[ Interview ] B2B Product Positioning Expert Nkiruka Nwasokwa on Creating Value Propositions That Sell

A few weeks back, I spoke to Nkiruka Nwasokwa for The Lean B2B Podcast. We talked about sales, disruptive innovation, value proposition design, B2B product positioning, and customer development.

You can watch the full interview below, or access it on iTunes, Google, or Spotify.

Interview Transcript

Nkiruka Nwasokwa – B2B Product Positioning Expert

Etienne Garbugli: My guest today is Nkiruka Nwasokwa. Nkiruka helps technical founders with great but complicated technologies explain and sell their products with a really interesting framework that she developed. Nkiruka is a math major. She has 20 years of experience working in marketing and advertising with the last four focused on clarity and explainability of abstract concepts here.

Nkiruka, welcome to the podcast.

Nkiruka Nwasokwa: Glad to be here.

Etienne Garbugli: So maybe as a first question, can you maybe talk about your background and what got you interested in disruptive innovation?

Nkiruka Nwasokwa: I’ve always been interested in innovation and original ideas. It’s kind of a long backstory, but I had been writing since I was very young, but I also have an analytical side. So I have both the creative and the analytical. And after college, as you mentioned in the intro, I got involved in advertising, marketing, but I found that I was actually drawn towards ideas that were really innovative.

And when I went out on my own and started doing freelance work, I started getting clients who were more on the creative, cutting-edge side. And I had a client who actually had a very innovative process. I refer to everything as a product, whether it’s a process, a system, a physical product. Just anything that solves a problem for someone, I refer to it as a Product, Solution, or Technology.

His product was actually very innovative, very cutting edge for his market. But it was unlike anything that they had ever seen or heard of before. So he was having trouble explaining it. And I found that that level of innovation was really fascinating to me.

And so that’s how I got into the work that I’ve been doing. But I’m always drawn to ideas that break the status quo and are different because I think that’s how we move things forward and that’s how you get those insights that move people and society and things forward.

Etienne Garbugli: That’s great. In our previous discussion, you had mentioned that you did a deep dive into how successful innovations were brought to market. What are some of the key things that you learned?

Nkiruka Nwasokwa: Specifically, I was looking at how the creators of those innovations explained them or described them to their market. So really looking at how those ideas were shaped in the minds of the target customers. And the main thing that I discovered is that when you innovate; when you create any kind of product or service, you don’t just create the product once. You actually have to build it twice.

You build it once as a thing that you create. Let’s just say it’s physical technology. So you actually engineer the thing. But then, you actually also have to build it in your customer’s mind so that they can see the value and see the impact of the thing you built. Because we’ve built this incredible technology, but they misunderstand it or they think it’s something else, or they think it does something else.

And whatever it is that they think it is or does has less value than the thing you’ve actually built. Then you don’t actually have an innovative product because what matters is the customer’s understanding of your product. So you can imagine you have the original thing, but the only thing that matters is that hologram or that image, or that idea, or understanding in your customer’s mind, and that’s what you have to engineer.

So your work isn’t done. You have to also re-engineer it again. And that’s what a lot of people miss because they’re struggling to get people to see the incredible thing that they’ve built. But there are some nuances to that that can actually hurt that process or slow things down in terms of people having the right thing built in their minds. And so that’s what I’ve come to observe.

So, with your questions specifically, some innovations that were brought to market, I noticed that they all had one thing in common, which is that there was a contradiction at the heart of how these products were described. And explaining that the product as a logical contradiction immediately snaps the customer’s mind into an understanding of what the product can do.

An example is the first iPod that was created in 2001. Steve Jobs didn’t come out and market it as a five-gigabit music player that stores songs at a 160-kilobit rate because, yes, that actually was what it does, and that is groundbreaking, but that’s not the right understanding for the target customer. The right understanding for the target customer — which is just general music users or music lovers and it’s not about dumbing it down because everybody is intelligent — that’s my basic premise.

Everybody is intelligent. Everybody has enough background to understand whatever it is you’ve created. The right way of describing that product was 1,000 songs in your pocket. And that’s a contradiction that communicates to the customer something that actually sounds impossible to them.

So it’s a device that holds 1,000 songs, which is an astronomical amount of music for that time period, but it fits in your pocket, which actually sounds impossible for that time period because people at that time only understood Walkmans and CD players, none of which held a 1,000 songs. I think they held at most 15 or 20 and they didn’t fit in your pocket.

