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Are You Really Different?

by David Brock on March 8th, 2017

We know the importance of differentiating ourselves in attempting to win business.

We try to do this at our web sites, often posting comparisons and charts showing how we have more features and functions than the alternatives.  Too often, we think differentiation is about checking more feature boxes, having a richer product, than the competition.

Web sites are filled with pages of, “Our Value Proposition.”  Only when you compare competitors side by side, they say the same things—we improve your results, reduce your costs, improve quality, Blah, Blah, Blah……

Sales people go through endless demos, showing the capabilities of their products and comparing to others, “Our UI is easier and more intuitive (perhaps to them, but all of them confuse me),”  “You can change the background image on our screens……” and the list of differentiators continue.

Then there’s the ultimate differentiator too many sales people fall back on, “We’re cheaper!”

But what’s it look like from the customers’ points of view?

CEB data indicates, *86% of B2B buyers find no real difference between suppliers.”

They could flip a coin and any solution would satisfy their needs.

Quickly, we come to the conclusion, differentiation is seldom about what we sell.  When any solution will do the job, what do we do to get the customer to select us?

The only way we differentiate ourselves is by putting the customer, the individuals and organizations, front and center to what we do.

What specifically are they trying to achieve and why?  What’s keeping them from getting there?  What happens if they don’t change?  Why is this important to them and their futures?

These issues tend to focus on the outcomes the customer is trying to achieve.  Understanding what is most critical enables us to focus our conversations on those issues they care about—-“No I really don’t care that you click more features boxes than your competition or you offer a wider range of colors…..”

But this isn’t the only place customers struggle and where we can differentiate ourselves.  Our customers struggle to buy, they struggle to define their problem, the outcomes they want to achieve.  They struggle with aligning the diverse agendas and priorities of the 6.8 + people involved in the buying process.  They struggle with what their problem solving process should be—after all, they don’t do this–at least for these problems, every day.

The struggle because they don’t know what they don’t know.

Here’s a huge opportunity to set ourselves apart.  While your competitors are polishing up their demos and their product comparisons, you set yourself apart by teaching them and collaborating in solving their problem.  This is where you create some of your greatest value and differentiation.

Alternatively, customers don’t know they should be changing, they may be stuck in running their businesses the way they always have, they may not recognize better ways of doing things or opportunities they may be missing.  They become prisoners of their own experience, failing to see how their customers, markets, industries, and competition is changing.

Sales people create huge value in helping disrupt our customers’ thinking.  We help them realize they must change and commit to that change.  Your competition, focused on features and functions, will always miss these opportunities.  But those who engage the customer in thinking differently and committing to change differentiate themselves in ways that few competitors can meet.

How we differentiate ourselves is always centered on the customer and what they need to do to differentiate themselves, growing as businesses.  What are you doing to set yourself apart?



From → Innovation

  1. Great post David. As you suggest, the key challenge (and opportunity) is in aligning a company’s true differentiation with the needs and desires of buyers. This is easier said than done but has enormous benefit for both buyer and seller.

    • Chris, amazingly, the most sustainable differentiation is no longer our products/services/solutions, but us! Our products are just table stakes, any that our customers put on their short lists will do. The real opportunity is helping the customer learn, helping them buy, helping them achieve success. Thanks for the great comment!

  2. Brand differentiation relevant to customers is SO often missing. They don’t answer the challenge: So what? Or, the alleged differentiation is merely comparative (more, faster, newer, cheaper, etc.) rather than claiming a value no other competitors claim and ideally, cannot claim…an immediate understandable, clearly-valuable difference.
    Many times effective differentiation may be based on other points of difference than the product or service. How its made, where its made, special ingredients, how long its been around – tradition (think: Jack Daniel’s, Wells Fargo, Winchester, or Waterford Crystal). Well’s Fargo’s previously-used tag line was “Fast then, fast now” emphasizing both its long tradition in business (fast transportation dating from the 19th Century) and speed (nobody likes standing line at the bank).
    There are many ways of separating a brand from competitors. Where can the word “Only” be effectively, meaningfully applied? (think: “There is no Other” {Porsche}, “Engineered like no other car in the world” {Mercedes Benz}). There are other examples. But few as sharply executed.
    The best reading on this is “Differentiate or Die” (second edition) by the late, great Jack Trout. His scathing humor combines with great examples of brands that got it wrong and right.
    Another valuable book is “Selling the Invisible” by Harry Beckwith. I’ve applied his Seven Questions Marketing Must Answer to great effect when engaging new business communications and PR clients to drive strategy. Rarely have those questions been addressed or agree on by the client’s management team. And doing so provides a path to discovering how the brand may be competitively differentiated.
    For more on my method go to:

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