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Differentiating Yourself is Key to Sales

Lee Salz, Contributing Writer

I love what Lee has to say in this article…

In my work with clients on sales differentiation, I constantly hear war stories about trying to knock out the competition.

Executives share their frustrations about losing deals and shrinking margins. They talk about the competition as if they are fighting a mythical being — forgetting that even the powerful Achilles had a weakness that led to his downfall.

It’s one thing for you to see a difference, but it’s another for your buyer to see it… 

If you think your competition is tough, imagine going up against one of the strongest brands in America. This is a brand that is loved by all. When families think of taking a vacation, this is the first brand that comes to mind.

Based on that last sentence, you know the brand I’m referring to — Disney.

There’s an old expression in B2B sales. “No one ever got fired for buying IBM.” IBM had built such a strong brand quality reputation that their products became known as the safe choice for corporate buyers. Disney enjoys that same quality reputation in the family vacation industry. Picking Disney for a family vacation ensures a fantastic experience.

Taking on a giant


Imagine you are selling for Universal going up against Disney. Their theme parks are in close proximity to yours. You’re both selling family vacations, but you’re trying to get people to vacation at your parks instead of Disney’s.

The other night, I was watching the Yankees game with my teenage sons. In between innings, a commercial for Universal’s theme park appeared on the screen. Normally, we don’t pay attention to commercials during games, but this one captivated us because of something we heard. “Kids grow up. So do vacations.”

That expression silenced the room for a moment as we looked at one another. The commercial then inspired a 15-minute conversation about our vacations. My three kids range between 14 and 18 years old.

We’ve been to Disney several times, including this past December, and had great experiences. I remember the first time we went there, when my daughter was about five years old. She looked at the princesses as if they had jumped out of the movie screen. It was amazing to experience Disney through her young eyes.

Yet, at 18 years old, Disney isn’t the same experience as it is for a five-year-old.

Universal recognizes that, too. They launched a differentiation campaign intended to help families think differently about their vacations. Rather than go after families with very young children, they are pursuing the ones with teenagers. They are fighting for the deals that they can win rather than trying to sell everyone.

Building a differentiation strategy

When I talk with salespeople about one of the most critical skills they must master to be in the top one percent of all salespeople, it’s this one skill:

Helping buyers think differently about the solutions they have or could have.

Universal is attempting to disrupt conventional thinking of a family vacation (Disney: “the safe family vacation” choice) and have people take a closer look at what they have to offer in their theme parks.

Universal’s sales differentiation strategy teaches salespeople three important lessons:

1. Focus on the attainable

Know the deals you are well-positioned to win and those you have little chance of winning. Invest your time on the ones you have a high probability of winning and avoid wasting your time on the low probability ones.

2. Open buyers' minds

During the sales differentiation programs I conduct, I ask the participants, “Who has greater knowledge in the solutions you offer: You or your buyers?” I’m yet to have a single salesperson say that their buyers are more educated than they are on the solutions available.

Given that, help your buyers open their minds (and disrupt their complacency) so they consider alternatives. Help them to see that the safe choice might not be the right choice for them given their needs and goals.

Don’t be afraid to challenge their beliefs in the spirit of helping them see the universe of options so they can make an informed buying decision.

3. Know what makes you different

Know what your differentiators are and why they matter to a buyer. Based on these, develop a strategy to communicate those differences in a meaningful way with buyers.

It’s one thing for you to see a difference, but it’s another for your buyer to see it the same way you do.

Getting your sales people to differentiate your product, your company and themselves isn’t something that happens overnight.  We can help train your people in this essential ingredient of sales success.