So this was a groundbreaking idea. It was literally unheard of. And so that contradiction communicates to the market exactly how it’s making their lives faster or easier — hold lots of songs, carry them around easily — but in a way that’s never been done before. And that never-been-done-before aspect is what people really have to get in order to grasp the value of your product.

So, again, Steve Jobs engineered his product, the five-gigabit music player. That’s the technology. But then he has to re-engineer it again in a customer’s mind and as this contradiction, 1,000 songs in your pocket.

And so that phrase isn’t amazing because it’s short or because it’s snappy. It’s actually amazing because it’s actually a contradiction and it’s a unique contradiction for that specific market. So that contradiction has to be unique to your product and unique to the market. Meaning they’ve never heard it before and it doesn’t actually sound possible to them. And that’s what snaps them awake.

And there are other examples of this. Another successful innovation, just to throw another one out there, is the Dyson vacuum cleaner. When he launched, he was doing this really cool commercial where he was just sitting there with this crazy-looking vacuum cleaner. And he says, “The only vacuum that doesn’t lose suction.”

Now, that’s also kind of a contradiction. Well, every vacuum cleaner eventually loses suction because it has a bag and the apparatus and the machinery eventually get run down. And he says, “No, it never loses suction.” So he contradicts that.

So immediately you hear this, you’re like, “So it’s basically almost a vacuum cleaner that runs forever?” He’s built this product, but he doesn’t tell you, well, he does eventually, but he doesn’t lead with the dual cyclone and technology. When he really wants to shape it in the customer’s mind, the takeaway is “the only vacuum cleaner that doesn’t lose suction”. Immediately, you get it.

And then all the details about the engineering and the design; that’s the how of how that’s being done. And so a lot of innovations follow this pattern of that contradiction and then drawing people in, rebuilding it in their mind as this as a breakthrough. The contradiction is how people see the breakthrough. The two that I mentioned did pretty well. They’re products that did pretty well.

Etienne Garbugli: We know about both of them at least. But I’m also getting from what you’re mentioning that there’s a really important aspect of understanding the points of reference of these people. Like, at the time, you were talking about 15 songs was the standard; now you’re comparing to that or you’re creating that gap. At the same time, it fits in my pocket. So, is it an essential part to really grasp what the reference points of your customers are?

Nkiruka Nwasokwa: That’s essential. That’s actually the first step because if you have a contradiction that isn’t relevant to your target market, then your product isn’t relevant. And I actually have a story. I spoke with someone who had a technology that reduced a process from I think it was like seven minutes down to three milliseconds, which is pretty incredible for that timeframe. It turns out his customers didn’t care.

So your contradiction has to be improving on something that they care about. And so the first step is to understand what their status quo is. And typically, if you were to break it down, every technology solves a problem or presents an opportunity. So you want to look at how your technology makes life for your customer faster or easier than what they’re currently doing. And it better be a lot faster and a lot easier.

Then you want to look at, well, what’s that basic benefit that is making it faster or easier. And then you want to look at how your technology delivers that benefit in that contradictory way. How does it contradict the status quo? How is it delivering that benefit without sort of the normal ingredients that come with delivering that benefit?

An example is the Ring video doorbell. That’s another product everyone probably knows about. It’s kind of hard to imagine now, but remember when in life there were no video doorbells, surveillance was just for the super-rich or the police or the CIA or whatever. People didn’t have that.

Then someone comes along and invents this product that lets you get the basic benefit of answering the door without being home. And that’s a contradiction because as far as most people know, you have to be home to physically answer the door. And he says, “Well, no, you don’t have to be home anymore.”

So a basic benefit is answering the door and the contradiction is without physically being home. And that was the paradigm shift. And it was relevant as you can see it’s quite a lucrative market. And Ring was sold to Amazon for, I think it was a billion dollars or something like that. But that was a contradiction at the heart of the product; answer the door from anywhere, answer the door without being home. It contradicted the status quo and moved things forward.

Etienne Garbugli: Do you have any idea or any questions that maybe founders or innovators can ask themselves or their users to understand what the right contradiction might be for their technology?

Nkiruka Nwasokwa: Yeah. It’s really what I said before. The most important question is how does my product, how does my technology make things faster or easier for the customer? And then ask yourself, what is making it faster or easier for the customer to do or to get?

So, if we look at Ring, I’ll see if I didn’t do this on the fly. Well, the first question is, is it making things faster or easier? The answer actually for any product is probably both, but you just pick one. So with Ring, let’s just say it’s easier. You just get a sense of it. It’s making things easier.

