What is value, and how do you identify it for your business? Customers are searching for a product or service that solves their problem and delivers value.
University of Utah alum Taylor Bench discussed the value we create in our businesses and how to identify and market it effectively in a recent workshop provided in the Lassonde for Life program. These workshops are open to all University of Utah alumni and provide free, lifelong entrepreneurial support. He reviewed a variety of frameworks, such as “the value proposition canvas,” “the big idea canvas,” and “the jobs-to-be-done theory.” Below are his tips and insights.
Bench is a managing director of Summit Venture Studio, a hybrid studio/fund focused on commercializing software created by researchers at more than 40 universities across the country. Before founding that company, he was the director of the new ventures team at the Technology Venture and Commercialization Office (now called the PIVOT Center) at the University of Utah. In that position, Bench was responsible for managing the equity portfolio of over 110 startups that spun out of the university. He has a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and an MBA from the University of Utah.
What is Value?
Bench began by asking entrepreneurs, “What is the value your product provides?” and urged them to think about the answer. If this isn’t a question you’ve thought of yet, spend some time defining the value your company offers. Many of us struggle to understand what value really means and, more specifically, what it means to our customers. Bench defined value as “something that is beneficial, useful, important, or has worth or significance in people’s lives.”
He shared the impact of converting a product’s benefit to its value for the customer. For example, if a product offers convenience, the benefit is that the customer avoids hassle. This exercise can be useful in transforming your message to your customer and pinpointing your value. It’s important to simplify your benefits and values in order to reach your target audience.
Bench proposed different frameworks to help elaborate your value proposition. “The value proposition canvas” helps you identify where your customer’s gains and pains align with your product’s gain creators or pain relievers. If your customer is experiencing a particular problem, your goal is to understand how you can solve it.
Bench also introduced “the big idea canvas”, which helps you quantify the pain of your customer and the prescription you offer. The scoring allows you to assess how much value your solution can bring to a customer population. Many of the questions are rated on a scale, such as “How big is the pain the customer is feeling?” on a scale from 1 (mosquito bite) to 5 (shark bite). This visual and quantifiable representation of value can challenge you to consider various factors that may influence your scoring and how your product stacks up against competitors or alternative solutions. Using these frameworks allows you to shape your product to fit the market.
“We are generating and marketing value to multiple customers,” Bench reminded the group. These can include end users or those that may influence the purchase of your product or service. An assessment of the value created should be completed for each of these types of customers to understand how your product or service solves different problems, depending on the buyer. In an example shared in the presentation, a business owner developing a preschool program to support low-income families through government subsidies identified both the caregivers of the children and the government as her customers. Bench explored the idea that the value we propose, or offer may be different for each of those groups.
Next, Bench introduced the “jobs-to-be-done theory”, which outlines the basic tenets of value creation and focuses on objective measures. One tenet, for example, is “A job-to-be-done is stable over time,” and challenges creators to think about the future of their product and whether it provides sustainable value. Identify the job your customers want to be completed and respond to that need.
Strategyn provides examples of product descriptions and templates that help explain value in terms of “jobs-to-be-done” in a verb + object of the verb + contextual clarifier format. Bench used the example of a drill bit (product) versus a quarter-inch hole (job-to-be-done) and explained how sellers of drill bits benefit from selling the outcome of the job the customer is seeking. In this case, customers can search “a quarter-inch hole” and see that the drill bit appears as a solution, or a means, to complete the job.
Bench encouraged creators to ask themselves, “Is [your product] a means to what your customer wants or is it what your customer actually wants?” and suggested that we use our answer to describe the value we can provide to our customers.
Artificial Intelligence & Intelligence
Artificial Intelligence can also support your interview and exploration process with your customers. These innovative technologies, such as ChatGPT, can automate your initial research questions by offering relevant prompts to elicit information from people.
Bench also recommended the book “Talking to Humans,” which is free for non-profits and students, and explains how to effectively frame conversations with real people and ask the right questions. These conversations help us refine our understanding of value. Bench suggested that diving deeper into one question when seeking an answer provides more valuable information than asking many surface-level questions. He advised the group to listen to the answer a customer shares and inquire further. If you want to understand the value you provide, you must find your customer’s true problem or the outcome they desire.
Dealing with Constraints
The “jobs-to-be-done theory” also provides approaches for common constraints you may face when moving a product to market, such as a constrained market selection or a product that may have been developed without the customer or market in mind. This situation may motivate the creator to research which market is viable and ready for a product, such as the one designed, and learn the product well enough to define its value and the job it gets done.
Defining value is a continuous and thoughtful exercise that challenges business owners to think beyond what they know about their product and consider who their customers are, what they need, and how their product meets those needs.
Bench shared the following resources to support efforts in identifying the value a product or service offers: