The #1 Sales Complaint — Part II — on Differentiation

It turns out it isn’t the Marketing department’s job to generate ideas for sales to differentiate itself from the competition.

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Cupcakes a commodity? $6 for a dozen at Target. $4 apiece at Jones Bros. Worth it? Most say ‘Yes.’

Conversely, when the salesperson takes responsibility for the products they sell, they create the points of distinction they need to explain to the marketplace. Along with their selling style, they take these to the field. Exceptional salespeople nearly preach from the field as their pulpit. Not about themselves, but about what they can do for their customers. Here’s what this will do for you, they’ll say. Or, Mr. Prospect, you’ve got this problem. I see. We’ve helped several people in spots like the one you’re currently in. Our experience has been that…And they will make it crystal clear to the prospect what they will get. Here is how you benefit. What could be clearer?

Marketing can help create points of differentiation for sales. But it ultimately falls on sales to create their own distinction points. Why is this? Because the salesperson is such a big factor in the buying process.

Think about a time when you had a bad buying experience. Say, you were at Best Buy and you were trying to decide between three different TVs, each similarly priced within $100 of each other. Prices are approximately the same, so you look at feature sets. You compare refresh rates, Hz, PPI, # of inputs, etc., and you have a few questions about them. You seek a knowledgeable salesperson. You cannot find one. Frustrated, you walk around the TV sales area looking for someone — anyone — to help you. You eventually stumble upon a 19 year old kid who appears he’d rather be anywhere but there, talking to you. He doesn’t know the product well. He doesn’t get what the features mean to the end user. And he doesn’t extend an offer to help you find someone more knowledgeable than he. This is your TV sales pro. If you’re like most people, you walk away frustrated — without buying anything. And Best Buy just lost sales revenue to Amazon. Again.

What was the difference? Was it the TV? Was it the brands? Was it the feature set that you really cared about that much? Or, was it the fact that Best Buy did not have a good, caring and knowledgeable sales guy working the TV area that day? Were you really that concerned about the TV’s features? Weren’t they close to the same to you? It was the salesperson who made the difference. They were the point of distinction. And on that day, they failed. And Best Buy leadership failed for not having a knowledgeable, caring salesperson out on the floor having good, productive conversations with their customers. Duh. This is the entire point of sales differentiation. It is the person that makes the difference. The person creates the difference. Samsung didn’t. LG didn’t. Vizio didn’t. Sony didn’t. Panasonic didn’t. The person selling these brands creates it.

Take cupcakes. Seems to be a rather commoditized product one can buy and sell. You can walk into any Walmart or Target or Vons and buy cupcakes. They’ll be fine. They won’t blow you away, but they’ll be good. They’re standard: standard cake, standard icing, standard flakes. No one will throw you out of a party for bringing grocery store bought cupcakes to it.

What if someone creative decides to go into the cupcake retail business and compete with these behemoths head-on and charge $4 per cupcake when Walmart and Target will sell you 12 cupcakes for $6? And they will charge you $36 for a dozen of their specialty cupcakes. What then? Will people pay?

If you go to Jones Bros. in Omaha, NE, near Warren Buffett, it turns out that people will, in fact, pay. Willingly, ably and repeatedly. Of course, these are not just any store-bought cupcake. These cupcakes are hand-made, unique, with the finest ingredients and crafted by special cooks’ hands. Further, there are flavors available on the market that you cannot find elsewhere, flavors that will blow you away when you bite into one. Walmart cupcakes don’t hold a whiff to these boutique cupcakes found at Jones Bros.

Jones Bros.’s founders did an excellent job of differentiating their cupcakes in the marketplace. Of course, they cannot compete with Walmart and Target on price. That would be moot and a dumb strategy. Instead, they went the high-end route, using the best ingredients, employing specialty cooks, prep and baking skills, and placing the product in a high-end retail store in a high-end area of town.

What about the $22 grass-fed cheeseburger? Would such a crazy concept work? Will people pay?

As consumers, we’re used to paying McDonalds and Burger King prices for our cheeseburgers. $2 to $5 per burger sounds about right, right? Fast food, drive thru, be on with it. Only there are fast casual restaurants that charge you a $16 base price for the cheeseburger, and then add $1 to $2 per add on like guacamole, bacon, and specialty cheeses. Suddenly, your $16 grass-fed cheeseburger is now $22. And if you’re like most patrons at these establishments, you don’t even think about it. You just order it your way. Rip off? Some may say. But this place isn’t for everyone. These specialty burger joints are for particular consumers who like their specialty, grass-fed beef and its accompanying accoutrements.

You’ve got the McDonalds double cheeseburger at $2 and you’ve got the grass-fed, double cheeseburger served by the specialty fast casual burger joint at $22. Same type of foodstuff, different ingredients and prep methods and a slightly different business model. Yet they are still selling us a double cheeseburger at a 10x price difference.

Salespeople say to these examples, “Sure, that works for selling cupcakes or for selling high-end cheeseburgers or for selling high-end cars or houses to rich people, but I sell B2B. Other businesses only see my products as interchangeable commodities with the competition. Price is all that these guys care about.”

I’m a sales, marketing and tech Pro who creates content designed to help people solve problems and shift perspectives.

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