Let’s Be the Same (or maybe not) – Revisiting Differentiation


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When introducing new products to the market, great marketing teams spend a lot of energy finding tangible differentiation from competitive alternatives. It is hard work to find those key differentiating ideas that help carve a place for you in the prospect’s mind. For some products, that differentiation may be based on price and service, in other cases it is tied to specific innovations. But you must have something.

While there is general agreement on the importance of differentiation, some sales situations cause reps to look for ways to be the same rather than different. I can’t count the number of times I have had sales reps come to me asking for a feature, a piece of collateral, or a new sales tool because a competitor had it. In some cases, these requests are definitely worth consideration because of their importance to targeted customers. But in many other cases, it is more of a knee jerk reaction to a competitive situation when selling from behind. As a marketer, you have to be careful to determine what the specific case is and make a decision, while being responsive to sales.

But sellers should share this burden. Sameness is a recipe for eroding margins and market share. Selling based on differentiation, particularly when the differentiation is driven by innovation is not always easy. Customers may not be asking for the things that set you apart—they may not even know they need them. As you encounter this, you have to help them understand why you are different and what value they can derive from those differences (sounds a litt like Challenger selling, doesn’t it?).

This even applies if price is your differentiator. Maybe the customer is asking for more capabilities. Your job is not to get defensive about what you don’t have. Instead, explain why your company chose the features it does provide and the impact of adding more features would have on your price. You could even link low price to simplicity—indicating you focused on the features that customers use the most, rather than other features that are rarely, if ever, used.

If you don’t reinforce your differentiation, you end up in a battle of sameness and a feature war. If you are not the lead dog in that type of sales race, you are wasting time. The smart seller might qualify themselves out of the opportunity. What makes you different may not be of value to everyone, so you have to understand who you will appeal to, both from a marketing and sales perspective. Target the right customers with a differentiated message and your win rates and share will rise.

So the next time, as a seller (or marketer), you want to ask for something because a competitor has it, take the time to think about how that something fits with and improves your differentiated story. If it doesn’t, maybe it is not worth pursuing. And use that thinking to share your insights with your customer, showing them the value of your unique focus.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Hank Barnes
Hank Barnes provides research and advisory services on go-to-market strategies--particularly around marketing, positioning, and customer experience--for technology providers. Hank has more than 25 years of high-technology sales and marketing experience in both field and corporate roles, both as an individual contributor and the marketing leader for several startups. He is a long-time proponent of customer-centric marketing and the use of customer experience as a key differentiator for business success. His posts here include content from his days with Adobe, SAP, and now Gartner


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