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Validating your education services value proposition canvas

Written by Bill Cushard

Published on May 28, 2020

When I created my first value proposition canvas and showed it to others, the first question asked was, “How do we know if this is good?” I was stunned. Speechless. I didn’t have an answer. Not only was I not prepared to answer that question, it never occurred to me that someone might ask that question. I just did what the book told me to do. 

“I don’t know,” was my response. 

Well, that basically blew the entire meeting because the meeting then become about how we know whether my canvas was good, and we never discussed the merits of the jobs or pains or gain creators on the canvas. 

Numerous times since, I have examined many things about that meeting. How I prepared. The value proposition design process. My “I don’t know” response (so much for being vulnerable). The people who questioned why we chose this gain or that job and have never spoken to our customers, and me knowing that our team speaks to customers every day. We know them by name. And yet, I didn’t know how to answer the question, “How do we know if this is good?”

The lesson I learned is that I didn’t validate our value proposition. After I completed the canvas, I didn’t ask myself, “How do I know if this is good?”

Is your value proposition canvas any good?

To get the most out of this article, it will help if you read the previous three articles so you understand the build up. Or, if you have one, get your value proposition canvas and have it ready. Because we are about to help you validate it. 

The next step in the design process is to validate the items on the canvas and determine if there is a fit. According to the book, there are three kinds of fit: 

  1. Problem-solution fit

  2. Product-market fit

  3. Business model fit

We will talk about problem-solution fit. The other two “fits” require you do take your new educations services offerings to market to gauge a reaction and whether your courses survive contact with the customer. Before we get to that, let’s go through a problem-solution fit exercise to validate our value proposition canvas.

Do your gain creators actually create gains? 

Here’s what you do. Call a meeting and gather your team. Go through each sticky note on your canvas and see if it matches with the others. To keep this simple, start with your gain creators. Look at each gain creator, on the left side of your canvas, and then find a gain on the right side of your canvas. Ask yourself, “Which gain does this gain creator create?” If you find a match, put a check mark on each sticky note (or mark it somehow as “validated”).

Really, this is all we are doing to find a problem-solution fit and thus, validating the items on our value proposition canvas.  

Let’s go back to the example we’ve been using in our previous blog posts. Remember, we chose the example of project management software and a customer profile of an administrator.

In this blog, one of our gain creators was “administrator certification offered.” We added this gain creator because we believe that if we offer a certification program for administrators, then administrators will achieve some value (a gain) from taking that course(s) and earning a certification. 

Good assumption.

But is it true? 

To find out whether it is true, we go to the left side of our canvas to find a gain that will be created of our “administrator certification offered” is valid. If you go back to that previous blog, one of the gains we talked about was “gives me a credential.” 

Match.

We have just validated two sticky notes on our canvas. We could validate a product on our canvas, if we listed a product called “Certified Project Management Administrators” course.

If you go back to that previous blog, you will notice three items: 

  1. If a gain is “gives me a credential."

  2. The gain creator might be “administrator certification offered.”

  3. The product might be “Certified Project Management Administrators.”

Obviously, this is a simplified example to demonstrate the exercise, which is to validate that the gain creators, pain relievers, and products on the left side of the canvas, match up with the gains, pains, and jobs on the right side of the canvas.

You won’t validate everything

You will go through this process for each sticky note on your canvas. I like to start with the gain creators and pain relievers because it flows nicely to ask:

  1. What gain does this gain creator create? 

  2. What pain does this pain reliever relieve? 

As you go through this process, you will find that you won’t be able to validate every item on your canvas. That’s OK. You won’t be able to validate everything. Frankly, you won’t want to because your training courses probably won’t cover every need your customers have. 

Once you have validated the items on your canvas, it’s time to put the canvas to work.

It’s time to prototype (towards product-market fit)

There are two ways to put your value proposition canvas to work in your education services team.

  1. Prototype new course offerings

  2. Develop marketing messaging

Here’s how you might prototype new course offerings. Going back to the example above of our project management software administrators. We found that: 

  1. A gain is “gives me a credential."

  2. The gain creator is “administrator certification offered.

If you already have a course or certification offering called “Certified Project Management Administrators,” then you intuitively addressed this need already. But if you do not have a product that addresses the gain of “gives me a credential” and you validated that gain, you should figure out a way to design a credentialed offering because customers would derive value from it. 

Where you have a gain creator creating a gain and/or a pain reliever relieving a pain, you need a course offering. Simple as that. Simple, that is, if you want to offer real value to customers. 

This could be your prototype: write a course description, publish it on your website, and ask people to either “sign up (best if you can get people to pay) for a future live session” or ask people to give you an indication of interest in that course. This way, you can gauge interest in the course before you spend time designing it. Yes, you heard me right. Sell the course before you create it. 

This is a better approach that surveying customers and asking them if they would be interested in a course (don’t do this). What people tell you they would do is not what they’d actually do. But if they sign up, or otherwise buy a course from you, you know that’s what they want.

Start your education services marketing messaging here

If you already have a product or training course or learning path or certification program that addresses the gain creator - gain fit, and you want to improve your marketing of that course, you can develop marketing messaging that more clearly communicates the value that course delivers. 

Following the simple approach described in the value proposition design book, your messaging might start with something like this: 

Our ______(product)_____ helps _____(customer segment)_____ who want to _____(job to be done)_____ by _____(pain or gain/my own verb)_____ and _____(pain or gain/my own verb)_____, unlike _____(competing product)_____.

Learn from my mistake

Learn from my mistake and don’t design your value proposition canvases without going through the exercise of validating them. It is an important step, no matter how well you know your customers. 

Get good at value proposition design

It’s one thing to get good at value proposition design. It’s another to validate these designs and test them in the market with customers. 

If you haven’t yet, read my previous article on creating customer value maps. The magic in value proposition design is not just creating a good value map or customer profiles, The magic is in putting them together. In order to put them together, we have to understand and work through each first. 

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