10 insights into how Stratus Designs grows business
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The Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, adjacent to the Serengeti National Park, encompasses a preserved landscape of rolling hills and grasslands, seasonal rivulets, and acacia trees. This picturesque vista is home to diverse wildlife, including resident and migratory (Thompson’s) gazelles. The savannah is the natural habitat to the gazelle; their home, where they live and feed every day. However, it would be naïve for the gazelle to grow complacent even in their natural habitat. It would be naïve to believe that the gazelle was the only species striving to thrive in this innocent appearing landscape.
The term naïve can be used to describe people and actions that are unaffected, innocent, natural, idealistic. These are good traits. However, the term can also be used to describe a lack of experience, understanding, wisdom, or judgment. This latter case is cautionary, and possibly dangerous.
For example, in the picture, naivety (the state of being naïve) on the part of the gazelles grazing in their natural habitat could prove fatal. Almost entirely hidden in the grass, slightly above their heads and nearly to right edge of the photograph, one might just be able to make out the spotted head of a well-camouflaged cheetah stalking the innocent and unaware prey.
A few moments after this photo was captured a competition would begin. Both competitors have compelling features. Cheetahs have amazing acceleration; however, gazelles have better stamina, and can run at speed for greater distances. If the cheetah cannot get close before pouncing, it risks being outrun by the gazelle (Brady, 2014). Who will win, the cheetah or the gazelle? The one who is the most aware, the most prepared, the least complacent, and the least naïve.
Entrepreneurs, those whom operate a business at personal financial risk, similarly strive to survive and thrive in a familiar landscape, their natural business habitat, every day. Their measure of success is often proportional to their awareness of the marketplace. The November installment of insight discussed the danger of complacency to entrepreneurs, their businesses, and their teams. Naivety poses an equally potentially fatal risk.
Like the gazelle, it would be naïve to think that we alone are striving to thrive in our marketplace. It would be naïve to believe that our competitors and peers are unprepared. That they are not cultivating the same market. That they are not stalking the same opportunities. That they believe we have exclusive right to our customers. That they are not also looking for every opportunity to succeed.
What is a common outcome of displaying a lack of experience, understanding, wisdom, or judgement? In short, of naivety? All too often, particularly in a zero-sum game, the competition is over before the loser knows it has begun. In the savannah, the cheetah feeds on the naivety of the gazelle. In the marketplace, the successful competitor benefits from the unpreparedness and unawareness of the participants.
In business as in life there is almost always certain to be someone bigger, stronger, faster, or smarter. However, these seemingly advantageous characteristics in no way guarantee that we must be at a disadvantage, or that we cannot be better. Success is not the exclusive right of advantage, rather success is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure - Colin Powell. With the proper awareness, motivation, and action, we can choose to be better by design. How? Awareness and action.
On this topic Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, is quoted: There are only two sources of competitive advantage: the ability to learn more about our customers faster than the competition and the ability to turn that learning into action faster than the competition. To wit, the November installment of insight proposed using customer awareness to articulate compelling messages based upon benefits rather than features. This awareness and benefit-centric strategy can be leveraged to proactively battle complacency and cultivate perceived value to create competitive advantage. Once we have captured compelling benefits, we can use carefully crafted benefit statements in a persuasive value proposition to be better prepared to contend with our peers by increasing our competitive advantage.
A value proposition explains what benefit you provide, for who, and how you do it uniquely. It describes your target buyer, the problem you solve, and why you’re distinctly better than the alternatives (Skok, 2013). In its simplest terms, a value proposition is a promise of value to be delivered. It’s the main reason a prospect should buy from you rather than a competitor. When prospective consumers are first introduced to our organizations, products, and services, or are making a purchasing decision, a simple and gripping value proposition can provide a competitive edge by answering who are we, why are we different, and why shouldn’t they choose someone else (Sukhraj, 2016).
A value proposition is one of the most effective conversion factors. A strong value proposition increases conversion rates and sales, while weak value propositions actively dissuade consumers and decrease sales. A value proposition should create motivation by demonstrating that the perceived benefits we provide outweigh the perceived costs and risks (Patel, 2014).
This can be achieved by explaining:
A value proposition is commonly confused with (but is not):
A value proposition is a short statement that summarizes your organization’s offering and uniquity, or unique value. Those that are most successful are clear, concise, and memorable (Sukhraj, 2016). For example:
Uber does an exceptional job of articulating the simplicity of the ride share experience and the clear benefits to the consumer:
Without even acknowledging other competing options, this message draws a contrast to the traditional experience of hailing a taxi, arguing with a cabbie, and fumbling for money to pay at the end of the ride. Uber offers a similar service to taxi companies but present a sufficiently different experience as to provide value.
Few markets are more oversaturated than consumer electronics. In a world where most smartphone manufacturers build value upon endless and ever-improving features, Apple succinctly states their belief that a phone should be more than a collection of features. It is the iPhone experience that has empowered Apple to remain at the forefront of a brutally competitive market for almost a decade.
