Just Because Your Solution Is Different Doesn’t Mean It Is Differentiated
Forbes Business Development Council / Julie Thomas, Forbes Councils Member, President & CEO of ValueSelling Associates
As you prepare to sell, to what extent do you believe your solution is different? In a recent ValueSelling Associates webinar, the majority of attendees told us they thought their solution was difficult to differentiate from the competition. If you poll your sales force, you’d likely hear the same thing. To be successful at selling and competing on value, your sales team must be confidently versed in how to differentiate your offering. That differentiation should extend beyond your product or service capabilities to all the other tangibles and intangibles of your company. Sales reps should understand which of your differences will add enough value and be important to each prospect.
As 2016 Gartner research found, when there is a failure to differentiate, 59% of buyers are more likely to work with established providers. The buyer will have no reason to change. That’s great news if you are the incumbent vendor but bad news if you are trying to displace an existing supplier. Lack of differentiation also delays buying decisions (37%), prompts asking for more concessions around price or terms (27%), or makes it more likely that there will be no sale at all (30%). The bottom line: Differentiation must be mastered for sales success.
There are multiple ways to differentiate outside of the sphere of the product and service description. If you only compete on features and capabilities, it is very difficult to maintain a competitive advantage. If your capabilities are No. 1 today, evolving technology in a competitive market will likely result in somebody else matching or improving on those capabilities — it’s just a constant ratcheting up.
Five Areas Of Competitive Differentiation
To successfully differentiate, you should consider additional categories of differentiation and expand the total buyer experience and the total value that you can bring to a client in more than one of these areas:
• Customer experience
• Risk mitigation/brand
• Terms and conditions
Since we don’t want to rely on low price as a differentiator, let’s focus on customer experience, risk mitigation and terms and conditions. According to SuperOffice, a 2017 Walker study found that by the end of 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key differentiator.
One of my favorite stories about differentiating the customer experience is about Chewy.com, the online destination for all things pet supplies. A friend of mine had used Chewy for her pet food and supplies for several years and relied on their auto-ship capability. Unfortunately, her dog died, and she stopped the auto-shipments. Someone from Chewy reached out and asked her why she was no longer ordering, and she told them about the loss of her pet. The company actually sent her flowers with their condolences! Although I don’t know if this is a regular practice or the decision of an individual staff member, I’m sure the company realizes that many pet owners will get another pet. I know my friend will be a Chewy customer for life. Many companies say they are dedicated to creating an exceptional customer experience, and Chewy.com certainly proved it in this case.
The ‘Why’ Behind The ‘Buy’
It is important to recognize that being different is not the same as being differentiated. You must go beyond merely a tally of your unique capabilities and attributes. Differentiation means you successfully connect your unique capabilities, tangibles and intangibles to your individual prospect’s problems. We call this the “why” behind the “buy.”
To differentiate your company and your solution, sales leaders and their teams should:
1. Understand why your difference matters: Why would they care? Do you solve a unique problem? Does your difference add value to the prospect in some way? Every individual may have a different reason to select your product. Think about it — two people can buy the same exact thing but for very different reasons.
2. Uncover that need for your differentiator: Once you figure out what their needs and their problems are, match it against the differentiators that they might care about. For example, we offer sales training in 17 different languages, and while that may be an important differentiator for a large global company, a small U.S.-based company with 20 sales reps who sell in English probably won’t care.
3. Connect your solution to the prospect’s problems: Connecting your prospect’s needs to your differentiators is where it all comes together. Many companies talk about the “breadth and depth” of their solutions as something that makes them unique. They love to use those words, but they are too vague to really tell you very much. Instead, salespeople should be trained to uncover the problems that would create a need that is both wide and deep — and map the specific benefits of “breadth” or “depth” to their prospect’s need.
In conclusion, the No. 1 thing to know about differentiation is that it’s a process to understand each individual prospect’s point of view and which differentiators matter to them. By following the steps outlined here and uncovering the “why” behind the “buy,” you’ll be on the right path to successfully differentiate your product or service.