I’ve met plenty of salespeople who suffer from brand envy.

Their competitors have a superior brand. Better known. More respected. Generally perceived as cooler. Meanwhile, they’re stuck pushing Brand X. It’s a wonder it sells at all.

The truth is, brands don’t mean that much in complex sales, says Charles H. Green, author of The Trusted Advisor and Trust-Based Selling. 

Brands are far more important in consumer marketing, because these products and services are relatively simple to understand, he says. Consumers form intense emotional attachments to Coke vs. Pepsi, Levi’s vs. Lee’s, or Toyota vs. Honda, because they instinctively get what these products are about.

But in complex sales, most buyers don’t really get the difference between, say, CitiBank vs. Bank of America; Deloitte & Touche vs. Ernst & Young, or Oracle vs. PeopleSoft. Not because the differences don’t exist – they’re often huge – but because the products and services are complicated and difficult for non-experts to evaluate.

In complex sales, Green says, the biggest differentiator of all is trust, which is created through the experience of work done on a real client’s real issues, in real time. The best differentiation therefore happens at the individual level, in the act of buying and selling.

In a nutshell, branding can get you on the short list, but differentiation gets you the sale — and differentiation is very much about the individual’s experience of the sales process.

That’s good news, because it means the salesperson is THE critical factor in the buying decision. Once you’ve made the short list, everyone is essentially starting from the same point. After that, You are the brand. It’s your job to show how You are different from everyone else.

photo credit: mattkangas

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