Value propositions


Is your Value Proposition generating revenue for your Engineering or Architecture firm? Can you articulate specifically why your clients have chosen you? If you're like many firms the phrases you have are worn out and widely used. Find out how to get the details on writing a better one.

Engineers and Architects by nature generate value, but are we really all the same? What do we do that differentiates us from our competitors? This is the ultimate purpose of your value proposition. It tells your clients why they should be using you. Now, take a look at your value proposition and then go find those statements from your three largest competitors. Unless you've done some real due diligence in creating yours I'll bet all four examples sound pretty similar. Don't stop there, start searching the top firms in the country and you'll find striking similarities among them.

"Our ideas improve communities"

"We provide innovative solutions to the country's most important needs"

"We deliver value-added services to help communities achieve their goals"

"Our commitment to being the best to our clients is unparalleled"

It doesn't take long before they all start sounding the same. Back to our goal - tell prospective clients why they should choose us. This is important. We have to be able to articulate, specifically why they will benefit by choosing our firm. If we sound the same as our competitors we have simply failed at achieving this goal.

I understand how you got there. Well meaning brainstorming sessions on marketing strategy and introspective looks at what your company is trying to achieve. We do this periodically, preferably at least yearly and hopefully with quarterly updates. And depending on your size you may even have a marketing person that helped steer your discussions. You did your S.W.O.T analysis, you listed your mission and your values. By the way, compare these as well with your competitors. It turns out you all put people first, have high integrity, do what is right, are excellent, committed, etc… While this is all well meaning, and somewhat productive (after all, it's important for your leadership to get out of the day-to-day and focus on the bigger picture) it falls far short of achieving its goal.

Chances are those sessions left some very important people out of the room - your existing and past clients. This is where you will find your most important clues to determining your value. You need to ask them. This is not a postcard survey at the end of every project (though don't stop doing this, it helps in lots of areas). This is a sit down conversation with the decision makers at the top of the organization. Ask tough questions and listen carefully to the answers. "Why did you choose us?" Seems simple enough but you have to probe deeply. They may have never been asked before. So be inquisitive and drill down. Does his first answer also apply to one of your competitors? If so then point that out. Was it a toss of coin or was there something else? "If you couldn't have used us, who would you have used and why?" Ask him what he likes about your competitors. Your customers have the answers to many of the questions rolling around in your head - just ask.

Sometimes it comes down to price. We live in a low bid world. But ask to be sure and if price keeps boiling to the top, then you have your marching orders - get really good at pricing. Even in bid situations you may likely find that it wasn't price at all - the client chose you for a reason over a similarly priced competitor - find out why. There is still one more group you need to research. Talk to those clients that didn't choose you. Take them to lunch and ask the opposite questions. "Why didn't you choose us?" Are there clients who used to use your services, but haven't in some time. Most times we think we know why - a bad project, or bad interaction at some level - but be sure to ask, you may be surprised at the answer. If you're not figuring out what value you need to provide to the clients you don't currently have then you're leaving out a significant part of your potential.

Lastly, don't be afraid to have more than one value proposition. Not all markets are the same and your organization may provide one value to one market and a different value to another. The bidding municipality and the large industrial plant likely have very different needs. One size does not fit all when ascribing your value to your marketplace. Remember if you're not asking your clients what your value to them is, you're missing the most important piece of the puzzle.