As I wrote in an earlier post, your core story is arguably the most important business-building tool you can own. If you haven’t already read that post, please take a couple minutes and read it now, it gives meaning to the process that follows.

In summary, your core story makes it easier to communicate who you are — more people get it. Which means prospects can differentiate you from your competitors, your brand is better recognized, and price falls in your prospect’s buying decision hierarchy. Core stories can drive all aspects of a business, from product development to customer service, operations, and pricing. If you don’t have a core story, you need to get one and let it drive your business.

Without further fanfare, here is part one of a multi-step step process to create your compelling core story:

Step 1: Profile your best customers

If you’ve been involved in marketing or sales for any time, you’ve likely read about the importance of personas and their value to target marketing, positioning, and associated sales activities. If so, your eyes may be rolling as read this. Bear with me 🙂

Profiling your best customers is a necessary and critical step to creating your core story — a dependency for activities that follow.

Begin your profile by identifying your best customers. In this context, your best customers are the ones you love serving and who love telling others about you — your evangelists, the companies who get the most out of the things you do. Your best customers are the ones you wish all were alike.

Next, with your best customers in mind, consider the following questions:

  • What market are they in?
  • Who are their customers and what markets do they serve?
  • What is the title and scope of responsibility of the people you work with in these accounts? Regarding their work-life, what are their concerns?
  • What are the business challenges and/or opportunities that led them to be your customer?
  • How is their condition improved by a relationship with you and your company?

In this first step, you want to get a clear vision of who your best customers are and understand their worldview. you don’t want to gloss-over this step, it’s critical to your core story and sales success.

List your answers to the question above — don’t skip anythign, be as detailed as possible.

Step 2: Identify the things you do for your customers

This is very different from the things you do, it’s the things you do for your customers. The difference is huge. You may sell hardware, software or professional services, but that’s not what your customers are buying from you and that’s not what you do for them — that’s simply the things you do.

This can best be understood with a quick example: A sales training company may sell workshops, online education, phone consultation, personalized training materials, sales tools, etc. These are the things they do. But their customers aren’t really buying these things. The training company’s customers are actually buying a means to shortened their sales cycle, increase their close ratio, and improve revenue performance. The training company offers sales training, but no one wants to buy training — it has no inherent value worth owning until it results in something the buyer cares about.

Consider your best customers identified in the first step.  List the thing you do for them — the results they realize and enjoy from the products and services you provide them. Think of the business value your products and service create. Do your products and services:

  • Increase productivity
  • Save money
  • Allow resources to be redeployed
  • Improve performance
  • Reduce time requirements
  • Improve response
  • Create wealth

The idea in this step is to get to the root of the business you’re in, looking beyond your widgets and service delivery items to identify the things your customers buy from you. Think forest and trees, you should be looking for the forest.

The business you’re in, may not be the business you think you’re in. In fact, you may be overlooking the business you’re in — blinded by the things you do.

Step 3: List the things that are meaningfully different about your offer as compared to others offering similar benefits

All the steps in this process are important — this step is among the most important.

If a prospective customer determines competing offers from two or more vendors have similar benefits and there’s nothing significantly different between the offers, then price rises in the hierarchy of their decision to purchase — you’ve become a commodity whose value is reduced to price, convenience, and availability.

But offering something different isn’t enough.  In fact, merely offering something different can be a detriment. The key is offering something different that makes the benefit stronger or more real.

[info]A side note on meaningful difference is it not only closes sales opportunities, it justifies cost as well.  The secret to selling value priced products and services is to add a healthy dose of meaningful difference to your marketing mix.[/info]

Meaningful difference can come from your company, product, service or people involved in the offer. The key is the difference has to be meaningful to your prospective customer.

Here is a simple example of difference without meaning: If I am considering to purchase your widgets and the only color I’m interested in buying is blue, the fact you offer widgets in 1000 colors is of no interest to me — it’s not a selling point or buying feature. To mention your 1000 available colors is a waste of time. In this example, color choice isn’t meaningful to the buyer so, touting it is at best a distraction and at worse the demonstration you don’t understand your prospect or market.

Meaningful difference can take several forms, as long as it adds value to the benefit your prospect is buying:

  • Manufacturing, delivery or creation process
  • Quality or composition of raw materials
  • Tools of your trade
  • Expertise, experience or accomplishment of personnel
  • Responsiveness or timeliness
  • Completeness of the solution you offer
  • Reduced risk in the business relationship
  • Volume of support

List the things you offer that are meaningfully different and map them directly to the benefit your customers buy. Again, these are the things that are different about your offer that increases the strength of the benefit you sell.

Step 4: List the key features and functionality of the things you sell

Features and functionality of your product and service are important to the extent they prove your ability to deliver the benefit your prospect is considering to purchase. Beyond that, they have no value.

For some, that perspective is hard to swallow, but it’s true.

Many companies present datasheets to prospective customers full of features and functionality, listing every possible configuration as reason to buy their products and services. They talk about their offer ad nauseam, extolling the breadth of options engineered into the solution. On the surface this isn’t a problem. And in fact, it can be a powerful thing to do. The problem is too often it’s done without tying all that product development and engineering wonder to a purpose the prospect deems worthy of purchasing.

Again, features and functionality aren’t inherently worth owning — they’re meaningless until they demonstrate a benefit can exist or make it stronger. And that’s how they should be talked about, as proof the benefit you’re selling is achievable and worth spending money to own.

In this step, list every feature and functionality you offer:

  • Map every feature and functionality you list to the things you do for your customers created in step 2
  • Test each feature and functionality to make sure it offers proof the things you do for your customers are real or more meaningful than doing them without
  • For every feature or functionality you list that can’t be tied to the benefit you sell, forget about it for the purpose of selling

What you’re doing in this step is identifying the pieces and parts of the things you do that have real value — creating a meaningful benefit your best customers want to purchase.

Again, this is not to say features and functionality aren’t important. It’s just to make clear they only matter to the extent they prove something worth buying is real and the price is justified.

Your turn

Part one of this process will end here, there’s enough homework in the first four steps to keep you busy for a while 🙂

On a serious note, we need to pause here to get the most out of this process — putting effort into the first four steps without the disruption of knowing exactly where we’re going with it. Focus on each step and put thought into your work. Talk to others you work with, share ideas, and don’t skip any details.

Part 2 of this process will be published in a few days. At that time, we’ll bring all of this together to create your compelling core story.


Update: Here is the link to part 2.


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