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It’s All About the Content: The Value Proposition’s Role in Selling Solutions
Authors: Pirmin Bastian Bischoff (Catholic University of Eichstaett-Ingolstadt, Germany), Jens Hogreve (Catholic University of Eichstaett-Ingolstadt, Germany)
Offering solutions is an increasingly popular strategy in B2B markets to sustain healthy profit growth (Eggert et al., 2014, p. 23). However, the success of offering services is far from being guaranteed and depends highly on the sales force capabilities to provide proficient justification for the solution offering (Worm et al., 2017). In order to communicate how solutions provide value to their customers the value proposition concept has enjoyed rapid attention among managers and scholars recently (Payne et al., 2017). Nevertheless, there is limited understanding on what value proposition dimensions and related value components should be highlighted by salespersons in order to address the differing customer needs. Our research addresses this apparent gap in literature by answering the following research questions: (1) How does the effectiveness of solution selling vary by value propositions? (2) How do the effects of value propositions vary across members of the usage center?
To answer these questions, we use a multimethod research design. First, we conduct qualitative in-depth interviews with 30 salespersons from four large firms operating in diverse industries. Based on these insights we develop a conceptual framework comprising different value dimensions. Following the qualitative phase, we conduct a field experiment to test the effectiveness of highlighting different value dimensions in a real purchase situation.
Our contributions to the service marketing literature are threefold: First, we expand on B2B value communication strategies by examining the effect of differential value propositions on customer purchase behavior, a topic that has been largely overlooked by empirical studies in the B2B context. When interacting with current or potential customers, salespersons can choose between several design characteristics for crafting their solution value proposition. They can highlight different value dimensions (i.e. economic, functional, emotional), communicate unidirectionally or reciprocally or stress the customer’s resource integrating role. Yet aside from some conceptual studies, there is a lack of understanding what constitutes a superior value proposition.
Second, to date the literature assumes a “one size fits all” approach without taking into account the multidimensional aspect of how value in use is perceived by business customers (Macdonald et al., 2016). Our innovative conceptualization of value propositions allows adapting the communication of value towards an individual customer level with its specific usage context. To our knowledge we are the first incorporating the heterogeneity across the different roles within usage centers into the content design of value propositions.
Third, whereas crafting value propositions has been mostly seen through the lens of a strategic marketing imperative, a more fine-grained approach has received limited attention in the literature so far (Eggert et al., 2018). However, our results highlight the importance of creating more granular value propositions in order to improve direct communication effectiveness.