Driving Differentiation in Customer Interactions

Our research often uncovers unexpected things. Beyond everyone finding it wildly interesting and underscoring the need for empirical research in selling and sales, that unanticipated data often informs and inspires our next steps.

 Take, for example, the customer who reported that a rep really differentiated his product in a meeting.  She remembered a lot about that meeting because the salesperson delivered his presentation “backwards.”  He started the presentation with the traditional “end slide,” saying this was the last meeting she’d need on the topic, moved to things like a wrap up of why she should buy from him, and concluded with an agenda slide and included appropriate, but surprising commentary, throughout.  But, you know what?  When we looked at the actual content of that presentation and compared it to messages from the rep’s competitors, we found very little difference.  The salesperson’s technique was so good that it created perceived differentiation in his buyer’s mind.

Building differentiation in the buyer’s mind

Other meetings in the same study garnered similar results.  The way salespeople presented mattered, and when those presentations were effective, it made the interaction so memorable that it built differentiation for the buyer.  This held true for several presentation techniques, including storytelling.  Memorable meetings helped customers “find” differentiation in a salesperson’s product or solution, even when it was not actually there.

That does not mean you can forgo messaging and differentiation exercises in favor of flashy demos.  Flash does not necessarily equal memorable, but that isn’t even the point.  The point is, differentiation continues to have enormous impact on seller outcomes.

Real-life data

So if your customers rated your salesperson interactions, what do you think you’d learn about rep and messaging effectiveness?  According to the buyers in our study after some 750 meetings, only 10% hit the mark.

Percentage of customersCustomer evaluation
10Included messages customers considered important to them and unique to that seller
40Included messages customers considered important to the them, but they heard these same messages from all other sellers with whom they met
35Included messages that were not important to the customer and most sellers mentioned the very same things
15Included messages that were unique to a particular seller, but the customer really didn’t care much about it

Now, how accurately do you think the salespeople assessed those very same interactions?  If you are a sales or sales training leader, you probably won’t like the stat line. The reps rated 50% of these interactions as unique to them and their offerings–and including something customers care about.  50% versus 10%?  That’s a huge disparity.

What about that 10% of conversations with content unique and of value? A full 100% of those meaningful interactions offered differentiation that had nothing at all to do with the core product being sold.  Rather, differentiation for the customer was based on things like process, people and their expertise, and platforms.

Beyond features and benefits

Features and benefits don’t win.  That’s probably often a function of the fact that there is little to no differentiation there anyway.  But beyond delivery technique, you can successfully drive differentiation in the mind of the customer by talking about peripheral aspects of the solution.  Can customers experience you differently?  Do you offer particular expertise or knowledge? Is special technology offered as part of the overall solution?  Can you provide something like creative financing—we’re not suggesting you bring the discussion down to price, mind you.  But, do you offer something different in the way customers can pay?

And, what about that presentation technique?  If the interaction and experience are so important to overall opportunity success, you can’t leave that to chance.  You need to equip your salespeople with differentiated messaging and then the tools and training to deliver it effectively—and memorably.

Bottom line

Differentiation is in the eye of the customer.  It can be driven through messaging, delivery approach, and/or outside of the core product.  But, customer perception will determine its impact.  That impact has enormous effect on seller and sales success, so you need to help ensure positive outcomes.

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