Does the market perceive any differentiation between you and the competition? If not, look out.
Hey, sales pro: How are you different?
What are your points of differentiation? What separates you from the competition? In a hyper competitive marketplace, how do you best stick out?
If you don’t know, we’ve got a problem. So does your company.
So many salespeople complain that they are in a commodity business. Who told them that that was a good idea? If you’re in a commodity business, I’ve got two words for you: get out. Without any clear marketing or product differentiators, we all default to buying lowest price.
You do, I do, we all do this. Stop blaming your prospects for being cheap when they do not perceive any difference between you and the competition.
If you perceive no difference in coffee providers, which one do you go with?
If you perceive no difference in financial advice, which advisor do you go with?
If you perceive no difference in car manufacturers, which car do you pick?
If you perceive no difference in business suits, which suit do you wear?
The answer is the one with the lowest price. The differentiation the market seeks in our products and services is the change we as sales and marketing pros seek to make.
Old world sales pros complain about this. They complain that marketing doesn’t give them anything to go off of. They complain that their product is not differentiated. They complain that the boss doesn’t help them drum up points of differentiation. They complain that the market is cheap. Funny thing is, they’re right. And this is the old world of sales.
The modern sales pro takes initiative and doesn’t wait for marketing to create differentiation for the products she sells, for the change she seeks to make. She goes and creates it every day. Since she’s dedicated to lifelong learning, she is fast becoming an industry expert. She goes to shows, she leads panels, she creates podcasts and she writes helpful articles that solve industry problems. She’s not waiting for her boss’s approval to do this — she just does it. This gets her perceived as a leader in her field, someone to be trusted, someone who cares about the industry.
When she’s out in the field, she takes good notes on what she sees about her market. She wants to be sure she remembers the good opportunities for stories and problem-solving so she can post them to her blog. She knows there are legion opportunities out in the field where stories abound. She wants to be sure to capture them as she goes about her day. Why would she do this? Why bother? Because one prospect’s story is another prospect’s future. By capturing stories, she can effectively reflect their own realities back to them, which proves that she is listening, that she understands their problems, and that she is here to help. Who doesn’t want that?
Further, these stories make for fabulous social media fodder. Since she’s naturally active on social channels and an active participant in online forums looking to help out and solve problems for people, she’s already developed a strong online following. She shows up consistently, giving, adding value, making things happen, rarely asking for anything in return.
While the products her company offers are not easily differentiated in the hyper competitive markets they participate in, She goes about the hard work of being the difference in her products vs. the competition. While her company and the competition might be apples-to-apples when comparing products, what doesn’t the competition have? Her. The competition doesn’t have her blog. The competition doesn’t have her storytelling ability. The competition doesn’t have her tools. The competition doesn’t have her problem-solving capability. The competition doesn’t have her field expertise. The competition doesn’t have her willingness to give to the market. The competition doesn’t have her drive and fire. The competition is too busy competing and complaining about price for them to make any difference here. You know, they’re like everybody else and moaning about how hard it is to be different. They missed the teaching on differentiation. And they won’t get it from the marketing department. Meanwhile, our sales hero lights up the scoreboard with units moved. She’s relentless like that.
So, is it product differentiation or people differentiation? Ideally, it is both. But if you have to pick one, the clear winner is people. There is no such thing as B2B: it is person to person. People don’t buy from companies. They buy from people. Partnerships aren’t formed by corporations. They are formed by people. Problems are not solved by fancy logos or graphics from the marketing department. Problems are solved by dedicated people ready to make their difference.
The irony about differentiation is that we’re too close to see it in ourselves. If you asked our sales pro how she differentiates herself from the competition, she might have trouble articulating what she does. But if you put on your anthropologist hat, and analyze her day — what she actually does, not what people say they do — you would discover the field expertise built up and shared, the daily problem solving she performs, and the customer relationships she curates. There is still great power in putting relationships first. How can this be? Because when things go sideways — and they will go sideways — who is going to be there for you? Who is going to answer the phone on the weekends? Who is going to know who within the company can best help? Who is going to be that difference to lead the industry?