You’ve no doubt heard of the importance of a strong value proposition. But what exactly is a value proposition? Value propositions are often confused with “elevator speeches” or “unique selling propositions.” It’s essential to understand the difference among these terms because their purposes and impact on sales are very different.

Elevator speech. An elevator speech is a short, one to two sentence statement that defines who you work with (your target market) and the general ways in which you help them.

About 10 seconds long, it’s used primarily at networking events to attract potential clients and to stimulate discussion. The following elevator speeches show you how some people describe what they do:

  • “I work with small businesses struggling to sell their products or services to large corporate accounts.”
  • “We help technology companies effectively use customer information to drive repeat sales.”
  • “I help small-to-medium sized manufacturing companies that have difficulties with unpredictable revenue streams.”

Unique selling proposition. A unique selling proposition (USP) is a statement about what makes you and your company different from other vendors.

Its primary value is to create competitive differentiation. A USP is often used in marketing materials or in talking to customers who are ready to buy.

Here are a few good USP examples:

  • “We specialize in working with financial institutions.” (specialty)
  • “We guarantee service in four hours or your money back.” (guarantee)
  • “We use a unique tool called SureFire! to analyze clients’ critical needs.” (methodology)

Helping customers understand your USP is imperative when they’ve already decided to make a purchasing decision. But USPs have absolutely no impact on customers who are satisfied with their current situations or frustrated but haven’t yet decided to change. USPs are far more effective in the business-to-consumer market than the business-to-business market.

Value proposition. A value proposition is a clear statement of the tangible results a customer gets from using your products or services.

A strong value proposition is specific, often citing numbers or percentages. It may include a quick synopsis of your work with similar customers as a demonstration of your capability. Here are a couple of examples to stimulate your thinking:

  • “We help large companies reduce the cost of their employee benefits programs without impacting their benefit levels. With the spiraling costs of health care today, this is a critical issue for most businesses. One of our recent clients, a large manufacturing company similar to yours, was struggling with how to reduce spending in this area. We saved them more than $800,000 in just six months. Plus, they did not have to cut any services to their employees nor did their employees have to pay more.”
  • “I help technology companies launching important new products into the marketplace, which they need to be successful in order to achieve their sales forecasts. Where I help my clients is in the often-dropped handoff between marketing and sales. As a result, they’re able to more easily meet projected sales goals and significantly shorten their time-to-profitability.”

As you can see from the examples above, both the elevator speech and the USP are cousins of the value proposition. But the value proposition is the king of these, and the one you need to have at the ready at all times.

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Jill Konrath is the author of SNAP Selling and Selling to Big Companies. If you’re struggling to set up meetings, click here to get a free Prospecting Tool Kit.