Whether we want to admit it or not, we all struggle at some point. Personally or professionally we can lose our confidence, and wonder if we’ll ever get it back.

I recently took a series of steps to shed an attitude where I believed I had lost my ability to sell. I struggled with this for several months until last month when I attended a workshop on “How to Build Your Value Proposition: The Foundation of any Startup” at the Rev3 Innovation Center at the Northern Illinois University Naperville campus. The speaker, Pat Helmers, was intent on teaching the dozen or so entrepreneurs about how to sell with confidence.

I sorely needed the confidence boost, and I was curious about Helmers’ value proposition methodology and its applicability in our work with clients. Helmers categorized the decisions we make into two groups – pain and desire. We address pain immediately but address desire when we can, and often postpone it indefinitely. We let our emotions influence both types of decisions.

Helmers walked us through four questions to help us build our value proposition. His direct ask: “Does your product or service address a pain or desire?” At HMS it’s both. We are often hired by clients in a pickle with truly urgent needs, while their aspirations sit on the sidelines.

So, a company’s value proposition must both cure a pain and be urgently needed by potential customers. To discover ways where HMS can solve pain, I followed Helmers’ suggestion to ask business professionals to talk about their own problems. I grabbed 15 unsuspecting people at the Small Business Expo at the University of Illinois at Chicago and asked the following questions:

  1. What is your business goal? (Helped get them to tell me their story.)
  2. Biggest challenge? (Suggested examples such as not enough cash, too few customers, can’t hire and retain the right people, etc.)
  3. What would it take to overcome that challenge? (Examples: more customers, a dedicated HR person, marketing!)
  4. What would it mean to you if you could overcome that challenge? (Listened to understand the value of a solution, examples include more money, more vacation, more personal time.)

These questions and their answers helped me review and evaluate my approach to business development. It informed our work with clients. And most important, it gave me back my confidence to approach people. And, it was apparently contagious, as I learned in a follow up email:

P.S. Karen – I want to thank you for your enthusiasm at my booth on Thursday. I was a bit nervous about the expo and I have to say engaging with you early on gave me a little boost of confidence to carry throughout the rest of the day. Our interaction will be one that I will remember. Thank you so much! 

Thanks to Helmers and these exhibitors I was reminded of an important life lesson – challenges are surmountable. These folks together changed my outlook from negative to positive and taught me that sometimes we just need some help regaining our confidence.

I also was reminded that a big part of our business is to help our customers overcome their challenges. We truly want to help you, and hope you reach out. We believe in you – and we will do what it takes to help you believe in yourself.

Next time, I’ll write more about the people from the companies who I met. Thanks also to Mike Allen, Project Manager, Benchmark Imaging & Display; Christian Buerk, Director of Sales at VoIP Supply; Joe Danesi, Business Development Coordinator, Bibby Financial Services; David Durick, Product Marketing Manager, PAYCHEX; Doug Fillenkamp, Simfoni; Donald Jaworski, Enterprise Account Executive at RCN; Darren McCaffrey, Portfolio Manager Direct Acceptance Group, North American Bancard | PayAnywhere; Drew Monroe, Founder, Bluegill.io; Michael Newcomb, President, Worldwise.net; Chelsea Ramage, Marketing Coordinator, Lakeshore Recycling Systems; William Slater, Director of Business Development, dial800.com; Bob Smith, Chief Technology Officer, infofree.com; Bryan Steen, Licensed Sales Agent, Western Star Insurance Services, Inc.; Joe Williams, Account Executive, Stratosphere Networks; and Tyler Wonderlic, Solutions Advisor, Wonderlic, Inc.