And then you ask yourself, well, what does it make easier? Well, it’s easier to check who’s at the door or monitor the front door. And then you say, okay, so answering the front door. And then you look at well, in the way that it’s doing that, in the mechanism that it’s doing that, how is it contradicting the normal way of answering the front door? Because there’s a way that people already do it. How does your product do that in a way that contradicts that?

And that’s the key to every breakthrough innovation. I think it’s at the heart of every innovation, but let’s just play with breakthrough innovations for the time being. And you want to look at how it contradicts the way that people normally do that.

And so, with Ring, you can answer the door without being home. And that’s the contradiction concept. That concept is inherent in the notion of answering the door. With most people at that time, okay, I’m going to answer the door. I’m probably sitting on the couch and I hear the doorbell ring or I’m in someplace in my house and I hear the doorbell ring. I run downstairs and answer the door. But now, Ring is saying, “We’re going to contradict that.” That’s what the technology does.

Now, you can answer the door and you’re not at home. So we just contradicted that whole concept. And that’s what you have to dig to find out. That contradiction concept is actually an inherent part of the benefit. So you have to actually look at the benefit and say, “Well, what does it mean to answer the door?” Okay, well, I get up. I’m home. I touch the doorknob.

Just look at all the things and then ask yourself, “Well, which of these concepts or ideas is my product actually removing from the equation” Once you find that, you’ve got your contradiction, “answer the door without being home”.

So there’s always a core benefit and then a contradiction concept. So you take it from inside the benefit and say, “Well, we don’t do this piece of it anymore.” And you’ll know that you have the right idea if it kind of sounds weird. Like, how can you do that? Even when you say it to yourself or you imagine your target customer hearing it, you should be able to imagine them saying, “Well, how is that even possible?”

And that’s the point. It should sound like magic because technology is kind of like magic. I think Arthur C. Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” So the contradiction bridges that gap and it directly tells people what the magic of your product is without you having to explain all the details of what it does and how it works and forcing them to piece together why it’s incredible. You can just directly tell them and you do that with a contradiction. And it blows their mind, too.

Etienne Garbugli: Are there any guidelines in terms of how you express it? Like the ones you mentioned were fairly short. Can I have a longer one or what kind of words should I be using? Are there things that are guidelines in terms of how I express my contradiction?

Nkiruka Nwasokwa: Yeah. The contradiction itself is actually a very simple statement and it’s a short statement. Again, not because people are dumb and not because you’re trying to be catchy but because that’s the fastest way. And that’s actually the most powerful way for people to understand the concept.

The other thing is they have no adjectives or adverbs or any kind of descriptive language or anything that remotely sounds like you’re trying to convince someone. So you would never say, “A more efficient way of doing…” because efficient is a judgment. It’s an adjective.

And the reason we don’t use adjectives is because adjectives are you drawing a conclusion for your customer and feeding it to them about how they should think about your product. When you say it’s a more efficient way to do this, then it hits the customer’s mind as, “Oh, they want me to perceive it that way.” But then, maybe even subconsciously, it’s like, “Well, I’ll be the judge of that.” And then people want to maybe push back. People don’t really trust the judgments or the descriptions that you give them about your own product because, of course, you’re going to tell them that it’s amazing.

What’s better is to keep it completely objective and make it a statement that when people hear it, all they need to know is that, if what you’ve just said is true, then this product is amazing. And they themselves would judge it to be efficient, fast, better than all the other options that are out there.

And you don’t have to convince them at all that. As soon as it feels like they’re being convinced, if you throw in an adjective, even the way the words are put together, if it sounds like a marketing statement, then immediately, people’s guard goes up. It sounds like a tagline. It sounds like a slogan. It sounds like you’re trying to… and we’re inundated with that.

But if you hear something like “The texting app that works without internet.” There are no adjectives in that statement. But for most people who are not familiar with Bluetooth mesh network technology, that statement is mind-blowing. “Wait, how can I send text messages if I don’t have internet and if I’m not connected to Wi-Fi? How does that work?” Pure contradiction. Send a message using your phone without internet.

They don’t need to tell you that it’s faster than searching for Wi-Fi. They don’t need to tell you that it’s easier. Those are both adjectives. They’re both judgments and they become judgments if you use them in this statement. They can be objectively true, but the moment you tell someone that they’re true; you’re trying to convince them to want your product.

So what you do is you just give them the facts. It’s almost like they’re a jury in a trial. Just give them the facts and let them be the judge of whether it’s amazing, worthwhile, and incredible so “1,000 songs in your pocket”.

