There’s a sales adage that goes… “If you can’t differentiate by what you sell or how you sell it, then the only thing left is price.” True, but the real question is, when it comes to differentiation, what REALLY matters and what’s the one source that’s solely under your control?
When I ask salespeople to describe their sources of differentiation, the typical answers relate to product or service superiority. This makes sense, as most sales training is oriented toward understanding products and services. The trouble is that in an increasingly competitive marketplace, you may frequently find yourself in a losing sales campaign or resorting to practices that deliver short-term wins, but aren’t sustainable.
I went to work for Xerox at a time when the competition’s product sold for our manufacturing cost. While their products were compact and fully featured our models were full-size and still had tops that moved. If I had to rely on a product and price sale, I’d be toast! Yet Xerox overcame this vulnerability while transitioning their product line by focusing on the sales organization and teaching them to differentiate on something other than their products. During the 90’s their sales force was recognized as one of the best in the globe and hundreds have been trained in their SPIN Selling techniques.
Which sources of sales differentiation are you focusing on and what areas might you explore? Here are six places to start:
- Your Organization: What is it about your company, its mission or management that makes it different from the competition? Are you locally owned, women-owned? More importantly, does your company share a similar mission or philosophy as that of your customer? Alignment is the key here.
- Product/Service: It’s a minimum to know your product. The next step is to know your vulnerabilities and have a proactive approach to handling them before your competitor puts you on the defensive. Lastly (and most importantly) you must personally put yourself behind what you sell.
- Price: It’s no secret that “low cost leader” is a differentiation strategy. This is different from the, “I’ll make you the best deal” pitch that gets the short term business, but keeps you from ever really understanding the customers business and their needs.
- Game Changer: Is there something that your company has done that changes the way business is done? Keep in mind that game changing has it’s own challenges – so make sure you can articulate what’s in it for the customer to take the risk.
- Sales Approach: Have you viewed all of your sales touch points from the first time buyer’s lens? In addition, map out your client engagement process, especially if you have a multidisciplinary sales approach. Are roles defined? What are your internal ground rules, especially when communicating with clients? Iron this stuff out, make it part of your practice, and your future and current clients will appreciate it.
- Your EQ : I’m not talking about your USP or UVP, your EQ represents your emotional intelligence or your ability to recognize, understand, value and apply emotions effectively. I believe one of the most powerful differentiators is what you personally bring to the equation. My experience in working with successful salespeople is that they bring a higher level of emotional intelligence to their role. They communicate effectively, build bonds, demonstrate empathy, are adept at understanding organizational context, and operate with confidence, conscientiousness and initiative.
The good news is that emotional intelligence can be developed and unlike your organization, product, price or your company’s sales approach it’s 100% under your control. If you are like me that’s great news! Developing your emotional intelligence isn’t easy, but it can be done. It starts with awareness, a desire to change and the commitment to doing the heavy lifting. The real benefit is that building your emotional intelligence will not only help you professionally, it inevitably will impact all the other areas of life that involve humans and provide lasting personal satisfaction.
For more information on Emotional Intelligence and Selling here’s a great post from one of my favorite authors, Jill Konrath.