Competitive advantage is important, but tends to be short lived. We’ve found that no matter how successful a company is at creating something unique, it’s not long before someone else has picked up on the idea.
Even Apple, with their slogan ‘Think Different’, are fighting to keep ahead of the competition with each new product they introduce. But with so many similar products and services out there, if you don’t differentiate it just comes down to price, which puts pressure on your profits. However, differentiation isn’t just about your product or service. What we’re seeing is that by simply changing your approach you can really set yourselves apart from the competition.
Here are three ways to differentiate that we’ve seen work effectively:
We find a lot of salespeople keep talking to the same person when they contact their clients. But a ‘must-have’ for someone in procurement might not be a key driver for the Finance Director or MD – and they might have the final say.
The importance of dealing with every decision maker was demonstrated during a recent training programme when a senior sales person told us he had lost a deal because was speaking to the operations manager, whilst his competitor dealt with the MD. But what if you can’t get to them? We know that it’s not always easy. One way to overcome this is to make sure your contact has all the information they need when they present to the other people involved in the decision making process.
But it’s not just about seniority. In our experience, it’s also down to identifying who’s got an interest in solving the problem and then understanding their key drivers. For example, if your product has strong safety features that’s going to be very important to someone in health and safety, and, whilst price is a consideration for them it’s not usually a deciding factor.
Getting heard above the crowd isn’t easy especially as buying is becoming increasingly commoditised. So try having conversations with your prospects that the competition aren’t. When you talk about new trends, legislation and advantages that will specifically benefit them you grab their attention and they start to see you in a different light.
One of our clients provides high-end lighting solutions. Whether to choose LED or halogen is a hot topic right now for them and their customers. LED are more expensive than halogens but because they use less energy it makes them more environmentally friendly. Because of this they attract Enhanced Capital Allowances which means you can offset 100 per cent of the initial outlay against profits. Asking your prospect if they are aware of this and have calculated the impact of it on their business is probably a conversation that other sales people aren’t having with them.
Steering the conversation to something relevant and meaningful to your customer – whether that’s long-term costs, the environment, tax breaks or another important factor – can help create a key element of differentiation.
When salespeople talk to us about differentiation it often seems as if they want us to give them a magic wand, with new products or services that are better than anything else in the market. But the answer is probably already within their grasp if they change their thinking just a little.
So rather than talking about features and benefits, consider how your product or service is different to what else is out there, in light of the problems your customer is experiencing and needs to solve. You can then differentiate your offering by changing your story to suit their needs, making your conversations relevant and meaningful and setting you apart from the competition. Your targeted point of difference can have more value to your customer than a product that is perceived generically in the market to be better.
It’s very easy to be different but very difficult to be better.
Jonathan Ive – SVP Design, Apple
Put all three of these together and, in our experience, you’ll be having conversations that your competitors aren’t – and creating your own point of difference.