And technically, numbers are adjectives, but not in the sense that we’re talking about. “1,000 songs in your pocket”; he didn’t say the most incredible MP3 player. He didn’t say cutting-edge. He didn’t say groundbreaking. He didn’t say any of the things people want to say about their product. And the industry is riddled with adjectives and overblown language and slogans. And for some people, that works.

And for some, it doesn’t.

But for a breakthrough technology, it can actually cover up the innovation because all people hear is the fact that you’re trying to sell it. They don’t actually see the power of the technology that you’ve created. And when you get to the essence of it, and you just put that in front of people, it just burns through all those layers of skepticism and dismissiveness, and it’s just like, “Whoa! What? How do you make apps work without internet? How does this happen?

Etienne Garbugli: Well, it’s interesting because it’s like showing restraint helps make it more believable. Whereas a lot of entrepreneurs or marketers will think that adding these objectives or anything that helps clarify or make it even more impressive or making more feel like it’s magical will make it more believable to people when it’s really, from what I’m understanding from what you’re saying is by just removing all the luster or all the fireworks or anything like that, just making it core and make the idea clear helps make it more believable.

Nkiruka Nwasokwa: Yes. And it’s good that you mentioned believable. The next piece of this is when you find the contradiction; you also have to make sure that it’s a certain kind of claim.

So we removed the adjectives so that people don’t feel like you’re trying to sell them something. Because if you use an adjective immediately, people hear that you’re trying to sell them because adjectives sell. Take out the adjectives so it doesn’t sound like you’re trying to sell them anything.

So they don’t even know that you’re giving a pitch. So we take out all the adjectives. Now, you look at your statement, you look at your contradiction and you want to make sure that it’s a statement that is what I call obviously believable.

So if we look at, “Answer the door without being home”, that statement is what I call, obviously, believable because the statement actually tells you how you could prove it false if I’m lying. You know exactly how to prove it false. You’re going to get the Ring doorbell and you’re going to say, “Does it let me answer the door and can I do it without being home?” Are you going to grab an iPod and say, “Does it hold 1,000 songs? Does it fit in my pocket?” The statement tells you how to prove it false if it’s not true.

Now, the cool thing is when you hear a statement like this, you immediately know how to prove it false. And you know that it’s that transparent that it’s telling you what to check. It tells you what to check so those things are obvious and those things are easy to check. So they have to be things that can be checked immediately. That’s why we don’t want it to be a statement like “Save 30% off your budget in one year.” Yeah, it’s obvious what to check, but those things aren’t easy to check. I mean, even 30%, there’s a little math you’ve got to do to figure out, well, is it 30% less than what it was? And then you got to wait an entire year to see if it actually happened. That’s not easy to check. There’s already a lot involved there. There’s time and then there’s comparisons.

So it has to be something that is obvious and it has to be immediate. So “1,000 songs in your pocket”, if we’re talking about a product, it’s immediate because you know, theoretically, hypothetically, I could just get it and see how many songs does it hold? Does it fit in my pocket?

Now, in the moment, you don’t actually have to go run and get an iPod. Just knowing that you could confirm it and prove it false lets you know that the statement has to be true because Steve Jobs wouldn’t make such a crazy statement that tells you how to prove it false, unless it were actually true. Therefore, it has to be true. So it sounds true because it’s such a clean statement.

But if you said it’s cutting edge technology; well, there’s no way to prove cutting edge because that means different things to different people, but 1,000 songs in your pocket. Well, either it holds 1,000 songs or it doesn’t. So that’s a binary value for that piece of it. And either it fits in your pocket or it doesn’t. Again, binary value. So each piece of the contradiction has to have a value of either true or false. And that’s where objectivity comes in. It has to be an objective statement.

So the way it then hits your customer’s mind is it just sounds like an objective statement of fact. So they immediately believe it. It’s inherently trustworthy because, again, they know they could prove it false, so why would you be lying? And then it’s also saying something incredible, something amazing. And so it sounds impossible and it sounds true at the same time. And that combination is what makes it mind-blowing.

Very few people do this. Very few products have statements like this. But when you do, you tend to get that effect that people will say, “Well, how does it do that?” And that’s exactly where you want them to be because that means they believe you. But now they have to know how it works. And that now you get to explain the five-gigabit hard drive and they will listen to every word.

Etienne Garbugli: So you have this great framework called invisibility. And I’m going to refer to the contradiction with your service, which is helping tech founders win deals without pitching, which does seem unbelievable to say. Not unbelievable, but it seems like a contradiction. You mentioned believability needs to have a contradiction. What are the other elements of your framework?

