Success in the early stages of a sales cycle with your prospect has led them to answer “yes” to these core buying journey questions:
- Do we need to do anything at all?
- Do we need to do anything now?
Congratulations! Your buyer is no longer giving “status quo” any credence as an option, and you have overcome a large hurdle in the buying journey. But the final, principal question remains:
- Why should we choose you and your solution?
The battle before you as a seller is to distinguish your solution from the other competitive alternatives available, and the true fight is to overcome the “me-too” conundrum. What is the “me-too” conundrum?
Definition: 1: marked by similarity to or by adoption of successful or persuasive policies or practices used or promoted by someone else 2: similar or identical to an established product (as a drug) with no significant advantage over it. (Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
According to a recent Gallup Poll, 91% of front line workers are unable to articulate what their company stands for and what differentiates it from the competition. And research from CVI reinforces the challenge before many organizations in a competitive selling environment, finding only 17% of sellers believe their pitches are truly different from the competition.
Ouch! If that is what sellers believe, imagine how “me-too” you sound to buyers since differentiation is gauged in the eyes of the beholder. In essence, you lack differentiated positioning and messaging to employ against your competition.
For centuries, many have considered Sun Tzu’s The Art of War an indisputable compilation of strategies and tactics for garnering success in military combat. Many view the ancient Chinese general as a strategic genius, and someone from which we can draw corollaries to sales excellence. One of Sun Tzu’s more recognized quotes relates to “terrain” — that is the positioning of a military force in relation to its (competitive) surroundings: “Terrain can be distant or near. It can be difficult or easy. It can be open or narrow. It also determines your life or death.” Your competitive positioning – and the related messaging framework you employ – can also “determine your life or death.”
Because of the many outside factors and the competitive nature of a sales cycle, you will never completely be in control, meaning each cycle requires careful analysis and thought. Winning sales professionals analyze their surroundings within a sales cycle, then apply their distinctive capabilities within that dynamic to create an unfair competitive position™ – that is an arena in their buyers’ minds that is uniquely carved-out for the solution the seller is providing. They do so by trivializing the strengths of their opponents, then changing the game in the mind of the prospect using differentiated, concise and compelling messaging, while aligning with their own advantages. This truly determines your victory or defeat in a sales cycle, or as Sun Tzu calls it, “life or death.”
Equally important, once you establish your presence and maintain an advantageous position, it is very difficult for your competition to overcome that unfair position and permeate the client for future opportunities.
A common mistake in establishing competitive differentiation is failing to recognize and communicate what is common and what is different in your offerings. Weaker organizations too often “drink their own Kool-Aid” and employ solution messaging based on “me-too” traits that are easily countered by the competition. Buyers seek distinct contrast as they evaluate solution alternatives. Solutions that are too similar to one another actually create confusion in buyers’ minds. It is the seller’s responsibility to create this contrast, but when they rely on solution messaging that is stale and untested with targeted buyers, they risk not only victory in that sales cycle, but in the marketplace in general.
On the contrary, top sales teams constantly evaluate their uniqueness. They do this by testing the messaging with buyers and key buying influences, including company insiders and third-parties (e.g. analysts and the media). Where no clear differentiating elements exist, changes are made in the solution directly, or, the solution is enhanced through bundling with other products/services to achieve desired differentiation.
There are four attributes of a differentiated message we need to take into account in order to create an unfair competitive position™ and the corresponding differentiated messaging framework — Unique, Valuable, Provable and Memorable — and it takes ALL FOUR to be a true differentiator.
Take a few minutes with your team to perform a simple test on your messaging to assess whether it is differentiated by first brainstorming your solution’s differentiators. Then, grade your differentiators using all four attributes. To do this, it is essential you step outside of your role and put yourself in your buyers’ shoes.
- Unique: Is it truly different from the competitive offerings the customer is evaluating?
- Valuable: Does the solution (or capability) provide value to the buyer?
- Provable: Can we clearly prove the value of the uniqueness through a client story and/or demonstration?
- Memorable: Is the message concise and crisp enough that the buyer can remember it and effectively defend it to others in their organization without my direct participation?
Do not be disappointed if your initial list of a dozen differentiators gets whittled down to one or two after you put them through the filter. It is OK as you only need one differentiator to win and ensure you are not just another “me-too” to your buyer. Or as Sun Tzu says: “You must engage only in winning battles. Position yourself where you cannot lose. Never waste an opportunity to defeat your enemy.”
Sun Tzu likely would have characterized it this way: a world-class sales team will position itself uphill from its competitors with the sun and wind at its back, making it difficult for the enemy to attack, let alone win a battle! Don’t fall into the “me-too” trap, and take the time and energy to make sure your messaging clearly sets you apart from all the others in the field.