Is your sales team struggling to win business from your competitors? Has a major fourth-quarter opportunity stalled because a member of the buying committee is not convinced your offering is worth the hassle of changing vendors? Are your sales reps regularly asked to make concessions around price or terms?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, odds are good that you’re dealing with a failure to differentiate.
Don’t worry — you’re not alone. As markets become increasingly crowded and saturated with lower-priced offerings and marketing language that all sounds eerily similar, sales teams are struggling to set their solutions apart. Add to that challenge the modern business-to-business (B2B) purchasing scenario — where buyers know their problems, are able to identify and educate themselves on possible solutions, and spend just 5% or 6% of the buying journey engaging with an individual sales professional — and the need to drive true differentiation becomes paramount.
The first step is to realize that a different solution is not necessarily differentiated. It’s all too common for sales reps to struggle when making this leap. Many admit that they’re at a loss when it comes to consistently differentiating from the competition. However, it’s our job as sales leaders to help our teams realize that differentiation is the foundation of selling on value — and that value is measured in the eyes of the beholder.
As teams push to close as much business as possible before the end of the year, how can sales leaders help their teams look beyond product or service capabilities to turn mere differences into truly differentiated offerings that create a compelling reason for prospects to act? Here are the answers to the three most common questions sellers have when leveraging differentiation to drive sales success.
1. Where Do I Start?
Like so much in sales, it begins with research. When prompted, your sales team members might be able to immediately list the unique capabilities of your solution, but how much do they know about your biggest competitor’s latest update or that startup that’s beginning to win business away from established vendors in your market space? After all, it’s difficult for salespeople to explain why your offerings are better if they can’t say what they’re better than.
From there, reps must focus on connecting your solution’s unique capabilities to problems that are likely already on the prospect’s radar. Doing so means elevating the conversation to the business level to uncover problems that are urgent and worth solving — but reps won’t make it very far unless they can ask smart questions.
Many sales professionals make the mistake of preparing a few open-ended questions and believing that they will be adequate for uncovering impactful value. However, this tactic is just the beginning. Sales leaders should encourage their reps to take advantage of the time and flexibility offered by virtual selling to develop their financial literacy and increase the amount of research they do on a prospect’s industry, company and role. Once equipped with this knowledge, they’ll be able to ask specific probing questions that showcase their credibility while enabling them to craft a meaningful value dialogue around critical business issues.
2. How Do I Differentiate Our Solution When It’s Similar to the Competition’s?
Look to the intangibles.
If you’re in a field like software as a service (SaaS), where your solution is likely to share capabilities with your competitors’ products, work with your teams members on looking beyond features to consider other possible areas of differentiation — like customer service, terms and conditions, and risk mitigation or brand reputation.
For example, everyone says they have great customer service — but perhaps your SaaS company mandates that all customer service professionals complete a certificate training program to become product experts. While this training may not matter to some prospects, it will be of significant interest to a potential buyer whose team deals in edge cases or is experiencing productivity losses due to misdiagnosed service issues. You can apply the same maneuvering to terms and conditions — it’s all about uncovering needs that competitors have not addressed.
The final piece of the puzzle is the risk mitigation offered by your brand reputation and the trust it inspires. According to research by LinkedIn, only 40% of buyers “describe the sales profession as trustworthy,’” but 88% of buyers describe the salespeople they do business with as “trusted advisors.”
The disconnect here is striking. There is widespread distrust, but the sales professionals who are closing deals have set themselves in a different category. Sales leaders must help their teams prize authenticity and forge the human connections that enable them to present themselves as business partners and problem-solving experts.
Price is also a factor, but successful differentiation is all about focusing on the value of your solution. If your sales reps resort to competing on price before they’ve aligned with the prospect on the value they offer, they’ll be at a tremendous disadvantage.
3. What’s the Best Way to Demonstrate the Value of Our Differentiators?
Imagine that a sales rep on your team is selling your company’s latest offering: an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered sales tool that automatically updates buyer and selling activity in customer relationship management (CRM) systems and promises to save salespeople an average of four hours per week. This seller is in talks with a regional sales manager, and it seems like they agree in principle: The time spent on non-selling activities is robbing the sales force of its ability to hit revenue targets — and when the time savings offered by your sales tool is multiplied across a sales force of 50 reps, the business case appears clear enough … only the manager has stopped returning your rep’s calls.
What happened? The seller in question assumed that your solution’s ability to help the company hit revenue targets clearly demonstrated its value. And it did — to the company. If your rep had focused on discovery throughout the sales process, however, he would have discovered a different story: This particular regional manager was lucky enough to have high-performing people under her but was unpopular with her direct reports. Delivering a solution that freed them from hours of mind-numbing administrative tasks might have changed their tune, but that crucial connection was never made. As a result, the sale stalled out.
The truth is that every day, a sales rep loses a high-value opportunity because a decision-maker fails to see “what’s in it for me?” (WIIFM). As sales leaders, we must continually stress that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to value and that sales discovery is not only an upfront process. By focusing on a thorough discovery process that extends throughout the sales process, reps can expand on what the prospect believes is possible by identifying additional problems that create an additional need for your differentiators. Finally, reps must apply this prospect-centric approach of uncovering personal value to all decision-makers on the buying committee.
Ultimately, the marketplace will only become more saturated with similar products and value propositions. It’s our job as sales leaders to help reps develop the skills to look beyond capabilities, connect the value of their solutions to a prospect’s professional and personal motivations, and make the leap from differences to differentiation to drive sales success.