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In the Beginning
Back in 2015, I had written a three-part article called ‘Open Letters to Security Vendors’ which highlighted several things that I thought were broken in the security marketing and sales process. One of the most commented upon ideas from that series was the concept of a ‘Mad Lib’ which vendors could use to succinctly articulate their value statement. I have lost count of how many vendors have used the concept to reach out to me over the years. As I mentioned in that first article, the concept was shared with me by a trusted and dear friend, who I continue to work with many years later.
The original Mad Lib was pretty straightforward but seemed to strike a chord with both CISOs and vendors alike:
The idea is simple. Develop a poignant message that hits home with your targeted buyer (typically the CISO) in a way that they can relate to and understand. Forget about the technology, the CEO’s experience, or the funding numbers – all of that will come in due time. Instead, develop a message that explains how you will help them to reduce risk, minimize the talent shortage, or get better value out of their current budget – in 15 seconds or less.
Since publishing that first piece, I have continued to collect and tweak various examples that have resonated with me, planning on one day adding them to the original article. However, with my recent career change and my daily discussions with many young startups, it is more evident than ever that a solid value statement is even more critical today, especially when considering the massive industry growth and competitive landscape compared to six years ago.
The one thing that still holds from 2015 is the fact that the value statement for every single product on the market can – and should – be explained in a single sentence. When I first started consulting in the 90s, we used to refer to it as the Elevator Pitch, and while that name may have fallen out of favor in recent times, the ability to articulate what you do in 15 seconds or less has never been more important.
Why An Strong Value Statement Is Critical
As my career transitions to speaking with more and more vendors, it is becoming increasingly evident that far too many vendors feel that the technology they are selling is the most important message, rather than how they are solving the actual problem. Ultimately, as the person with the checkbook, security executives are far more interested in what risk you can mitigate and how effectively you do it, so why not focus your marketing and sales pitch on getting that message across first, rather than as a side note of ‘oh – yeah, that’s what we do’.
Fundamentally, there are four key elements of an effective value statement, which include:
- Customer: The ideal customer, or target audience, who will benefit from your offering. (WHO)
- Value: The recognizable benefits that matter most to the customer. (WHY)
- Problem: The problem or issue that your solution mitigates. (WHAT)
- Offering: The product or service that solves problems/adds value. (HOW)
Example #2 – Value Statement
Example #2a – Summary Version
Example #2b – Detailed Version
While this may seem fairly basic, it delivers the value statement to the customer clearly and concisely, which frankly, is being missed by the vast majority of startups out there.
On average, I speak to five vendors a day and rarely does one start their pitch with anything like this. Most of the time the opening discussions are around the ‘experience’ of the leadership team or the latest valuation their Series-x funding was priced at – none of which matters this early in the pitch.
If you managed to get some ever-so-precious time in front of a security executive, wouldn’t the best use of that time be to explain how you can solve their problems, and not about how many other startups your CEO has run?
Hit Them With (Real) Facts
Some of the most compelling points a value statement can quickly convey are quantitative facts that can be substantiated. If you can demonstrate factual data points which highlight the benefits your solution provides, most executives will likely be far more engaged in the discussion.
Point in fact: If your pitch deck says you can find “all of your rouge assets in 60 minutes”, then I’m going to believe you can prove it, and ask for the data and logic behind the statement. Quantitative statements within a value statement are powerful. On the other hand, the downside of using such definitive statements is that you now have given yourself a target that you must be able to achieve, or at least prove you can.
This is a nuance that should not be overlooked.
For most startups, building – and keeping – trust is one of the most challenging aspects of their early phase, and it all starts with the value statement. If you cannot substantiate your quantitative statistics, for whatever reason, do not use them in your value statement. If you want to generally mention them as part of your pitch as an experience others have had, that’s fine, but don’t paint yourself into a corner.
In adding Quantitative Measurement elements to your value statement, you subtly provide real-world examples of the functionality and usefulness of your solution. These measurements can range from time-to-deployment metrics, to risk reduction percentages, FTE workload reduction, or an increase in risk visibility. Any metric or measurement you can back up with hard facts would be a great addition to your value statement.
Example #3 – Value Statement
Example #3a – Summary Version
Example #3b – Detailed Version
You May Need More Than One Value Statement
The vast majority of the time, vendors will be perfectly fine with a single value statement to focus on. However, in some cases, multiple value statements will be required due to the solution set provided by the vendor. If we look at a company like IBM, it would be impossible to develop a value statement for their security offering, much less the entire company. A value statement for each of their security offerings makes far more sense (and is far more targeted) than a general, company-wide one.
While most start-ups are hyper-focused on solving a singular problem, some of the more mature ones, thanks to acquisitions or mergers, have multiple solutions that may – or may not – be cohesive. In this case, having a value statement for each of the services or products you offer is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s important to state, however, that the company’s value statement should continue to be focused on how you are solving a specific problem, even if you have value statements that are tailored to your individual solutions.
Things to Avoid Your Value Statement
At the end of the day, your value statement should succinctly articulate the value and capabilities to the customer. While most vendors tend to keep the message positive, there have been more than a few who tend to make the mistakes below. Remember, it’s about building a relationship, and that starts with transparency and honesty.
Some things to avoid would be:
- Unnecessary points: If there is an element of the value statement that doesn’t explicitly benefit the customer, delete it. Brevity is king.
- Future-state functionality: Roadmap discussions are fine as part of the pitch, but do not base the value statement on anything you cannot deliver today.
- Negativity: Your value statement should be a positive summation of the value of your solution. Phrases like “If you care about..” or “Does xx keep you up at night?” are insulting to the people you are making the pitch to. Skip the F.U.D. – Keep the focus on the value you add.
It’s Worth The Effort
Putting time into developing a clear, concise value statement is an incredibly worthwhile use of time for the marketing and executive teams. The ability to quickly discern what you do and what value or benefit you bring to your target audience is worth its weight in gold.
If we take a moment and think about the sales cycle, ensuring the sales teams focus on those high-probability potential clients, rather than those that have no interest, is a critical success factor of a company. In many cases, Inside Sales teams handle the initial outreach to an enterprise, having zero understanding if there is any need. They invest time and effort trying to get those precious few moments to arrange a meeting between the security team and your sales teams in the hope of making a sale. Just imagine all the time saved by both of your sales teams if you quickly and succinctly articulate your value proposition and easily identity real opportunities rather than ones with little interest?
This fact alone should prove the worth of a value statement, and why investing time to develop a strong one is time well spent.
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