In concluding his analysis of particularly compelling value propositions, Dan Shewan, a journalist and web design specialist in the U.K. concludes: “You don’t need an immense marketing or design budget to put what makes your business the best front-and-center in your messaging – just a little focus and a moment or two to consider your [web]site [or message] from the perspective of your users” (Shewan, 2018). This statement has particular relevance to Reliable Controls and independent Reliable Controls Authorized Dealers.
A value proposition should be comprised of a few basic elements (Patel, 2014):
1. A headline that describes the benefit our customers can expect, in a way that is easy to understand and to remember. An ideal headline can be read in five seconds or less. For example:
2. A subheadline or supporting paragraph can then be used to provide a more detailed explanation of what we offer, to whom, and why. Consider the examples of the Uber and Apple value propositions earlier.
3. Bullet points can complement a more detailed explanation with a list of specific salient benefits.
4. Media such as videos and images should be used to enhance the message in print and online.
Building a compelling value proposition can seem daunting at first, but it need not be. Only awareness of the customer and familiarity with our products and solutions is required. The actual process is straightforward and builds upon the foundation of benefit statements laid in the November installment of insight.
1. FEATURES. Start by listing persuasive features of your product or service.
2. BENEFITS. Next to each feature describe why it is relevant to a specific customer; how can it improve their situation. Next to the relevancy, write how it can improve the health and welfare of a specific person or organization; how the feature is beneficial. Remember, features can often be described using a couple of words, and often are expressed in industry jargon or a technical lexicon. Benefits tell a story.
3. LINK BENEFITS TO VALUE. Clearly correlate how the consumer profits. Leave no doubt. Be simple and clear. Tell the entire story. Connect the dots. Do not place the burden of understanding how they will benefit from our products and services on the consumer.
4. DIFFERENTIATION AND POSITIONING. Make the target audience of the value proposition clearly understand what we offer them and how we are unique. The building automation marketplace is crowded with the commotion of common competition. Differentiation is key to elevating value. In the words of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs: You can’t look at the competition and say you’re going to do it better. You have to look at the competition and say you’re going to do it differently.
When a building automation system is complete, it often goes through a performance verification phase to ensure that is it operating optimally. After drafting a value proposition, it is similarly valuable to validate the approach to ensure that it is compelling. Marketing and branding specialist Bill Cates recommends 6 C’s of Effective Value Propositions that can be helpful for this purpose:
CONCISE. Ensure that your value proposition is concise. It is appropriate to have different propositions for different situations and particularly different audiences.
CLEAR. Ensure that the value proposition is free from industry jargon and complicated sentence structure. Can the value be understood by people with no understanding of the industry or product?
CONVERSATIONAL. Your target audience is a person. Craft the value proposition as you would express the benefits in a casual conversation.
CLIENT-ORIENTED. Does the value proposition convey how your customer will use the product and benefit for the features?
CONVEY EMOTION. People often choose with whom they work based upon how they feel. Complement this natural process by using descriptive, emotional words in a value proposition such as: safe, secure, confidence, peace of mind, reassurance, fear, risk, profit, commitment, and loyalty.
CITE EXAMPLES. Specific examples of how we have benefitted other people makes the value real to our audience. Having a broad library of project examples empowers us to tailor our message to each specific project and center of influence.
To these we are adding a seventh C:
7. CONVICTION. If we do not believe our value proposition, we cannot expect others to believe it. Shallow conviction can only espouse shallow belief in our audience; whereas, a personal and deep-seated conviction can inspire a deep-seated belief. Sales is 90 percent conviction and 10 percent communication – Dr. Vivek Bindra.
Developing and leveraging a compelling value proposition is fundamental to the ability to increase sales through effective communication with new prospects and continuous reassurance with existing clientele. Never forget, the way that we talk about our value will not only help to increase competitive advantage, it also teaches our clients how to recommend us to others (Cates, 2016).
Crafting a value proposition that compels consumers to act and that creates favorable motivation within centers of influence is only the first step. Having a value proposition but failing to properly leverage it for competitive advantage is like the gazelle allowing the cheetah to close without immediately attempting to flee. Value propositions are most effective in a sales culture that synchronizes the message throughout the organization. At trade shows, sales calls, lunch-and-learns, and drinks at the pub, all members of a sales culture should be consistently conveying the value proposition. During technical reviews and project deployment, technical and engineering teams must reinforce the benefits promised by the value proposition. After the sale, during warranty and throughout ongoing support of the customer, technicians should reinforce the value proposition, and ensure that the benefits, and therefore the value, is being delivered as promised. The words and actions of the entire team should be carefully synchronized to reinforce the value proposition. If we promise to care for the customer, then we must care for the customer. If we promise to save energy, then we must save energy.
Consider our products and services from the perspective of the user. Determine how we can make their life better, even in small ways. Clearly and consistently articulate and leverage whatever it is that makes our team the best in messaging and execution. Say what we’re going to do and do what we say. These are simple, yet all too often rare, ways to proactively create a competitive advantage in our marketplace.
