In our work at Sales Engine, we often see a few problems reoccurring within sales organizations. These companies are not identical. They come with their own processes, standards, structures, and methods of communicating. They are small or large, B2B or B2C, an unknown start-up or well-known corporation. When we visit with sales leaders and assess their capacity to increase sales to avoid a plateau, we ask them all sorts of crazy questions. And we almost always ask some version of questions like:
- Who is your biggest competitor?
- How is what you do different from what they do?
- Who do you think has the advantage in the market?
These conversations vary depending on the business and industry, of course, but it usually boils down to this one statement:
“We’re just better than Competitor XYZ.”
We all want to believe that we do a better job than anyone else, that no one else can compare. And while confidence is an important part of succeeding in sales, it isn’t true.
A company’s success is largely based on its ability to articulate and execute why it is DIFFERENT and BETTER than the competition.
Being “better” than someone else won’t get you very far. It might just make you feel good in the short-term. And assuming that your competitor will never “catch up” to you is a dangerous game to play.
If you bring this down to the salesperson’s level, those that tend to succeed are skillful at catching their prospect’s attention. They offer information. They send a ‘thank you’ note. They think ahead. On the flip side, the average low-performing salesperson requests information and time from their prospect (rather than offering it), avoids sending a handwritten thank you note (because that would “take too long”), and thinks on the fly (rather than thinking ahead).
Successful salespeople seek to be different, not just ‘better’. Because being different makes them better (i.e. more successful) in the long run.
We were curious about how our fellow sales pros thought about differentiation at the salesperson’s level, so we asked a few experts this question:
“What is ONE way a salesperson can differentiate him or herself from their competition?”
It turns out, there are plenty of ways to be different. You just have to choose a few and test them out.
In no particular order, here’s what the experts had to say:
“Ask shorter questions. Salespeople in general don’t ask enough questions and those that do ask ones that are far too complicated. The best questions are the short questions that follow up on a response the customer just shared. A few short questions I like include: Why? How come? Could you give me an example? Could you share with me more?”
“Be prepared, be sincere and ask great questions! Now more than ever prospects are inundated with sales calls, voicemails and emails. It is crucial that we constantly differentiate ourselves from all the noise. I have found that if I am prepared (i.e. knowing about the prospects business and the potential challenges they face), sincere (using the phrase “am I catching you at a good time” or “I know you aren’t expecting my call”) and ready with great relevant open ended questions that this has opened up a ton of opportunity that we would not have otherwise had.”
“Ask smart questions. This actually requires two interrelated skills that are in short supply among salespeople: outside-in mentality and proper preparation. Outside-in is the approach that understands that the best way to get what you want is to put yourself in the customer’s shoes and figure out how to help them get what they want. You need to prepare properly to ensure that you ask questions that get to the heart of their problems and opportunities; that’s the key to differentiation and the first step on the road to trust.”
“The greatest sales person differentiator is knowledge. The sales person who knows more about the industry they sell in, the business workflows, operations, the competition, government mandates, and the challenges of their customers wins! Sales is all about contextual knowledge, and those bad ass sales people with the greatest command of this contextual knowledge will be wearing the champions belt.”
“The ONE way a salesperson can differentiate him or herself from their competitors is to ask high-value, thought-provoking questions that make prospects sit up and think. Most sales people THINK they do an effective job asking questions but the reality is that most fail to ask enough deep, probing questions to really learn what the prospect needs. By asking these types of questions you can climb into the mind of your prospect and find out what is really important to them, the challenges they face, the decision-making process and the motivators that will influence their buying decision.”
“High performing sales people heal broken situations rather than pitch, pander, or prospect.”
“Focus on the buyers objectives, not their pain, not their needs, not on product fit, but their objectives; leave your product in the car. People love to talk about their objectives, and they will tell all kinds of things you otherwise would not hear. If they feel you can help them move towards or achieve their objectives, they will want to talk to you. But most sales people want to talk solution before they even know what, if anything, they are solving. Focus on objectives and impacts you can deliver to those.”
“A good friend (and SVP of Sales) jokes about the public’s perception of sales people. He says “Enough about me, what do you think about me?”.
A sales rep can differentiate themselves by being genuinely interested in their prospect and their prospects needs and wants. As Stephen Covey said: “Seek first to understand and then be understood.”
“One way to differentiate? Build, value and nurture relationships before you need them. This means not just prospects but peers, competitors, partners, past customers and more. Use the amazing tools we have around us now – CRM, social, content, drip marketing, contextual follow-up reminders, etc. – to exponentially scale your ability to foster and improve those relationships without having to take all day doing it.
Seriously, that’s it. Be the person who cares more before there’s anything specific in it for you. It takes time and commitment, and a daily discipline, but those who do it see a widening gap between themselves and their competitors.”
“Sales people can differentiate themselves by focusing everything – I mean everything – they do on the What’s in it for Them (WiifT) of the prospect or buyer. Preparing for the sales meeting with this WiifT focus is the beginning. During the sales conversation is where the biggest difference is made. Ditch your ‘pitch’ and make anything you say connected to or followed by the reason it is relevant to that person, situation, and company. It takes work to be focused on WiifT instead of you and your solution, which is why so few of your competitors will do it.”
“If I could choose only one way to differentiate myself as a salesperson it would be caring. I would love to put business acumen above caring, but there are plenty of smart people who don’t generate trust because they are self-oriented. I would love to put resourcefulness above caring, because helping your clients requires new ideas. But caring is what ensures your client that the new ideas are going to be implemented. I’d love to put determination above caring, because you aren’t going to succeed without a pigheaded determination. But you have to care enough to keep pursuing difficult outcomes.
See what I did here? I chose only one but I weaved in three more attributes. The one thing you can do to differentiate yourself is be the whole package.”
“One way a salesperson can differentiate themselves from their competition is to focus on adding value in every interaction with a prospect. Ask questions and listen with a focus on helping the prospect solve a problem or reach a goal versus trying to sell them something so you can reach yours.”
“A great way for salespeople to differentiate themselves is by NOT using such “typical salesperson” language as “Are you the person responsible for …” or “If I could show you a way to save 20%, would you be interested?” There’s fascinating research showing that when you use stock phrases like these, buyers don’t even hear what comes next. You could tell them their dog died and they’d say, “Sorry, not interested.” They’ve already pigeonholed you and made up their mind whether or not to continue the conversation (usually not). For more on the research, go here: http://rapidlearninginstitute.com/top-sales-dog/be-unexpected-salesperson.”
“I believe that the one term, which sets top sales performers apart from the also-rans, is customer focus. Outstanding sales results depend on the ability to think from the customer’s point of view as well as understanding the customer’s agenda, buying cycle and best interests.
Beyond a superficial reading of immediate customer needs, salespeople must gain a deeper understanding of both the buyer’s long-term goals and the overall business climate. Certainly at the heart of customer focus is the art of listening constructively – the best salespeople are masters at capturing information.
Customer focus also means taking the customer seriously – today, the salesperson who clings to the product orientation of a decade ago is losing ground, because as client companies branch into new markets and unfamiliar territories, they are demanding unique, flexible solutions from their vendors – customized to support specific goals.”
“Adding value at every interaction. Show up at a meeting with success stories, case studies or white papers that the client can learn from even if they don’t by form you. Publish (or reprint what your company publishes) high value videos, podcasts, research papers, articles or opinions in your market that position you as a thought leader not just as a “seller”. When buyers see you as an expert in the marketplace they seek you out. You are no longer an intrusive sales person but an expert that can add value to their business.”