Several years ago I wrote about Not Competing On Price. Sales organizations are in an unenviable state of affairs where competition is more fierce than ever, pressure on sales margins is unrelenting and, due to both information overload and borderline fantasy marketing by sellers, customers are either blind to what sets you apart or, more likely, do not want to pick up enough cues, which would set you apart from the competition.
I say “more likely” because customers are in fact more informed than ever. Partly as a result, Gartner believes that buyers see their interaction with sales as their least valuable part of their buying process.
How should organizations and sales departments respond? Put another way, the question is, how do organizations and sales departments differentiate themselves enough to hold a competitive edge? The answer should be simple. Have a better product and convey the strength to customers already suffering from cognitive dissonance. Easier said than done of course. Where it exists sales must know it and articulate it. Among other things a sales process must become
- Better aligned to the contemporary buying process, which means not being strict about the pipeline and funnel milestones as defined in your CRM
- Offer more domain knowledge,
- A much better understanding of vertical KBRs is a must because you would want to align it to the customer’s purchase
- Moreover, support and maintenance are tangible factors that remain dissimilar across companies.
Notice that, given our dilemma, these are still non-product differentiators. To keep our feet firmly planted in reality we are not going to see sales managers measuring their salespersons differently. Why? Wall Street, Bay Street, whatever quarterly measuring street.
Where a competitive edge does not exist the price pressure is even more acute.
What to do when a customer sees you as a commodity? What to do when a customer sees you as one of many? The answer is ‘disruption.’ A seller has to disrupt current customer thinking through one or more of the below:
- Know yourself. If you cannot educate your customer to your differences then you are at a disadvantage. Do you have superior communication and articulation? Either way, you must get better. Do you have valid reasons, experience and stories? If so, maximize their utility. Importantly, be careful assuming that your customer’s knowledge of you is perfect. What they may know may not match what you know. Check and compare.
- Know your competition. Educate your customer on the competition. Do you know their limitations? Do you know how they are processing their sales strategy?
- Know your customer. This includes their hot buttons, preferred relationship parameters and interaction style preferences and big picture. The last item implies that the seller could go beyond the point solution and make truly constructive suggestions to customers. The triangulation of engineering, marketing and sales becomes more important than ever. Is this wishful thinking? Quite possibly. Selling organizations are as resource and time challenged as buyers. However, the extra effort and fastidiousness is worth it.
All products being roughly equal, or being perceived as such, something has to give. It will either be the price or your non-product differentiators.
*Things That Need To Go Away: companies and sellers who cannot articulate why they have a raison d’etre.