Be Distinct or Become Extinct:
Differentiate Your Company

By Sam Manfer

Customers select one company from the others based on getting something “better” from the one than the other. “Better” boils down to three factors: more benefits, less risks, and/or less effort. All are unique to the person deciding. Many believe buying decisions are based on price - that’s never the case. They are sometimes based on affordability but almost always the decision will be based on what is perceived to be a “better deal.” Factors that need to be considered are: who is doing the differentiating and what are the important benefits they are differentiating?

Macro Differentiation: Macro applies to the marketing world where a company’s image and its ability to draw prospects to the company are the main goals. Examples of this are Nordstrom’s customer service and Volvo’s leading edge on safety. Service and safety are how these companies differentiate themselves from the competition. People are drawn to them for these qualities. Macro differentiation requires lots of publicity, time, constant repetition, substance and follow-through by all employees. Management must mandate, reinforce, recognize, reward and chastise to insure it happens.

Micro Differentiation: Micro applies to selling, where each decision-maker has a preference on important characteristics and an opinion as to the product or company’s excellence. Individuals from the same company usually want different things. This is why business-to-business selling is complex. You must show each person involved that you have ‘it’ - the special characteristic or trait they desire. You also need to show that you can deliver that ‘it’ better than the competition. This is micro differentiation. It is specific to each person for each sale.

To do this, the salesperson has to interview each person to understand his or her vision of a good deal. It may also require helping the customer develop his or her vision. Once known, the task becomes showing how this particular product or service fits the vision in a way that the competition doesn’t. Therefore, to be successful at complex selling, one must be disciplined to meet the face-to-face, at least twice, with the many decision-makers. It is especially important to meet with those deemed to be powerful. Learn the vision. Deliver the vision. In selling, one vision and one presentation does not fit all.

Application: Joe, the maintenance manager, may want good service (defined in his terms) and Mike, the operations manager, may want high quality (defined in his terms). Both may be interested in the other’s desire and both also want compliance to the general specification written by John from Engineering. Joe is sensitive to the kind of service offered and may be willing to pay more for it. This is not the same as Mike’s focus, which is quality. To complicate matters further, both individuals may want what each thinks their boss Al wants. Their perceptions of the Al’s desires may be correct or incorrect, and will always be affected by their own desires.

So the solution is to interview all parties to learn what will win each individual’s vote. The presentations must show each person that he will get more of his benefits, with less risk, and less effort than any competitors’ offering.

If one doesn’t know the persuading factors for the most powerful person and those that strongly influence him, differentiation in a proposal or presentation becomes macro. “This is our global differentiator and you should want it.”  If it doesn’t hit the right chord with the right person, it’s not going to sell. Some salespeople try differentiating by including everything. This makes the presentations long and boring, and the important people become no-shows.

When all competitors are saying the same basic things each company appears to look the same. Without the understanding of who wants what, only the buyers will know why they decided on a certain competitor. To make a difference you’ve got to know all the deciding factors of the situation. If the decision-makers, especially the most powerful, feel that all the competitors have enough safety built-ins, then Volvo doesn’t have an advantage. If the boss feels service is an extravagance, then Nordstrom will seem expensive.

So use your macro message to build image and leads. Once this draws in the potential client, interview each decision maker to learn all the personal desires. Then you can use micro differentiation to win each individual over.

Read other articles and learn more about Sam Manfer.

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