It is possible for a building automation business to have a measure of success by being a consumer of the established marketplace with little or no proactive sales culture. We can respond to public bids and requests for quotations. We can lean on existing clientele and recommendations. We can share the conventional beliefs established by our competitors regarding, how to compete, who are the consumers, what do they value, what products and services should be offered. However, as rivals attempt to exploit the common marketplace, they often wind up competing solely on the basis of incremental improvement in cost or quality (Kim & Mauborgne, 1999). Being a passive, or even simply reactive, consumer of the established marketplace curated by competitors is like playing someone else’s game according to someone else’s rules.
It would be naïve on our part to believe that our competitors are not actively hunting in the same market, not stalking the same opportunities (including our customers), are not looking for every opportunity to succeed. Our marketplace grows everyday more competitive, with more and more players looking for ways to exploit the same consumers, looking for ways to be better, or cheaper.
More than 30 percent of business-to-business companies have not established compelling value propositions and 54 percent of companies fail to optimize their value propositions (Patel, 2014). A compelling value proposition is one way that we can prepare for the struggle, one thing that can give us a competitive advantage, and one approach that helps us to be better by design.
Reliable Controls is a privately-held organization. From our first day we have answered to our customers rather than shareholders. This empowers us to make tough decisions that benefit people, the planet, and the profitability of our dealers and end users. This philosophy allows us to care for our customers for the life of their facilities and enterprises rather than the life of an electronic component.
Reliable Controls Authorized Dealers have been individually-selected to help us succeed in the mission of earning and sustaining the reputation for having the most satisfied customers in the industry. The only question remaining is do we individually believe this promise, this value proposition? Will we choose to empower our customers and make their lives better, even in small seemingly insignificant ways?
Be the gazelle or be the cheetah. Be the prey or be the predator. Be complacent, or continuously struggle to improve. Be naïve or be aware. The choice belongs to each us. But have no doubt, with the proper awareness, motivation, and action, we can choose to be better by design.
Anderson, J. C., & Narus, J. A. (1998, December). Business Marketing: Understand What Customers Value. Retrieved October 19, 2018, from Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/1998/11/business-marketing-understand-what-customers-value
Anderson, J. C., Narus, J. A., & Van Rossum, W. (2006, March). Customer Value Propositions in Business Markets. Retrieved October 19, 2018, from Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2006/03/customer-value-propositions-in-business-markets
Barnes, C., & Blake, H. (2014). Harnessing Your Customer Truth. Retrieved February 16, 2015, from Futurecurve: http://www.futurecurve.com/value-proposition-white-paper
Brady, T. (2014, April 2). Daily Mail. Retrieved from Now it’s spot the cheetah: After the sneaky snow leopard we challenged you to find yesterday, can you see another big cat hiding in the long grass?: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2595077/Following-challenge-spot-snow-leopard-yesterday-spot-cheetah-stalking-prey-unlike-one-poor-gazelles.html
Cates, B. (2016, May 12). The 6 C’s of a Compelling Value Proposition That Drives Sales. Retrieved October 19, 2018, from Hubspot: https://blog.hubspot.com/sales/building-blocks-of-compelling-value-proposition
Cespedes, F. V. (2015, January 13). Any Value Proposition Hinges on the Answer to One Question. Retrieved October 19, 2018, from Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2015/01/any-value-proposition-hinges-on-the-answer-to-one-question
Gotham Culture. (n.d.). What Is Organizational Culture? Retrieved October 19, 2018, from Gotham Culture: https://gothamculture.com/what-is-organizational-culture-definition/
Kim, W. C., & Mauborgne, R. (1999, January). Creating New Market Space. Retrieved October 2, 2018, from Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/1999/01/creating-new-market-space
Levinson, J. C., & Lautenslager, A. (2014, June 10). Sales Tip: Stop Listing Features. Tell Your Customers the Benefits. Retrieved October 19, 2018, from Entrepreneur: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/234200
Patel, N. (2014, December 3). Quicksprout. Retrieved from How to Write a Great Value Proposition: https://www.quicksprout.com/2014/12/03/how-to-write-a-great-value-proposition/
Printwand. (2012, December 5). Benefits vs. Features: The Crucial Key to Selling Your Product. Retrieved October 19, 2018, from Printwand: https://www.printwand.com/blog/benefits-vs-features-the-crucial-key-to-selling-your-product
Shewan, D. (2018, October 12). WordStream. Retrieved from 7 of the Best Value Proposition Examples We’ve Ever Seen: https://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2016/04/27/value-proposition-examples
Skok, M. (2013, June 14). 4 Steps To Building A Compelling Value Proposition. Retrieved October 19, 2018, from Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelskok/2013/06/14/4-steps-to-building-a-compelling-value-proposition/#6a9095946958
Stark, K., & Stewart, B. (2012, September 24). 3 Rules of a Compelling Value Proposition. Retrieved October 19, 2018, from Inc.: https://www.inc.com/karl-and-bill/3-rules-of-a-compelling-value-proposition.html
Sukhraj, R. (2016, October 14). Impact. Retrieved from Develop your value proposition.: https://www.impactbnd.com/blog/what-makes-up-a-killer-value-proposition-infographic
Vappingo. (n.d.). 101 Examples of Features Versus Benefits. Retrieved October 19, 2018, from Vappingo: https://www.vappingo.com/word-blog/examples-of-features-versus-benefits/
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