Sales and marketing professionals alike are constantly looking for ways to differentiate themselves and their companies from the competition. Without differentiation, the worst-case scenario is a lost deal and the best-case result is mediocre profits.
In Sales Differentiation, Lee B. Salz puts for the case the differentiation is not just the responsibility of marketing, sales reps play a critical role in differentiating because they have two-way conversations with prospects. This book is a fantastic guide for creating A Focussed Message from the perspective of sales representatives.
Here are some of my key takeaways:
Only One Person Can Say “Best”
How many sales professionals (and companies) say, “Our products/service/solutions/people/partners are THE BEST.” Guess what? When you say this as a sales rep, all you are creating is noise. “When you say you’re the best, it’s meaningless. It’s met with skepticism. When your client says it about you, it’s meaningful and gives a buyer confidence in buying from you.”
In Revenue Growth Engine we recommend marketing professionals make case studies, success stories, and references their top priority. Sales professionals should be intimately involved in this process. The more clients that you have saying you are the best, the stronger your differentiation.
Price Concerns Are the Litmus Test For Poor Differentiation
“Price will always be the deciding factor when buyers don’t perceive differentiation.” If your sales team constantly gets beat up on price they have a differentiation problem.
Sources of Differentiation
Lee gives six areas where companies can differentiate. Under each of these areas he suggests about a dozen factors that could be highlighted.
- The Company
- The People
- The Products
- The Service
- The Technology
- The Contract
He recommends that companies develop a key list of differentiators and then lay them up against key competitors asking two questions:
- Why do you win?
- Why do they win?
The Elevator Pitch Flaw
“No person should ever have an elevator story,” recommends Lee. Instead, you should think about the person with whom you are talking and customize your story to their needs.
The Ideal Client From a Sales Perspective
Lee recommends that salespeople identify their ideal clients. This is near and dear to my heart as focusing on Ideal Clients is the cornerstone principle of Revenue Growth Engine.
Lee contextualizes Ideal Clients to sales teams going deeper than the size, location, and business type. He adds some sales nuances that can help a team focus their target lists: incumbent, circumstances or goals, decision drivers, corporate attributes, buying process, and deal-breakers. For example, if a company fits your Ideal Client Profile, but absolutely insists on RFP’s for your products and is also known for late payments, they should probably be culled from your Ideal Target list.
Your Experience vs. Your Expertise
How many companies tout their experience: “We’ve been in business for over 1,000 years” or “We have 575 years of combined experience on our team.” Lee says this is total drivel–noise to a buyer.
Instead, he recommends focusing on expertise. “Experience only has value if expertise was acquired.” Sure, you have the experience. So does every one of your competitors. The real source of differentiation is in this question: What did you learn in the process that is relevant to your ideal client?
Reframe Objections as Obstacles
Lee believes that the concept of objections puts the rep and the buyer in an adversarial relationship. He proposes that we instead look at these as obstacles to the deal. “Salespeople that participate in these deal obstacles as concerns don’t hear ‘fight’. They hear, ‘Help me.’”
Rather than handling objections, the mindset is to help the decision influencer to overcome their concerns. Knowing these obstacles, smart salespeople proactively address the common ones early in the sales process.
Sales People Can Make Themselves a Differentiator
This brings out a larger point which I think is powerful. One key way reps can differentiate themselves is in HOW they sell. As we’ve said many times on the Selling From the Heart Podcast, in a world of undifferentiated products and companies, salespeople are the differentiator.
With this in mind, Lee recommends that salespeople make a point to continually invest in themselves so that they can add value to their prospects and clients. He offers seven ways to do this:
- Become a Knowledge Resource
- Develop a Network Neighborhood
- Provide Decision Guidance
- Be Responsive and Anticipate Needs
- Develo Internal Relationships So You Can Solve Issues Fast
- Be Genuine
- Help Them With Their Business
I couldn’t agree more with this. Salespeople that want to win, make a great living, and always have career options need to make a point to add value beyond the product and service their company provides.
Sales Differentiation is a powerful book that every salesperson, sales leader, and business owner (aka “Head Sales Rep”) should read (or listen to) slowly. Each of the 19 chapters has a practical takeaway. If you absorbed one chapter a day, you could make huge progress. Alternatively, this book would make a good team read with your fellow sales peers.
Originally published on Revenue Growth Engine.