You’ve got 30 seconds to live.

Back in the early 1940s, Rosser Reeves of Ted Bates & Company coined the phrase “USP – Unique Selling Proposition.”  The term referred to a having, finding or creating a distinctive point of view or reason to buy that is wholly different from the competitions’.

But as a catchphrase, USP is so 70-years-ago!

In the 80’s, marketing agencies, HR consultants and motivational speakers started using the term “elevator pitch,” which kinda says the same thing: What is so special about you (or your company, or your product) that you can express it in just 30 seconds on the ride up the elevator and expect the listener to get it?  We hear that term a lot in angel and investor meetings.

More recently, we find ourselves using the phrase “value proposition.”  And we’ve shorted the time to about 5 seconds, but we’ll settle for 30, just as long as it clearly tells the story.

Your value proposition is the answer to the question “what customer objective does my company help to achieve better than anyone or anything else?”

Whichever term you favor, USP, elevator pitch, or value proposition, without it, without a good one, you’re dead!  If you can’t very quickly describe what makes you, your product, your service or your company truly special in the eyes of the customer, don’t expect your customer to do it for you.  By default, they’ll just put you on the shelf called “commodity,” and there you’ll stay.

Every business, no matter what the business, starts out with the same baseline of customer fulfillment as its competition. If you have a fast food restaurant, for example, you might say your value proposition is fresh entrees at reasonable prices.  But then, doesn’t the competing restaurant down the road also say that?  So that alone doesn’t really make you special, does it?  Poof, you’re a commodity!  You’re just the same as everybody else.

On the other hand, your value proposition has to be one that is not merely unique but deserves an exclamation point in the eyes of your customer.  It has to create a real sense of Wow! or there really is no value, just proposition.  What can you say that captures the imagination and puts you in a class all your own? That’s at the very heart of making a sale or losing out on one.

I’ll be honest, defining your value proposition takes some real corporate soul-searching at the most fundamental level. It requires seeing yourself from your competitors’ customers’ point of view.  It may even require re-inventing your organization so that there’s an entirely new but better value proposition than the one you’re claiming now.

Commit to asking yourself, just as soon as you finish reading this post, “what’s our value proposition?”  Ask your associates and see if their answers agree with your own, and if they can articulate it in less than 90 seconds.  Aim for 30.  (For my company, we can do it in two seconds: “Agent of Change.”  We even own the registered trademark on it!)

Your value proposition is the very cornerstone of your business.  All sales and marketing must emanate from it.  The stronger your value proposition is…

…and the more clearly it expresses your unique ability to improve your customer’s lives…

…and the most concisely you can articulate it between elevator floors…

…the more confident you can be in betting on your company’s success!

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