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Value Proposition: Lessons from a Con Man

Posted By Keith Obrien, February 10, 2013 at 10:00 AM, in Category:

Last month I was hurrying through baggage claim at O’Hare airport in Chicago when this man stopped me to ask for help. Now I was in a hurry but I stopped. I was obviously impatient and so the fellow quickly told me his name, Tom, and described his plight. He needed help after having his car towed from in front of the airport. Apparently, he needed cash to take a train home, $14.75 to be exact. As you can imagine, gentle reader, I was suspicious. Sensing this he stressed how embarrassed he was at asking, and that he wanted my address so he could return the money to me. Anyway, I gave him $20 and my email address so he could contact me about returning the money. He shook my hand and we went our separate ways.

Fast forward to that night, I am in a hotel and I call my wife. I tell her about my airport encounter. How can I summarize her reaction? Let’s just say she determined I had been swindled and would never see the money again. When I objected to what I perceived as a rather cynical interpretation of the event, she asked a number of questions:

-Why exactly was his car towed? Because everyone knows that you are asking for trouble if you leave a car unattended outside a terminal
-If he had a car surely he had a wallet and therefore would have an ATM or credit card?
-As he was in baggage claim doesn’t that mean he was supposedly meeting someone, so wouldn’t they have money or a credit card?

Needless to say, I was stumped in the face of her questions. Thinking about it later, I realized that asking the right questions at the right time can really improve your decision making. The questions don’t have to be terribly complex; they just need to get to the heart of the issue.
At the airport I had found Tom’s value proposition compelling: I gave even more money than he asked for. However, if I had asked some questions of Tom, I may have determined that the value prop was somewhat disingenuous. When you think about the company you work for, does anyone ever question whether the value proposition is compelling? Does it stand up to scrutiny? There are two simple questions that can and should be asked of marketing, sales, and executive management:

1. What makes our company relevant to our customers?
2. What makes us distinctive from the competition?

If these questions are difficult to answer and there’s no consistency in the answers, then your value prop is not going to open too many wallets. Don’t take my word for it: Access a free, on-demand webinar that teaches you how Kronos, a workforce management solutions provider, answered these questions and reinvigorated its value prop. As for Tom, I never did hear from him but next time I will have some searching questions!

Keith is the VP of Global Research for Growth Team Membership, a best practices research group within Frost & Sullivan.

Written by Keith Obrien

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