Sell the Difference!


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Today’s B2B buyers are wrestling with potentially risky decisions and often-confusing options. We shouldn’t be surprised if they decide to stick with the status quo or choose the cheapest of a set of apparently similar solutions.

I hear a growing number of B2B sales leaders asking: how can we do a better job of identifying and engaging the customers that are most likely to buy, standing out from all their other options, and persuading the prospect to commit to our solution?

Here’s what today’s most effective sales organisations have learned – claiming that you have a better solution isn’t enough: first, you have to show how and why you are different…

Claiming that you are better – in the absence of compelling evidence that is directly relevant to the prospective customer’s specific situation – is a bland and meaningless message.

And because every other competing vendor is inclined to do the same, it does nothing to differentiate your offering from all the other competing solutions, and does nothing to help you stand out from the crowd.

The results are predictable, and frequently painful to sales organisations: because their prospective customers see little contrast between the options available to them, they either defer their decision or go with the cheapest.


The frequently-adopted strategy of claiming a long list of “value added” features isn’t particularly effective, either: unless these capabilities are directly and specifically relevant to the prospective customer’s situation, they are likely to be seen as adding unnecessary complexity and avoidable cost.

That’s why selling the difference is so important: it enables us to stand out from all the other options our customer might be considering in a clear, compelling and memorable way.

“Selling the difference” has two critical components:

  • Establishing the greatest possible contrast between where the customer is today and where they could get to with your help
  • Showing how a handful of your most valuable capabilities are uniquely relevant to enabling them to reach this desired future state

Let’s start with the contrast between your customer’s current situation and their desired future state. I referred to this critical concept this in my recent article “Contrast Drives Change”.


In this context, selling the difference involves establishing the clearest possible value opportunity in the gap between where your prospective customer is today and where they have concluded (hopefully with your help) they need to be.

Their initial perceptions of the size of this gap are almost always under-estimates. Even if they have already concluded that they need to change, they will inevitably have underestimated the full costs and risks of sticking with the status quo.

Part of selling the difference involves drawing their attention to some of the unrecognised or underestimated implications of their current situation, and helping the prospect to fully understand the impact, costs and risks involved of allowing the current situation to continue.

Here’s why this aspect is so important: behavioural economists tell us that the motivation to invest to avoid a risk or a loss is twice as powerful as the motivation to invest to achieve a gain.

If we only focus on the future upside, and ignore the current downside, we miss the opportunity to grasp one of the most powerful levers of change.


Turning to the potential upside, the benefits of change are also often either underestimated or (more commonly) more aspirational than tangible. One of the most frequent reasons why apparently attractive projects fail to get final executive approval is that the business case was unclear or not sufficiently credible.

Selling the difference involves working hard to identify and monetise both the costs of inaction and the projected return on investment and economic impact on our prospective customer’s business.

We need to help our customer to recognise all the positive implications of change, and to monetise as many of these projected benefits in as credible way as possible.

It’s critical that we develop credible business models, case studies and benchmarks of what has been achieved by other similar customers in similar situations. Without such proof points, we run the real risk that the project will fail to achieve final approval.


When it comes to the other half of selling the difference – showcasing our features and capabilities – the natural inclination is to attempt to come up with the longest possible list of potential differentiators.

This is usually a completely mistaken strategy, and frequently backfires. If we’re not careful, we devalue our uniquely relevant capabilities by burying them in a list of irrelevant features.

Prospective customers discount irrelevant features. They may even wonder why they are being asked to pay for capabilities that they see no current value in, and trigger an attempt to negotiate a proportionate discount.


People remember themes, not lists. When we attempt to differentiate our solution, we do so most powerfully by highlighting a handful of truly relevant and thematically related capabilities that it would be hard for the competition to claim with any credibility.

This requires, of course, that our discovery has uncovered the handful of uniquely relevant capabilities that truly distinguish our ability to help the customer address their challenges and realise their opportunities, and that the prospect agrees with our conclusions.

Most of your competitors – at least from my observations – will do a pretty poor job of identifying and positioning their uniquely relevant capabilities. They will often revert to claiming that their solution is “better”.


Through a combination of focus and relevant evidence, you can do better. You can show your prospect why they need to change, and why you offer them a better chance of success than any other option.

You can sell the difference. You can stand out from the crowd. And you’ll achieve dramatically better results by embracing a dramatically different strategy to that implemented by your less imaginative competitors.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Bob Apollo
Bob Apollo is the CEO of UK-based Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners, the B2B sales performance improvement specialists. Following a varied corporate career, Bob now works with a rapidly expanding client base of B2B-focused growth-phase technology companies, helping them to implement systematic sales processes that drive predictable revenue growth.


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