I thought I’d throw this issue out there for your ideas and thoughts. I’ll provide a few of mine as a starting point (but by no means complete):
1. I fundamentally don’t believe, “everything is equal,” this is the ultimate point of commoditization. Even in commodity areas, there are differentiators, but they may not be based on product differentiators. I think the problem here is sales people tend to focus too much on the product, and not the total offering or capabilities of a company. When one considers the total offering, the product, the capabilities of the company, the services, etc, things are seldom equal.
2. Often, this view is the result of an inward-out orientation. That is, we present the product features, functions, feeds, speeds to the customer. The “sophisticated” sales person may add some company capabilities. But we dump these facts in the customer’s lap, and let them make the assessment. First, that’s not their job and if we force them into that, then we aren’t doing our job. We need to start with the customer, understanding their business needs, drivers, goals, priorities and challenges. We need to drill deeply into their business issues and prioritize each one — for each person involved in the decision making process. Only when we understand it is it possible to position our offerings in a context that has real meaning and impact to the customer. Done properly–customer by customer, in my experience, it is virtually impossible for everything to be equal.
3. The previous point addresses the customer business drivers. We cannot forget the personal drivers — things that concern each person involved in the decision process, but which we often overlook. People make don’t make rationale business decisions. Often they rationalize deeply personal decisions with a business argument. We need to understand their personal drivers. It may be getting a boss off their back, getting home on time, getting a promotion or bonus, keeping their job. Like the previous point, only when we have understood the personal drivers of each person involved in the decision process and position our offering in the context of “What’s in it for them — personally,” can we differentiate ourselves. Again, from this point of view, it is virtually impossible for everything to be equal.
4. Finally, at least for my comments, I think we under estimate the value we bring to customers in facilitating the customer’s buying process. A strong, consultative sales professional adds tremendous value to the customer as they execute their buying process. My personal experience is this is often the strongest differentiator. Many people have bought from me, simply because I cared about them and their companies. They wanted to invest in a partner who was committed to their success. Maybe it’s my ego, but I am never equal to anyone else!
Enough of my ramblings, what are your thoughts? Can everything else be equal — is our world becoming increasingly commoditized, where the only means of differentiation is price? Please join the discussion.