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“Me Too,” Is Not A Value Proposition!

by David Brock on December 5th, 2010

A client called me up a couple of days ago with an interesting problem.  They were in the closing stage of a very large deal.  They had done a thoughtful job of understanding the customer business, their goals, the problems they were trying to address, and so forth.  They had made a final presentation, it had included a good business analysis about the benefits the customer would get, and the value they should expect.  They provided a good analysis including both hard and soft justification for their solution.

After a few days, the customer cam back to my client saying, “We’ve reviewed your proposal and that of your competition.  They claim they can achieve all the benefits you presented, but they can do it at a much lower price.  If you want to win the business, you have to be more competitive in your pricing.”

My client didn’t know how to deal with this, apparently the competitor had come back to the customer, simply stating, “We can do everything they can do, only cheaper.”  otherwise known as “Me too.” 

When you think of it, this isn’t uncommon.  Whether it’s the claims of a competitor, or the assessment of a customer, if your value proposition isn’t differentiated from the alternatives the customer is considering, then even with the most compelling business case, the lowest price wins!  It’s our job as sales professionals to continually differentiate ourselves from these alternatives–validating that differentiation with the customer through out their buying process.

Sustained differentiation is virtually impossible if we focus only on the capabilities of our products.  In today’s buying environment, the only vendors considered are those whose products basically meet the needs and requirements of the customer—they’ve already done the research and educated themselves on the products.  Those they choose to evaluate are all likely to meet their needs.  What the customer is trying to do in their evaluation is to understand the differences in the solutions, choosing the one they feel is best.

Since buyers are “informed,” it becomes our task as sales professionals to focus on differentiating our solution — not products, our companies, and ourselves from everything else — and getting our customers to agree to that differentiation.  This differentiation can include many different things–the “intangible” comfort or confidence that we create in working with the customer through their buying process, making it easy to do business with our organization, meeting our commitments–not only in the selling process, but through our entire relationship with the customer.  That differentiation can be our reputation–both that of our company and our own personal reputation. It can be our flexibility in working with the customer, the value we created in helping facilitate their buying process.  It could be our leadership in helping them think about their business differently.  It could be simply a perception on the part of the customer that we care more.

Differentiation is often very subtle, it’s sometimes easy to overlook—often because both we and our customers are so focused on product/feature/function/feeds/speeds.  We cannot allow ourselves or the customers overlook these subtle elements of differentiation.  It’s important to have them know both that they can count on you and your organization and to have them acknowledge that.  It’s important for them to acknowledge the leadership you provide in helping them through their buying process–with neither you nor they taking it for granted.  They need to know you will be providing the same leadership through their purchase and implementation.

“Me too” is not a sustainable value proposition.  We can’t put ourselves in the position where the customer sees no differentiation.  If they can’t differentiate us, then the only differentiator is price.  Don’t let that happen to you.

By the way, after talking about this with my client, they were able to sit down with their customer and walk through this.  But they learned an important lesson—never take their differentiation for granted.

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10 Comments
  1. Hey Dave.

    The problem with the “Me too” approach is that you do not build loyalty.
    You find customers who are only looking for the cheapest bargin. Which means that if a new competitor uses that approach, they will switch again, and again. Forcing you to keep lowering your prices until you go out of business.

    Differentiation lets you keep your prices high and your products of high quality.

    //Daniel

  2. Excellent post and something we’ve had to deal with lately – thank you for reminding me how important it is for the client to clearly see the difference between two options despite the price.

  3. Ivano Concas permalink

    Excellent story!
    Every product and service could be a commodity: we have to touch the sensitivity of the customer and go deeply to his sense of responsibility.
    No one competitor can say “Me too” to loyalty, faith, confidence. There are “features” he can’t replicate so easily.

  4. Hi Dave: The “wet noodle” approach still has its place. . . A successful salesperson must differentiate him/herself and his company throughout the buying cycle, or he risks the result you described. The challenge is knowing what to emphasize, which requires an understanding of the prospect’s issues–the keener the better. In the absence of that understanding, it’s sometimes incumbent on a salesperson to explain the importance of the difference: “You didn’t mention this as a need, but here’s why this capability matters . . . “

  5. Good post David. What a person’s positive professional brand has become is essential in a selling environment, the brand they represent (distributor or product company) is also essential to competitively differentiate. Looking around at semiconductor brands, they’re still many that are not to clear on how that happens in the mind of the market…their customers and purchasing influencers. Most claim the same things like “leadership.” How many leaders can there be in a competitive race? Many are unable to remain focused on a single, unique value important to the customer or discover what their brand is known for or how it can be separated from competitors. Some through out a laundry list of values. But people choose a brand for a single value. Lower price certainly isn’t a sustainable difference.
    The problem many company managers in semiconductor marketing and sales often have with differentiation can be identified as “fear of focus.”
    This can play out as the “me too” response. There’s a nearly endemic unwillingness to pick a differentiating value, claim it, live it and support it long-term with consistent promotion that drives home that difference. Consider how BMW stuck with its Ultimate Driving Machine campaign for decades until they owned the word “driving” in the auto market. This was a powerful position for them but its been dumped. In our market, even mighty Intel switches what it claims on a regular basis. Currently they are the company that sponsors the future (or) “changing the world…” depending on where you look.
    For great insight and help with market differentiation I recommend Jack Trout’s second edition of Differentiate Or Die. He has fun with big brands that can’t keep it together and also shows a variety of ways that brands in any market, including tech sectors, can clearly separate themselves from the pack. Its not rocket science, its behavioral science.
    One of my favorite slogans about differentiation is “Distinct or Extinct.” Think about successful brands you know. Most often they’ve achieved clear differentiation. It probably wasn’t an accident.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment Ford. You make a lot of interesting points. One of the important points about differentiation is it’s importance changes depending on where the customer is in their buying process. Early on, I think differentiation, at least from a B2B view, is over-rated. But I think we tend to look for those silver bullets, when it is probably more appropriate to look at differentiation and value creation later in the process. I wrote about it today, I’d love your reaction. Thanks for joining the discussion. Regards, Dave

  6. Great article David. What a pity this thought even needs pointing out!

    I would add though that I believe your initial paragraph could be improved a bit in terms of being a role model for how to do it properly.

    Your client obviously hadn’t done a thorough job of understanding their customer’s problems if they were having to make a final presentation about the ‘value they should expect’.

    Value, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. An essential part of the salesperson’s skillset is to help the (prospective) customer understand for themselves what value they will derive from getting their problem resolved. By skilful questioning the customer is helped to help themselves. Trying to tell them what value they will get is not an option. Only when the prospect fully understands the value for themselves can they explain this to the salesperson, so they in turn understand.

    Even though it’s far from ‘in your face’ hard selling, if this skill/help is one of your differentiators, it quite likely won’t be subtle. I’ve occasionally had prospects exhibiting quite severe discomfort during this part of my sales process, but not because I had set out to make them uncomfortable. They were uncomfortable because I was asking them questions about their businesses that had never been asked before, let alone answered. They were realising that these were extremely serious questions that should have been asked and answered already in the course of running their business well. Ultimately they thanked me for helping them think!

    Keep up the good work.

    • Fantastic comment and story David! Part of great selling involves both we and our customers challenging our/themselves, getting out of our/there comfort zones, thinking about things differently. Great sales professionals understand this and make their sales people comfortably uncomfortable. Thanks for the comment–hope to see you here commenting frequently. Your comments add great value to the discussion. Regards, Dave

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