Well-defined product categories are stuffed with companies that can solve similar problems with similar capabilities and pricing.
Although most sales and marketing leaders would like to believe their sellers can differentiate their solutions to prospects, our recent industry survey uncovered some alarming uncertainty: 88% of companies admitted they aren’t confident that their buyers understand what makes their solutions unique.
If buyers can’t tell you apart from your competition, you simply become another choice among many viable options. Your buyers won’t see the difference or value in your capabilities, and you’ll end up competing on price in side-by-side bake-offs.
So, how can you avoid this parity trap? How can you truly make your solution stand out and help your buyers realize your unique value?
At B2B DecisionLabs, we partnered with professor Nick Lee of Warwick Business School to study these questions. In a behavioral research simulation with real B2B decision-makers, we asked whether you could take identical capabilities, talk about them differently, and get more positive reactions from buyers.
Here are three big insights from the scientific study that you can use to stand out from your competitors during sales pitches:
1. Use telling details.
In our study, we tested four common types of marketing and sales messaging:
- Features: This pitch is about the offering itself — not the buyers’ worlds, the challenges they’re trying to solve, and the ways the offering could help them.
- Benefits: This common message type uses benefits statements to show buyers what the offering will do for them and how they can overcome key business challenges.
- Superlatives: This type is often cliché-ridden. Sellers use phrases like “one-stop-shop” and “comprehensive” to try to force differentiation.
- Telling details: This type is specific. Sellers use emotional, dynamic, detailed, and descriptive language to recount the business challenge, the capabilities to solve that challenge, and the value of those capabilities.
To determine which message was most effective, researchers created four go-to-market pitches — one for each kind of message above — for an anonymized truck driver recruiting company. These were then presented to 400 decision-makers.
The telling details pitch beat every other pitch, head-to-head and in the aggregate. There was an 85% difference in buyers who preferred the telling details pitch over the other messages and a 95% difference in those who said the telling details pitch was more convincing than the other pitches.
The most common ways sellers try to differentiate — features, benefits, or superlatives — don’t make their solutions sound unique or valuable enough to stand out. Instead, enrich your story with specific and concrete words or images that immerse buyers in the experience of your solution. Including these telling details makes your message more credible and convincing.
2. Put your message in the buyer’s context.
Many sellers fail to ground their messages in contexts that buyers understand. They don’t focus on the challenges buyers want to solve using telling details: being specific, buyer-focused, and emotional.
In this study, every pitch mentioned the trucking company’s driver database in different ways. The features pitch, for example, said: “You’ll access our searchable and remarkable database of 80,000-plus drivers known to Highway Fleet Services.” This is good information, but it doesn’t describe how buyers can use the database for business growth.
Here’s how the benefits pitch described the same capability: “You can fill empty seats while improving quality. Thanks to our large driver database, your fleet will get ahead on recruiting qualified drivers.” Again, it gives the gist of the benefit, but it doesn’t convey the specifics.
The telling details pitch included specific, buyer-centric details: “With our 80,000-plus known driver database, you can recruit nonstop to shorten or eliminate empty seat time. Our full-time recruiters are in constant contact with drivers to establish qualifications and preferences, even when no jobs are open.”
The underlying capability (80,000-plus drivers) is the same, but the telling details pitch is more specific about how the driver recruiting company solves buyers’ challenges, making it more powerful. It includes some information from both the features and benefits messages but takes it one step further to elaborate with concrete, buyer-focused details.
3. Eliminate lazy language from your pitches.
Many sellers try to persuade buyers with exaggerated and hyperbolic language that isn’t effective. Unsurprisingly, the superlatives message finished last in the study. In fact, buyers rated the superlatives pitch as 102% less clear and 97% less credible than the telling details pitch.
Buyers want value-based information about your capabilities and what your capabilities mean for them. If you can’t offer that in a compelling way, a trite turn of phrase won’t convince them. Prove that you understand buyers’ challenges with clear and specific language.
For example, saying this is too vague: “Digital transformation can help you innovate.” Expanding with a concrete example of how Home Depot uses innovative technology — such as augmented reality to help customers find products in stores and place virtual products in the real world using their phones — helps people understand and visualize what “innovation” means. They can instantly picture the value of the solution.
B2B categories are teeming with similar products and services, which can make selling your solution difficult. Using superlatives won’t help you stand out. And features or benefits on their own aren’t enough. Come out on top in buyers’ minds with specific, telling details that give your message a more persuasive impact.
One item missing from your post: customer advocates. Marketing can craft wonderful messaging, written from the buyer’s perspective and needs. That’s a good start. But customer advocates provide firsthand accounts (CX): more credible, and as relatable as it can get. They bring features, benefits, telling details to life. Superlatives aren’t necessary. The tone and content of the customer’s story does it all.