Nkiruka Nwasokwa: The “win deals without pitching” is kind of an umbrella to capture what we’re really doing. So most people, when they think of selling something innovative and new, they want to pitch it because it’s so incredible. They want people to know like, “This is amazing!” And then they want to tell you why it’s amazing, but everyone feels like that about their product all the time.

And so people, investors, customers, and buyers, whatever; they’re hearing this all day, every day. So almost everything sounds like a pitch and that’s why we don’t use adjectives.

Because the moment you use even one adjective, “It’s a more efficient software.” Boom, you’re selling. It’s done. So what we want to do is we want to win deals, we want to win people over. We want to convince them without pitching them.

And so I actually call this whole principle invisibility. And what it means is that you’re talking about your products in a subtle way that causes your customer to immediately convince themselves that they need it and that nothing else can do what it does. So a deal, and I use that term loosely, happens sooner and quite easily. Meaning they’re interested; they want to hear more, “I got to hear how this whole thing works.”

This actually happened with my first client where we found this contradiction. People started having that reaction immediately to what he does, and he sells an IT service. It’s not intuitively the sexiest, most amazing thing, but it’s brilliant. What he does is brilliant. And for his target customers who are CIOs large organizations, he can help them do this incredible thing.

So getting back to invisibility; it’s all your product. Yes, you are pitching it, but you’re also not pitching it. And so what invisibility does is it enables you to pitch your technology to a potential customer any time for as long as it takes to convince them because they never know you’re giving a pitch. And what that means is you never actually need to get their permission. You never need to steal them for a moment to throw all your adjectives at them. It’s invisible in its style because it doesn’t remotely smell like a pitch.

Let’s look at our examples: “Answer the door from anywhere.” So, it’s like, “Etienne, what does your product do? I hear you have this thing called Ring? What does it do?” You say, “Oh, it lets you answer the door from anywhere.” That’s not a pitch, but it is because to that customer that doesn’t sound like a pitch. It just sounds like a description of what it does.

The problem is it’s the most incredible, amazing thing they’ve ever heard because it’s a contradiction. So it doesn’t smell like a pitch because you didn’t use any adjectives. So it’s invisible in its style. It’s also invisible in its length. “Answer the door from anywhere,” you can say that in about 3.5 seconds.

The other hallmark of the pitch is that it’s kind of long. You feel like you got to sit and everybody really would see that. When you use a contradiction and you’ve distilled what your technology does down to that three to five seconds statement, you can just give it to someone, state it to someone. They won’t even know that they’ve been sold.

If you’re talking to the right customer and you know that your product makes life faster or easier for them in a way that’s truly meaningful, and you’ve identified that contradiction concept within the benefit, and you’ve pulled it out, and you say it to a homeowner who cares about home security, “Yeah, this lets you answer the door from anywhere,” you’ve got their attention. And it was so short, they didn’t even know what hit them. It’s not even an elevator pitch.

So what do we have? Number one, it’s invisible in its style. It doesn’t smell like a pitch because you don’t have any adjectives. It’s invisible in its length. It’s so short, people don’t even realize they’ve been pitched. And it’s also invisible in its content. And we’ve covered that as well. It’s saying something so incredible that it doesn’t sound like a pitch.

Most pitches sound like you’ve got something kind of cool and now I’m trying to convince you. I’m trying to convince you that this thing I just told you really is as cool as I believe it to be. And that’s a pitch. You’re trying to bridge that gap. Like, “I’ve got this good thing and I want you to also believe that it’s good. So now I’m going to explain to you why you should think that the thing I just told you about is really good if you don’t already think it’s good.”

It’s kind of weird, right? But with this invisible pitch, you tell them and they’re immediately like, “Whoa, that’s amazing!” “How do you do that?” “How can I text without internet?”

“How do I answer the door if I’m not home?” They can’t figure it out because they live in their world, their status quo, and they weren’t there when you built the product. Your product is literally on the edge of what’s possible.

So that when you tell them, when you land on earth, then you tell them, “I’ve got this amazing thing,” they’re like, “Whoa, how did you do that?” And for you, it’s nothing because you’ve built it, but it will blow their mind. And it should. When people hear what your incredible technology does, it should blow their mind. It should make them say, “How the hell did you do that?”

Etienne Garbugli: Is it how you test it in that case? Is it you’re trying to get that reaction so you’re just coming up with that new statement and you would try to see what kind of reaction you’re getting from people? So when you’re working with a client, for example, how do you know that it works? How do you know that it attracts or creates that reaction?

Nkiruka Nwasokwa: Yeah. Perfect. You actually test it. When I work with clients, we go through that whole process of identifying the benefit. Is it faster, easier, cool? What benefit is it making faster or easier? Find a contradiction concept. Boom. We’ve got the contradiction.

