Do buyers think you’re selling a commodity? Here’s how to add value
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Do buyers think you’re selling a commodity? Here’s how to add value

These days, products and services can quickly lose their competitive edge, thanks to the breakneck speed of change and intense global competition.

One problem sales professionals face that cuts across nearly every industry: How to build perceived value and set yourself apart, when buyers (rightly or wrongly) treat you like a commodity – with little real difference between you and the other guy?

Of course, you aren’t selling exactly what your competitor does. You know your product or service is not identical, but your customer might think so, and there is the rub.

From their point of view, what is the real difference between Hertz and Avis? The challenge you face is getting past the buyer’s perception that you are selling a “me too” product or service. Here’s what to do about it.

It’s an ‘offering,’ not just a product or service
Simply put, you need to spend some time thinking through all the significant ways your offering stands apart from what your competitors bring to the table. That is not an easy thing to do, of course, but the operative word is “offering.”

Using that term – rather than just “product” or “service” – helps you take a broader, more holistic view of the situation.

Even when your product or service is identical to that of the competition, in the grand scheme of things your offering is going to be quite different. Here are some obvious differentiators:

  • Your company, which is not like all the others; and you, as the unique point person in the sale.
  • Your financial terms, delivery speed and customer service posture.
  • Your ability to follow-up, your guarantee, your return policy, and/or services that add value.

These factors are all a part of your “offering,” even when the product or service is virtually identical.

Consider this typical B2B scenario: You run a printing plant and need to buy replacement ball bearings, which routinely wear out on the press rollers.

Two suppliers have given identical quotes. The bearing specifications are the same, and so is the price. However, one supplier is nearby and the other is three states away. One supplier has a solid reputation in customer service; the other turned up with some negatives. The sales rep for the first supplier is related to your college roommate, while the salesperson for the second seems too pushy.

Chances are you’ll do business with the first supplier, as a result not of price or product differences, but the totality of the offering.

Identify the differences
Here is a four-step process you can use to zero in on the differentiators that matter most:

1. Think of all the issues around the decision to purchase your product or service. Consider building a spreadsheet or matrix with columns labeled for major categories: company, salesperson, terms, delivery, etc. Continue across the top, using one column for each aspect of your offering.

2. List all the ways your offering differs, taking each column in turn. For example, your company may be larger or smaller than the competition, locally owned vs. a branch office for a multinational company. You may also be located closer to the customer. When you have plumbed the depths of one column, move on to the next. Leave room to add more.

3. Zero in on the differences most important to the customer. You may have uncovered a hundred specific and detailed differences – information overload for the customer. Just pick those that will matter most.

Key point: Egocentric things your company may think are important – like your 50th year in business – may not matter at all. Look critically at your list. Strike out items that don’t make buyers’ jobs easier, build their revenue or cut costs. You should end up with a handful of key differentiators.

4. Turn each one into a benefit. Here’s a simple example:

Let’s say your company is nearby, while the competitor’s distribution center is 100 miles away. From the customer’s point of view that could easily matter – if you point it out to them.

Express the benefit in words like this:

“We’re just 20 minutes away from your loading dock, unlike some other suppliers. That means we can deliver more quickly in an emergency, and can respond faster to other problems that come up. That could mean less downtime and take the pressure off you.”

Emphasize the differentiators that matter in your sales conversations. Seek feedback and watch for reactions that indicate issues that seem to resonate with your customer. Use them in your proposal to establish clear differences between you and the competition.

A good job of communicating your differentiators will alter your customer’s perception – and you’ll get the business.

Source: A posting by Dave Kahle. To learn more visit

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