem was that this feature didn’t fit with our value proposition at all. Our value proposition explicitly gave our real estate agents the power to accept or reject a lead. Automatically connecting leads to agents violated the very core of our value proposition - agent empowerment.
Yet, this feature felt excruciatingly difficult to kill. Why was it so hard for us?
When we dove deeper, we found that we were struggling so hard because we had a different value proposition in mind versus what we had explicitly stated before.
With the chatbot, we weren’t looking to empower the real estate agents - rather, we wanted to give agents a high volume of extremely well-qualified leads (through the chatbot) as quickly as possible (by skipping past the accept/reject interaction).
After a lot of intense debate, we killed the feature. As much as we want to increase our agents’ businesses and quality of leads, we felt that it was critical that the agent stays in control.
Can you imagine what would have happened if we shipped the chatbot?
Our agents would have been incredibly furious. The entire reason why they decided to work with us was that we gave them control over their leads so that they could control their business.
Even though we would have gotten immediate revenue increases by forcing agents to auto-accept, we would have lost the trust of our customers.
But say that we didn’t want to permanently kill the chatbot idea. Let’s look back at the 3 good options that we have at our disposal:
- Kill the feature to keep your existing value proposition
- Create a whole new value proposition around just that feature
- Kill the existing value proposition and all over
Assuming we didn’t want to go with option 1, let’s talk through our other options.
Option 2 is to give that single feature its own value proposition. The fact that it felt so compelling to you that you couldn’t kill it likely means that it has some set of benefits that you found might resonate with some particular customer.
If you take option 2, your job is to find customers who buy into your new standalone value proposition. Validate your feature with customers - will they find the value that you think they’re going to find?
For example, there's likely some population of real estate agents that would love to just auto-accept as many leads as possible through the chatbot, and shape their operations around managing this flow.
I would need to find this customer segment and deeply understand their pain points, our value statement, and our cost statement before I could confidently and effectively ship the chatbot.
Option 3 is to change the entire value proposition altogether so that it can incorporate the feature appropriately.
Many times, product teams will select option 3. If that happens, then you need to go all the way back to the start by identifying the customer and the user.
More bluntly: by trying to save this single feature, you will need to kill your entire value proposition and start over.
Too many times, I’ve seen PMs (myself included!) forget to start all over, thinking that we already did all of the relevant research. And that’s just not true at all.
If you pick option 3, then you need to throw out all of your previous work and start over again - because now you have an entirely new value proposition that needs to be re-tested, re-validated, and further refined.
If you don't start all over, you've fallen for the worst possible option - and as we've already discussed, putting misaligned features into a value proposition is one of the surest ways to guarantee product failure.
Beware of being lazy! If you add in a feature that doesn’t fit with your value proposition, then you’ve thrown away all of the hard work that you’ve done up to this point, just because you weren’t disciplined enough to make the right decision.
Reflections on Customer Delight Tactics
Many product managers will say that you want the product offering to surprise and delight the customer or the user. They’ll add in delightful functionality that the customer didn’t ask for, in the name of “going above and beyond.”
I fundamentally disagree. In my eyes, if you surprise the customer, you’ve failed to communicate your value proposition upfront to its fullest extent.
If people are surprised by something your product does, it means that they weren’t ready for your product and that you failed to set and meet expectations. This causes a couple of negative consequences.
First, imagine a naive customer who doesn’t know about any products out there that can solve their pain. Say they conduct extensive research to select a product that will meet their needs and wants.
When they look at your product, they have no idea about the surprise and delight you will provide them. Therefore they choose a competitor, and may never select you even though you’re the better fit.
If you had provided information about your delightful surprises up-front, your customer would likely have chosen you instead of a competitor. Don't hide features in the name of surprise, because that's how you lose prospects at the top of the funnel.
Second, I’ve seen too many teams chase “surprise and delight”, only to find that their surprises are actually “surprise and horror”. That is, they believe they know what their customer or user wants but never actually tested it.
Then, when they present it to the customer or user, the user reveals that the neat little surprise actually goes entirely against their existing workflow, causes them more pain, creates additional mental overhead, causes confusion, etc.
Surprise no one. Do what you say, and say what you do.
Proper communication creates trust. You want your customers to trust you to solve their pain.
Value propositions are critical for your product. They help create focus, ensure customer and user alignment, provides clarity around business value, and increase effectiveness of marketing (taken from Wikipedia).
Yes, this is a lot of work to do, but it’s far better to do this work than to ship something that provides no value.
As mentioned at the start of our series, the worst possible thing you can do is to ship something that your customer doesn’t value.
As a bonus insight: remember that as a product manager, you yourself are also a product! Leverage the frameworks we’ve provided to position yourself well in the marketplace for new roles and opportunities.
We’ve tracked down the best additional resources on value propositions! Check out the list below, starting from most valuable.
Value Proposition Frameworks
- How to Create a Good Value Proposition - ConversionXL
- Value Propositions: What They Are and How to Create Them - Shopify
- The Few Sentences You Need to Dominate Your Market - Neil Patel
- 3 Points to Create an Awesome Value Proposition - WiderFunnel
- How Product Managers Can Write More Compelling Value Propositions - ProductPlan
- Valuing Needs: How to Develop the Best Propositions - Product Focus
- Use Value Propositions to Validate Your Product - Pragmatic Marketing
- 4 Steps To Building A Compelling Value Proposition - Forbes
- Value Propositions that Work - HelpScout
- Value Proposition Worksheet - MarketingExperiments
Value Proposition Examples
- 26 Value Proposition Examples That Convert Visitors - Sumo
- 32 of the Best Value Propositions - OptinMonster
- Value Proposition Before-and-After Comparisons - MarketingExperiments
- 7 of the Best Value Proposition Examples - WordStream
Have thoughts that you'd like to contribute around advanced tactics for value propositions? Chat with other product leaders around the world in our PMHQ Community!
Clement Kao is Co-Founder of Product Manager HQ. He was previously a Principal Product Manager at Blend, an enterprise technology company that is inventing a simpler and more transparent consumer lending experience while ensuring broader access for all types of borrowers.