Then I say, “Okay. Now you have to go test it.” And testing it is really easy and very fun. All you do is however you currently bump into customers, interact with customers, interact with buyers. And my process is specifically for people who are selling B2B. Typically, their product is $50,000 or more per month or per client. It’s that level because the stakes are really high. It’s a really high-ticket offering. So it’s like enterprise level.

The way that it’s tested is you take the contradiction and it’s an iterative process. Let’s say we have a contradiction we think will work. You go and use that in your networking conversations, your chats, and your meetings with people. And you use it at what I call the explanation point. So the very first moment where you’re going to explain the product for the first time to a potential customer, that’s where you use it. And you don’t tell them you’re going to use it. You don’t say, “Hey, I’m testing some messaging. Let me know what you think of this.” You do not do that.

You just use it in explaining your product. So let’s say you meet someone at a networking event. The client I mentioned works in IT. He did a lot of networking. So this is ideal. If we’re meeting in person or over Zoom and people say, “So, what do you do?” And you say, “Oh I have a process that lets you spend less on software without buying less software.” And you shut up.

And if that is an amazing contradiction to this target customer… we have to assume you’re talking to the right person. That’s an absolute must. You must have a way to find the right people, get in front of them, and get into conversation with them so you can actually use your statement. If you’re talking to the right person, their immediate reaction will be, “How?” Immediately because, again, you’ve told them something where it’s obvious to them how to check it. They know how to check it, how to verify it. Those things are easy to verify and it sounds completely amazing. In fact, it sounds impossible because that’s what a contradiction is. It literally sounds impossible to them. They can’t figure out how you do that.

So now their curiosity is so high. Their interest is so high because it’s also something they want, it’s a problem they have, or it’s something they want. They’re going to ask you how because, to them, it will sound like a magic trick. And I like to say that it’s the verbal equivalent of a magic trick. “Well, how do you do this? How do I spend less on software if I’m not buying less of it? That doesn’t really make sense.”

And that’s exactly what my client does. People started asking him, “How do you do this?”

And he was actually able to go from averaging like one interested buyer over four months. And it was a struggle because he was constantly hustling and networking and trying to explain what he does and explain the process, how it works, why it saves them hundreds of thousands of dollars, why they should really invest in this thing that he does.

Etienne Garbugli: So big pitch.

Nkiruka Nwasokwa: Yeah. And people would kind of fall asleep with their eyes open because he was explaining the details of this thing and they don’t even know why they should be listening or what the value is. But when he found the contradiction, he found the thing that they value, the benefit; how was he delivering that benefit in a way that contradicts everything they know?

And it has to be a literal contradiction. It can’t just be like a pain point, like, “Spend less on software without the hassle of blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” Without getting too technical because this is a very sophisticated framework, but words like “hassle”. Hassle is not an adjective, but it is a judgment and it’s subjective. So when you say, “…without the hassle of…” well, hassle means different things to different people. And also sounds like they’re trying to convince you of something. I’m trying to tell you that this is a hassle for you and I solved it. Therefore, you should like this thing that I built. That’s not very attractive.

So we don’t use the words hassle or difficulty, or we’re not trying to tell them what their problem is. If they have a problem, your contradiction will wake them up in the moment. And they’ll say, “Whoa, how do you do that?” That’s what happened to this client.

He started telling people, “I help you spend less on software without buying less software.” And he had some funny stories of the reactions he started getting. He was at a breakfast networking event and one woman talked to him for so long. She was so amazed that their coffee and their food got cold. Other people started inviting him to speak, inviting him to share. He started getting referrals up the food chain to decision-makers at his target organizations. Really incredible things started happening and I think he went from just getting one interested buyer in like four months to getting six of them in six weeks. And his product or service is $75,000 for a six-month engagement.

So the value of his sales pipeline went from $75,000 over four months to $450,000. And these were people who were really interested, lined up, ready to go. $450,000 over six weeks, which is about one and a half months. So it kind of exploded things for him. And that’s because he went invisible. He made the pitch invisible because nobody cares about your pitch.

They want to hear how your thing is life-changing for them. And you can’t tell them it’s life-changing. You can only tell them what it does in a way that will have them see for themselves that it’s life-changing and that’s what he did. And so his pipeline just kind of blew up. And that was just before COVID hit. So he did better in the year when COVID started.

