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Nail your value proposition by talking to yourself

A good friend of mine once told me that each and every meeting with a client should provide you with a story to tell.

He’s absolutely spot on, and it’s one of the principles of becoming prolific when it comes to content marketing.

The story I have today came from a discussion about value propositions.

First, I have a confession to make. I hate weak value propositions. I despise those lazy, research-light attempts to convey something that is intended to be compelling to clients, yet you know when you read them that in most cases not a single client conversation was had in creating them.

It boggles me why someone would lay down thousands of dollars in advertising spend, Facebook adverts, AdWords or website build without investing a few hours to work out whether what they’re putting into those mediums matches what people are looking for.

This story is not however about that kind of extreme. This business invested time, money and effort to get it right, but still there were opportunities to go deeper.

The problem is whilst clients can often tell you want they want, it’s rarely what they really want.

Henry Ford knew this when he made his famous “faster horse” comment. Jobs was the same.

It’s not that these great marketers weren’t interested in what people wanted. What they valued more was understanding why people wanted it. That’s the key difference.

Every moment of every day our minds whirr. Sometimes subconsciously, they process base level needs (“I’m bored”) and, through a thought process, arrive at an action that, again often subconsciously, is designed to address that issue (“I’ll shove a pie in my mouth”).

Great marketers know this. They know about these drivers, often better than we do, and they fire their little influence cannons firmly at them for the purposes of getting us to buy their stuff.

The problem is that when we talk about advice, very few people have a base driver that sounds like “I should get serious about retirement

Most of us are missing one that says “I should invest more of my money into a wealth creation strategy

I’d put money on the one marked “I should stop spending so much today, so I can enjoy life tomorrow” being as common as Bigfoot.

The problem occurs when you as an advice firm attempt to target these drivers with your marketing. You’re aiming for some pretty higher-thinking rational logic and, as Mr Simon Sinek informed us so eloquently, decision making doesn’t happen in that particular suburb of your brain.

If you want to find the marketing gold, you need to dig a little deeper, via a little technique I call “AT LEAST 3 WHYS”.

I didn’t invent this by the way, and I’d love to know who did.

Here’s the tricky confession. This technique works best when you talk to yourself, out loud. Sorry about that. It’s just the way is.

Personally, my 3 WHYS conversation takes the form of a pub chat between me and a mate of mine from London, who answers every question I ask like he’s talking to the World Champion of Obviously Idiotic Questions. Works for me, but I am a little odd.

Let me run you through the conversation I had as part of this coaching piece (the details have been changed slightly, but the intent is the same).

Let’s start with the initial value proposition:


I want an SMSF“, says my London mate.

Ok, let’s start this circus. To me, that sounds like a logical, left-brain problem – the end product of a chain of thought.

Understood. Why do you want an SMSF?”

I want control of my investments“, answers London mate, rolling his eyes a little, “and I want to buy a property

Why is lack of control a problem right now?

Because I want to be able to invest in things I understand and believe in, like a property“. The unstated “durr” floats away, unsaid.

Interesting. So it’s not actually about the SMSF at all…

Why is it important to understand the things you’re invested in?

Because then I know whether or not I’m actually DOING something. At moment it’s all just a bunch of unknown shares, sat in some hedge fund managers pocket whilst he’s out for lunch on lobsters and caviar

Mmmm. Lobster.

Why is that a problem for you?

I just have this feeling I’m not doing enough. I don’t know enough about it myself to know if what I’m getting is ok or not. I could be doing better than I am now

Why are you worried about that?

I don’t want to look back on it all, thinking I could have paid more attention, whilst watching other people do things I can’t afford to

Why would you care so much about that?

I’d feel a fool looking back and thinking I had the wool pulled over my eyes by some fancy pants investment manager, and now my family has to make do with second class

So it’s not about the SMSF at all. It’s about feeling like you can have more say in what’s happening now, be someone who is more like those people who are more actively managing this are doing? To feel smarter about it all

..or words to that effect.


I’d like to pay less feesbecause my portfolio is underperforming

Why do you see the relationship between fees and investment performance as relevant?

I don’t see why I should pay anything when I’m going backwards

Why do you feel you’re going backwards?

The balance is lower than it was three years ago

Why does that matter right now?

“I think there are better options out there”

Why do you think that?

Well, I read a book by some Sean Pope fella, I think that was his name, he said I should invest in Host Plus of something. He said it gets great returns and it’s cheap

Why are great returns and cheap better?

Well, if I can pay less fees and get faster growth, then not only will I be able to retire well but probably have more cash to play with along the way

Gotcha. So this isn’t about fees and performance, it’s about ways to make sure you can have more to enjoy life today and in the future?

Yep. Absolutely

So, if I could sit down with you and road test whether that was true, or whether there was something else that needs to be taken into account, would that be worth your time?”

How much?

One million quid. Your round…

You with me so far? The opportunity here lies in an observation once made by a gentleman called Walt Whitman about the true meaning of expertise.

“When you can articulate a problem better than the person who has it, they assume you know how to solve it”

Most people are too close to their own thinking to know what the real problem is, let alone explain it.

Let’s do one more pass.


I want peace-of-mind and to get my financial house in order

Ok, so this is a stretch. I don’t know about you, I’ve never seen a client outside of the cheesiest of adverts say that. However, let’s unpack this little burst of cliche as if we’re not talking to a shadow shopper”

I see, and why does peace of mind and having orderly financial affairs matter?

I’m worried that it’s getting away from me. I’ve never really been that interested in the financial side of things, but recently I can’t help but feel it’s gotten more important. I can’t quite put my finger on it – maybe it’s for the first time feeling like I can’t wing this anymore

Why does it worry you now when it’s not been an issue so far? What’s changed?

Because I only get one shot to do this, right? I mean, I’ve always just let it happen, but I’m starting to worry that it’s not going to look after itself…”

So, why are you talking to someone like me? Why do you feel like you need help?

I feel like I can’t do this alone. I don’t know enough to know the right from wrong. Well, I know some stuff, but it’s the detail that worries me. Tax, investments – sometimes I feel like I know enough to be dangerous

Why dangerous?

I don’t want to learn by making mistakes. I also don’t want to hand it all over to someone if I don’t trust that they’re not going to make a mistake. That’s the bigger of the two evils. I’d rather stuff it up myself rather than trust someone else who stuffs it for me, or do I? I’m confused

So, if you had someone who could explain what to do, why you should do it and when to do it, what impact would that have?

I’d feel like I was ready to actually make it happen

These are all just examples, and the accuracy of the conversation will absolutely depend on the specifics of your clients and how well you know them, but you get the idea.

Marketing advice has never been the easiest thing. As Naomi Christopher observed at our last two-day workshop, “There are few industries where the proposition is to make money from clients only once they have given you their money”. Recent events haven’t made it any easier.

However, the honest truth is the history of our industry – a product-centric one, where the focus has been on the pitch instead of listening first – hasn’t helped. It’s become clear that those days are coming to their final end, and the future of our industry has to lie in our ability to listen to what clients want and build businesses around that.

We need to learn how to think like clients, which is the same as thinking like a marketer.

If it requires a little uni-conversational madness to hook into the conversations that are the foundation, I think it’s an exercise worth indulging in (and so do I).

Want a next step?

Don’t hesitate.

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