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Differentiators: Getting from “Nice-to-Have” to “GOT-to-Have”

Sales Training Article: Bad to Worse

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – The Sales Training Company

sales tips for differentiatorsIn previous posts, I’ve referenced Rita Gunther McGrath, a professor at Columbia University, who authored The End of Competitive Advantage. In this book she references shrinking product life and development cycles and makes a strong case that vendors no longer enjoy sustainable competitive product advantages.

In working with many companies, one of the most common complaints is that offerings are viewed as commodities. This often leads sellers to presume it’s all about price. Despite this, in nearly all buyer surveys you see in large B2B transactions price seldom makes the top five. One potential explanation for this may be that when telling a seller he or she lost, blaming price is the cleanest way to end the discussion. That said I’ve always believed if sellers didn’t get a chance to tweak pricing then they lost for other reasons (i.e. they got outsold).

As it relates to differentiators, I agree with Ms. McGrath that broad differentiators are becoming elusive. My belief is the seller that better understands the customer’s issues and desired outcomes will have a better than average chance to win. In order to do this I suggest sellers must do the following:

1. Get title-specific with Key Players in buying committees.

2. Keep features/capabilities that promote ease of use off the table.

3. Relate value that quantifies how a differentiator can be used to improve business results.

I also suggest that a given feature or differentiator can mean different things to different buyers. A few years back I worked with a company that offered furnished condos as an alternative to hotel rooms for extended engagements in a given location. They felt a working kitchen was a crucial benefit, but I helped them realize how it impacted different people within prospect organizations.

For consultants living in the condos (users) it meant the option to make their own meals to:

  • Eat healthier and/or less than they would eat dining out.
  • Take less time to eat (potentially work during part of the evening).
  • Avoid the awkwardness of eating alone at restaurants.

For the consultants’ manager it meant potentially happier, more productive employees with the potential to reduce meal expenses and reduced burnout from traveling. For HR it was a potential tiebreaker when recruiting new hires, could improve employee satisfaction and reduce turnover. For the CFO it was a roll-up of all these things netting out to an improved bottom line.

If you can have different titles ascribe values to differentiators they become “got-to-haves” vs. “nice-to-haves” and should give sellers a better chance of winning the business.


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