Etienne Garbugli: In this case, you were testing by going through networking, meeting people. So once it starts connecting, what do you recommend entrepreneurs do once they’ve come up with the right contradiction that attracts the right people, hopefully? And how should you start using it? Should you start using it in sales pitches? Should you start reaching out to customers?

Nkiruka Nwasokwa: Use it everywhere? Yeah. “1000 songs in your pocket”, that is your product. You built it in your lab, in your garage, wherever, and then you build it again in your customer’s mind. So an iPod is “1000 songs in your pocket”. That’s what it is. And so you use that everywhere because that is your product in the customer’s mind.

In this case, you would use it as the headline. If you have no other copies, use it as you use it as a one-liner copy on your website. And there are other pieces to it. You always want to follow it up with what I call a “with or by” statement. So you’re saying this impossible thing and you’re getting people to believe it. And it makes them ask how. And they’re asking how because psychologically, the statement is telling them how to prove it or disprove it.

So now they’re trying to figure out how to do that, but the only way they know is to ask you, “Well, how does it hold 1000 songs and also fit in my pocket? How does it let me answer the door and also not be at home?” Your “with or by” statement will answer each piece of the contradiction.

So in the case of the Ring doorbell, “Answer the door without being home,” well, it’s a Wi-Fi-enabled mobile device that gives you access to video of your front door, no matter where you are in the world. So I’ve answered both pieces. And it lets you speak. It’s got audio as well. So it lets you answer the door; we just told them how it lets you do that. But it’s Wi-Fi-enabled and it’s on your phone. So now you know why you don’t have to be home.

And so that’s an example of a “with or by” statement. It has to answer each piece of the contradiction to satisfy your customer’s burning curiosity. And it also completes the loop because now they know how it works and they can see, “Wow, this is the real deal. It really does do the thing you said that it does.”

So you always have the statement.

And I think you mentioned this, but I call it a viral proposition, not a value proposition. A value proposition is flat. It’s just like, “My amazing product makes things more efficient, more efficient software, better way, blah, blah, blah.” Nobody is listening to that really. When you have a viral proposition that follows a framework that we’ve discussed: it’s a contradiction, it’s short.

We didn’t talk too much about that, but it’s going to be eight words long; eight words, or less. And the reason is that you want it to be no more than five seconds to say because that’s the optimal for comprehension. And it’s a contradiction, so it’s saying something that sounds amazing, but also impossible.

Once you have that, you use that everywhere. You make that the main line in your website, for example, and then you have your “with or by” statement to explain it. And now people understand exactly what your product does and how it works. If we’re just doing it in a running conversation, like you say, “Kiki, what does your thing do?” I say, “It lets you answer the door from anywhere, without being home.” And it’s like, “Without being home? Well, how does it do that?” And I say, “Well, it does…” And I give you the “with or by” statement.

Now it clicks and they’re like, “Oh, that’s interesting.” And if you have that problem, you’ve just been sold. Now you want to know maybe some more details. “So, how do I hook it up?” “How long does it take?” This is all the kind of stuff that would be in your body copy in your bullet points if it’s on a website. Or in a conversation, then you’re like, “Oh yeah, well, it’s very easy to set up. You can do it in like 15 minutes and this is how it works.”

And then they just keep asking you questions. They’re like, “Well, can I buy it?” if they have the problem or if they have the interest, and the sale kind of happens naturally because it was invisible. You didn’t say, “I’ve got this great product. It lets you do your home security without having to actually be present. It lets you do 24/7 surveillance.” Then they’re trying to figure out like, “Is this hype? Why are you trying to sell it so hard? Why are you throwing all these adjectives and concepts at me? I don’t know if I believe you.” But if you just tell them what it does and it’s very clear and it’s very amazing, and they get to judge that for themselves, then they say, “Whoa, that’s incredible. It really does that? That’s amazing.”

Another thing that I love is that I saw somewhere. It was something like, “When you say it, it’s selling. When they say it, you’re closing.” And the “it” is how amazing or incredible your product is. So let’s say you’re saying, “This is the most efficient, dynamic, cutting-edge way to…” If you are saying that, you’re selling. If they are saying that after what you’ve just said, you’re closing.

So you say something they’re like, “Whoa, this is the most efficient, dynamic way.” “I mean, this is a breakthrough. This is a miracle.” If they’re the one saying it, then you’ve sold.

Etienne Garbugli: Then you know it’s getting viral?

Nkiruka Nwasokwa: Yeah. Then you know that you’ve converted them and that’s because you didn’t try to push that on them. And yes, that’s what makes this a statement that is viral. It has that aspect. So it’s short enough to understand; eight words, which is about three to five seconds. Incredible enough to want; that’s important. That’s why it has to sound impossible and specifically be that contradiction.

