Monday, March 02, 2009

When All Else Is Equal, How Do You Differentiate Yourself

This morning, I had an interesting discussion with a client. He was talking about a specific sales situation. Basically, he said that customers were saying there was no differentiation between the products and services his company offered, versus the competitors. He went on to say, they are seeing this response in more and more sales situations. He was at a loss to deal with it --- or at least wanted to avoid the ultimate differentiator -- at least in this situation -- pricing.

I thought I'd throw this issue out there for your ideas and thoughts. I'll provide a few of mine as a starting point (but by no means complete):

1. I fundamentally don't believe, "everything is equal," this is the ultimate point of commoditization. Even in commodity areas, there are differentiators, but they may not be based on product differentiators. I think the problem here is sales people tend to focus too much on the product, and not the total offering or capabilities of a company. When one considers the total offering, the product, the capabilities of the company, the services, etc, things are seldom equal.

2. Often, this view is the result of an inward-out orientation. That is, we present the product features, functions, feeds, speeds to the customer. The "sophisticated" sales person may add some company capabilities. But we dump these facts in the customer's lap, and let them make the assessment. First, that's not their job and if we force them into that, then we aren't doing our job. We need to start with the customer, understanding their business needs, drivers, goals, priorities and challenges. We need to drill deeply into their business issues and prioritize each one -- for each person involved in the decision making process. Only when we understand it is it possible to position our offerings in a context that has real meaning and impact to the customer. Done properly--customer by customer, in my experience, it is virtually impossible for everything to be equal.

3. The previous point addresses the customer business drivers. We cannot forget the personal drivers --- things that concern each person involved in the decision process, but which we often overlook. People make don't make rationale business decisions. Often they rationalize deeply personal decisions with a business argument. We need to understand their personal drivers. It may be getting a boss off their back, getting home on time, getting a promotion or bonus, keeping their job. Like the previous point, only when we have understood the personal drivers of each person involved in the decision process and position our offering in the context of "What's in it for them --- personally," can we differentiate ourselves. Again, from this point of view, it is virtually impossible for everything to be equal.

4. Finally, at least for my comments, I think we under estimate the value we bring to customers in facilitating the customer's buying process. A strong, consultative sales professional adds tremendous value to the customer as they execute their buying process. My personal experience is this is often the strongest differentiator. Many people have bought from me, simply because I cared about them and their companies. They wanted to invest in a partner who was committed to their success. Maybe it's my ego, but I am never equal to anyone else!

Enough of my ramblings, what are your thoughts? Can everything else be equal --- is our world becoming increasingly commoditized, where the only means of differentiation is price? Please join the discussion.


davesteinsblog said...


I think your fourth point is the most relevant today. In many selling situations a salesperson's personal capital (or currency) can be the differentiator, and a significant one at that.

Personal capital is a salesrep's experience, perspective, insight, network, leadership, access to resources, industry knowledge-- leveraged the right way, with the right people.

Dave Brock's Blog said...

Dave, sorry for the slow reply, but I absolutely agree. In my experience sales reps underestimate their personal impact in helping the customer make a buying decision.

When all else is equal the true differentiator is the experience and relationships customers have with the sales person