If you’re in sales, you think you’re selling product. You’re selling cars. You’re selling Apple laptops and iPhones. You’re selling high-end steak and expensive wine. You’re selling top-shelf vodka. You’re selling building materials. You’re selling airplane tickets.
Only you’re not.
You are never just selling a product. If you think you’re in the commodity business, then this piece is for you. If you think you’re in the commodity business and that you have nothing else to offer but commodities all driven by price, you should think of leaving sales entirely or else switch out what it is you sell. Change industries. You should do this because every day you work will be an enormous challenge, largely driven by you and your lack of creativity.
As Lee Salz says in his wonderful book Sales Differentiation, everything is a commodity. Everything. Let’s list a few items here: airplane tickets; hotel rooms; cars; trucks; houses; clothes; shoes; printing services; hats; handbags; laptops; mobile phones; foodstuffs; vodka; beer; building materials; household and commercial cleaning agents; coffee; and water. Yes, water.
Let’s talk about water. As Salz explains and everybody knows, water is thankfully abundant in the U.S. We are surrounded by it. It is so abundant that it comes gushing out of our taps everywhere we go, including our own households. It is cheap, really cheap, out of the tap. It costs us pennies. And it is clean, drinkable, and ubiquitous. Let us all agree that this is a wonderful thing.
Despite water being wildly available for everyone — all of us in the U.S. — wizards at big bottling companies, sales & marketing pros, have repackaged water and sold it back to us — Yes, the same tap water available in your house — in a way that we’re willing to buy it again and again and again. We are essentially paying more — WAY more, in fact — for water than we ought to. If 20 oz of water at home costs us mere pennies, and we willingly pay $7 for a bottle of Evian or Fiji, what does this mean? What did we just do? What are the implications?
Let’s deconstruct the meaning of paying $7 for a bottle of water. We had a problem: we were thirsty at the airport. If you’re like me, and you travel a lot and are typically dehydrated, you want plenty of water on you, on your person, all the time. As in, you can’t have enough.
While TSA will let you take an empty bottle of water with you through security, you often forget this or don’t have one around at home, so you must buy one at the airport. Airport retailers enjoy a temporarily-stationary target market of air travelers, so they can sell them goods and services at inflated prices. Therefore, they sell us bottles of water for $4, $5, or $7. Sure, we might complain under our breath we’re being ripped off or otherwise grifted, but we pay anyway. We need that water. Now.
What are we really paying for? Satiation? Quenching our thirst? Yes. The story the bottling people are telling us through their label? Yes, that is a part of it. Largely what we’re paying for, especially at the airport, is convenience. They’ve got us there. Some of us may not be going anywhere for 4 hours. Many human needs need to be met in four hours, not the least of which is our need for drinkable water delivered to us in a convenient, mobile fashion.
Congratulate yourself: you just paid $7 for a commodity you can get at home for pennies. You are special.
All that to say this: you’re not really paying $7 for water. You’re paying $7 for convenience, for packaging and water containment in order for you to keep moving with your water. That’s what you’re paying for.
The natural salesperson’s objection to the water example is they don’t sell water. They sell cars, computers, TVs, web sites, building materials, houses, or contracting services. What does water have to do with me? Everything.
Lee Salz uses the water example to plainly state our unconscious willingness to pay WAY more money for something that is available everywhere we go in the U.S. Therefore, if water can be de-commoditized by the sales & marketing pros, so can everything else.
The trick is in your ability to see your product, your offering, in a new way. You need to shift your perspective, and see what it is you do through fresh eyes.