So now, it’s amazing, but it’s also like, how is that possible? And then it has to be precise enough to believe. And that’s why it has to have obvious believability. Each element has to be obvious what to prove, as to tell you what am I proving? Okay. Answer the door, I’m not at home. And those things have to be easy to check. And you get that from that precision. So short, incredible, and precise is another quick shorthand for thinking about it.

Etienne Garbugli: It’s great. I think it’s super valuable. Maybe as the last question, kind of flipping it around, do you think there’s a way for entrepreneurs to start thinking about creating an IP based on this model, where you could guide your innovation early on, where you’re thinking through, “Okay. So what would be the contradiction that we’re enabling and how can we use that to guide what the value we’re bringing to market?”?

Nkiruka Nwasokwa: Absolutely. You want to think in terms of building a contradiction. So you might have a sense of the problem that you want to solve or the opportunity you want to make available to your target customers. Again, we go back to, is it going to make things faster or easier for the customer? You get a sense, and then you say, “Okay. What is it making faster or easier? What is the space I want to plan?” You get a sense of what that is.

So with my client, “Spend less on software. I want a way to help people spend less on software.” Then what you do is you look inside the concept. So we have this concept of spending less on software. You say, “Well, what does that mean?” Right now, if my customer in their own mind, their own logic, were going to spend less on something, what would they do? Well, they’d buy less of it or they’d get coupons or something or whatever.

You want to find that core concept that’s actually almost equivalent to the benefit. So yeah, it would be that they would buy less of it. And then that’s the thing you contradict.

Is there a way they can spend less on it without buying less of it? Then you set about to see, “Well, how would I do that?” How can I create technology or a solution where they’re decreasing the amount they’re spending on something, but they’re not buying less of it? They’re buying the same amount of it. That’s an innovation, and that’s what my client did.

And to get to the heart of what that means because I realize I haven’t explained exactly what he does, and, again, the “with or by” statements. So I’m sure some people are like, “Well, how the hell does he do that?” So yeah, it’s magic. And it sounds like magic to people. So he works in IT asset management.

And so we discovered that he helps people spend less on software without buying less software because he knows something that they don’t know. There’s a secret he knows about software and hardware and spending that most companies aren’t even aware of.

And it’s the fact that a lot of these companies, when they buy software licenses and they buy it for their employees, often they’re left with duplicate licenses. If someone leaves, they’re still paying for that license. Or someone may have a personal license for use at their own computer and a public license if they use a more general computer terminal so the company is paying for that license twice. I didn’t explain it well, but there’s duplication in the license. They’re paying for it twice.

Or if someone leaves and they’re still paying and they didn’t track, “That person left. We should close out their account.” They’re still paying for that. So there are all these unused duplicate licenses that they’re still paying for that they don’t realize they’re paying for.

So they’re actually leaking money every month, hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the size of the organization.

My client does this. He knows that this is a rampant problem in the industry that most people don’t realize is happening. He has an innovative way to identify all the areas where they’re leaking money in terms of these forgotten licenses that they don’t even know they’re still paying for, plugging up those holes, and immediately rescuing that money back into their budget.

So in essence, they are now spending less on software without buying lists software because they’re still using the same amount of software. They’re just not paying these extra costs from the leakages. But now, think of everything I’ve just explained about how this thing worked. If I walked up to you and said, “Yeah, most companies have these duplicate licenses and they’re paying all this money. They don’t realize they’re doing it. He helps him recover that money back into the budget.” That doesn’t sound very groundbreaking. That doesn’t sound amazing.

But when I tell you that the value is that he’s helping them spend less on software without buying less software, that contradiction, you get it. And then you want to know how, and then I explain it. But I don’t lead with the explanation, which is what most people do, and that’s what a pitch is.

A pitch is when you lead with the “with or by” statement. It’s when you lead with the explanation of how it works rather than with the statement of the breakthrough that it’s bringing for the customer. Sorry, I went off on a tangent there but that’s how it works.

Etienne Garbugli: It’s super interesting. So thanks for taking the time. Where can people go to learn more about your work?

Nkiruka Nwasokwa: You can just find me on LinkedIn at my name.

Etienne Garbugli: Thank you.

Nkiruka Nwasokwa: Thanks.

More on Product Positioning

Download the First 4 Chapters Free

Learn the major differences between B2B and B2C customer development, how to think about business ideas, and how to assess a venture’s risk in this 70-page sampler.

Enjoyed this Episode?

Subscribe to The Lean B2B Podcast for more: