We talk a lot about differentiation in marketing. Differentiation is something that sets us apart. Unique attributes of our services that are valued by our clients but that can't be easily reproduced by our competitors.
At it's simplest level, it could be a service we can deliver that no one else can. Or perhaps we specialise in working with a particular sector so we have more experience and knowledge in that field.
Differentiation in marketing can make us the obvious "go to" person for a client who recognises they need our unique skills and capabilities.
We talk much less about differentiation in selling however. But it's just as important.
If we're face to face with a client trying to persuade them to choose us over a competitor then unless we're different in some way, the client will end up choosing on price.
Differentiation at this level is hard. By the time a client is talking to us face to face they've already discarded the firms and individuals who aren't specialised in their sector (if that's important to them) or who don't deliver the services they're looking for.
At this stage, the short list almost always comprises firms who can perfectly well help them address their problems or opportunities (or at least claim they can). They might do it in a different way to us. But at the end of the day, it's highly likely that they'll claim they can achieve the same end results.
If a client says they want to reduce their indirect procurement costs by 20% - all the consultants pitching to them will say that's what they'll deliver.
If a client says they want a smooth divorce that doesn't impact the kids, all the lawyers will say that's what they'll deliver.
If a client says they want their accounts done quickly and efficiently with minimum hassle - then pretty much every accountant they speak to will say that's exactly what they'll do.
And if everyone is saying they'll do the same thing - then the only thing that sets them apart in the client's mind is their price, right?
That's not good. Certainly not if, like me, you price at a premium because you believe you deliver a premium service.
So when it comes down to the crunch. When you're sitting 1-1 with a client and discussing what you'll do for them, how on earth do you differentiate yourself?
Well, the first thing you need to accept is that simply identifying the client's needs and then telling them you'll address them isn't enough. Everyone will do that.
Here are some ways you can differentiate yourself in these competitive selling situations:
The "Safe Pair of Hands" Strategy
You may all promise you'll deliver what the client wants. But from the client's perspective, there can be major differences in how confident they are that you'll make good on that promise. If you're able to prove through testimonials, references, or just how much you seem to understand their situation, then they'll feel more confident that you'll be able to deliver what they want. And so they'll pick you rather than selecting on price.
The "Relationship" Strategy
People choose to work with people they like and trust. They won't pick you if they don't think you can do the job. But once you've proven that, then they'll almost always choose someone they like and feel they can partner with over someone they don't.
The "Change the Game" Strategy
When you're interacting with a potential client and talking about their needs - if you can identify problems or opportunities that they haven't thought of themselves - then you can mark yourself out as being different. The quality of your diagnosis immediately marks you out as being an expert - and (rather fortuitously) can prompt the client to question the abilities of your competitors who didn't highlight these new ideas.
It can be a risky strategy if the client has fixed ideas about what they need and doesn't want to be challenged. But it can be a particularly powerful way of pulling the rug from under entrenched incumbents who have better relationships than you and are seen as safer pairs of hands.
What's Your Strategy?
These aren't the only strategies you can use in sales situations - but they're good ones. Ones which I've seen work time and time again.
Whenever you're in a competitive selling situation you absolutely must have a differentiation strategy in place. Just diagnosing the client's needs and saying you'll meet them is not enough. That's the baseline - everyone will do that.
Unless you want to end up competing on price you must have a compelling reason why they should choose you. It might be different for every client - but you need one for every client. And that means in every competitive sales situation you've got to put the time and effort into developing it.
So for those upcomings bids, pitches and sales meetings you've got: what's your strategy?
Ian Brodie has been helping some of the world's leading organizations with their marketing and sales challenges for over 16 years. More importantly, he's "walked the talk" and sold multi-million dollar consulting engagements across multiple countries and cultures. For more information, visit his blog