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Be Distinct or Become Extinct

Customers select one product or company from the others based on the perception of getting something “better.” In these cases, “better” boils down to three factors: more benefits, less risks and/or less effort. All are unique to the person deciding. Many believe buying decisions are based on price—that’s never the case. They’re sometimes based on affordability, but almost always, the decision will be based on what’s perceived to be a “better deal.” Factors that need to be considered are: Who is doing the differentiating and what are the important benefits?

Macro differentiation
“Macro” marketing applies when a company’s image and its ability to draw new prospects are the main goals. Examples of this are Nordstrom’s customer service and Volvo’s leading edge on safety. Service and safety are how these companies differentiate themselves from the competition. People are drawn to them for these qualities. Macro differentiation requires lots of publicity, time, repetition, substance and follow-through by all employees. Management must mandate, reinforce, recognize, reward and chastise to ensure it happens.


Micro differentiation
“Micro” marketing applies to selling where each decision maker has his or her own preference for different important characteristics and an opinion about the product or company’s excellence. Individuals from within the same company can want different things. This is why business-to-business selling is so complex. You must show each person involved that you have “it”—the special characteristic or trait they desire. You also need to show you can deliver “it” better than the competition. This is micro differentiation. It’s specific to each person and each sale.

To be successful, a salesperson has to interview each potential customer to understand his or her vision of a good deal. (It may also require helping the customer develop his or her vision.) Once the vision is known, the task becomes showing how a particular product or service fits the vision in a way the competition’s product or service doesn’t. To be successful at complex selling, one must be prepared to meet face-to-face, at least twice, with the many powerful decision makers. Learn the vision. Deliver the vision.

In selling, one vision and one presentation never fits all.

Joe, the maintenance manager, wants good service (defined in his terms), and Mike, the operations manager, wants high quality (defined in his terms). Both are secondarily interested in the other’s desire, and both also want compliance to the general specification written by John from engineering. Joe is sensitive to the kind of service offered and may be willing to pay more for it; this may not be true of Mike, whose focus is quality. To complicate matters further, both individuals are considerate of what each thinks their boss Al wants. Their perceptions of Al’s desires may or may not be correct, but they’ll always be affected by their own desires.

The solution is to interview all parties to learn what will win each individual’s vote. The presentations must show each person how he’ll get more of his benefits—with less risk and less effort—than any competitors’ offering.

If a salesperson doesn’t know the persuading factors for each decision maker, differentiation in a proposal or presentation becomes macro: “This is our global differentiator, and you should want it.” If it doesn’t hit the right chord with the right person, it’s not going to sell. Some salespeople try to differentiate by including everything. This makes presentations long and boring, and important people soon become no-shows.

When all competitors are saying the same basic things, each company appears the same. Without an understanding of who wants what, only the buyers will know why they decided on a certain competitor.

To make a difference you have to know all the deciding factors of the situation. If the powerful decision makers feel all the competitors have enough safety built-ins, then Volvo doesn’t have an advantage. If the boss feels service is an extravagance, then Nordstrom will seem expensive.

So use your macro message to build image and develop leads. Once this draws in a potential client, interview each decision maker to learn all their personal desires. Then use micro differentiation to win each individual over.

Sam Manfer is author of Take Me to Your Leaders and a sales consultant with more than a decade of experience sharing his techniques with companies like Apple, Marriott, Fidelity and Blue Shield. 


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