How to Differentiate Your Solution from the Competition
How to Rediscover Solution Differentiators in a Changed World
When it comes to sales, the customer decides which solution features are truly differentiated. Products and services today feature a growing list of benefits. Effective sales professionals know that to be successful, they must shorten that list to only what is relevant to the customer. The challenge: the customer’s definition of relevant is changing across industries.
The global pandemic has accelerated trends like digital transformation, industry convergence, and agile transformation. These changes are so common that nearly every business leader has been forced to reevaluate their strengths and weaknesses in the new setting. As a result, the corresponding solution benefits that were once relevant are becoming inconsequential.
Businesses are assigning more importance to workforce planning, supply chain management, financial modeling, IT infrastructure, and scenario planning. This shift in focus has pushed business leaders to relearn what is important to their organization. Despite the difficulties of this process, 71% of business leaders “view this crisis as an opportunity to emerge stronger” according to research from PwC. Sales professionals must do the same. They must reexamine their solution. They must rediscover what solution benefits will matter to the customer today. Doing so means learning to see the world through the customer’s eyes. Here we look at the three ways sales professionals can isolate the solution differentiators that truly matter to the customer. With this approach, the sales professional’s positioning strategy will become more resonant and compelling.
Become a Better Listener
To understand what solution features are truly differentiated the sales professional must listen to the customer. The customer’s words offer clues. With active listening skills, the sales professional will capture those clues which reveal the customer’s current motivations and concerns.
Good listening is surprisingly difficult for several reasons. First, many sales professionals feel they must justify their presence by articulating the value of their solution. They do so by spending more time talking than listening. Second, silence is uncomfortable, and many will choose to avoid this discomfort by talking when they could be learning more about the customer by listening. Third, talking feels empowering and therefore feeds our innate need for control in the high-stakes setting of a sales conversation.
The good news is that the benefits of strong listening skills are available to everyone. Yielding these benefits means understanding that being a great listener does not come naturally. Simply put, a great listener possesses one of the strongest competitive advantages without having to spare anything but a bit of time and attentiveness.
How good listening happens:
- Encourage the speaker: The listener must be quiet enough to let the speaker to talk, but vocal enough to elicit more of the other person’s thoughts. Listeners can achieve the right balance by speaking only when the other person has left details unexplored. If the speaker offers only surface-level information, it is the listener’s job to seize the opportunity to go deeper by asking questions.
- Engage in mirroring: Mirroring is the tendency for a listener to mimic the speech, cadence, gestures, and even attitude of the person speaking. Mirroring puts the speaker at ease. As a result, they are more likely to volunteer information and become comfortable offering important details. Mirroring works because it signals to the speaker that the listener is empathetic.
- Confirm key points: To confirm the speaker’s message, the listener must summarize their understanding of what they have heard and ask the speaker if this interpretation is correct. Doing so seeks clarity and invites the speaker to say more. Even if the speaker answers yes to the confirmation question, they often take the opportunity to expand and elaborate.
Learn more about how to become a better listener by downloading the brief: Four Ways to Be a Better Listener
Learn the Customer's New Ecosystem
The pandemic has disrupted the ecosystem of most businesses. In response, business leaders are improving their operations by strengthening the connections between the different parts of their organization. To do so, businesses are putting greater focus on things like supply chain logistics, data sharing relationships, and co-branding initiatives. Put simply, stakeholders understand that developing resilience means creating an ecosystem that is shock resistant. Therefore, sales professionals are likely to find the most relevant differentiators in the parts of the solution that relate to the goal of a stronger ecosystem.
Sales professionals must understand how their solution addresses the heightened need for flexibility and adaptability. They must isolate the aspects of the product or service that can evolve, and scale alongside changes in the customer’s business. The customer’s need for dynamic solutions explains why the sales professional of today must also rise to the level of a trusted advisor. The customer needs the sales professional as a resource for incorporating the solution in their dynamic, and complex ecosystem.
How to relearn the customer's ecosystem:
- Understand the new set of business goals: Ecosystems are complicated. Therefore, the sales professional should start with an understanding of the customer’s ultimate goal which will be to either save money, boost revenue, or manage risk. With this information, the sales professional can eventually position the solution’s “network effect” which is its interoperability with existing physical and digital ecosystem components.
- "Sprint" to new information: Understanding the breadth of the customer’s new ecosystem requires an iterative approach because there is so much to learn. Sellers need a simple, repeatable plan for engaging the customer in conversations that reveal critical information. The answer is a sprint. A sprint is a pattern of prepare–engage–advance in which each conversation reveals new information with an agile approach.
- Explore the customer's industry convergence: Industry convergence occurs when the boundary separating two seemingly unrelated industries begins to blur. This is the natural result of digital transformation. Sales professionals must have the ability to track these changes and redevelop their understanding of how a prospect’s business overlaps different domains. It is no longer enough to understand the prospect’s core business.
Rediscover the Customer's Pain
Uncovering and understanding the customer’s real pain matters because the emotional aspect of pain is typically what motivates action. Problems, issues, and opportunities that are not connected to a deeper emotional feeling of pain will likely go untreated. The customer’s pain is changing as new threats emerge. A pain can be a missed opportunity, difficulty navigating an industry change, or a rising competitive threat.
Knowing the customer is about knowing their pain and how it flows throughout their organization. Once the sales professional has identified the potential reasons for pain, they can map relevant capabilities to those reasons for pain. It is important for sales professionals to remember that pain within the business is not localized. It is dispersed, and uneven. The seller must know each stakeholder’s pain to isolate the meaningful solution differentiators. If a solution feature can address a current pain in the organization it will be considered a true differentiator. The approach of relearning the customer’s pain is a competitive advantage because it is a critical step overlooked by so many competitors.
How to investigate the customer's pain:
- Determine the key player list: The Key Player List is a record of the stakeholders in the target company that are responsible for KPIs that the solution can address. The Key Player List helps the sales professional focus on those who can authorize a purchase and those who have pains that are most critical to the business. The list should include only those who will be involved in a purchasing decision.
- Understand the pain chain: The pain chain is a diagram of the cause-and-effect relationship of pains and their owners. The pain chain helps the seller visualize the flow of organizational interdependencies. These interdependencies reveal how the pain experienced at the executive level influence all other aspects of the business. The purpose of learning the pain chain is to single out the most pressing need in the business.
- Connect pain to business outcomes: When a key player articulates a pain they will not always connect it to a business outcome. It is the seller’s job to find this connection. Positioning differentiators that address the pain is not enough. The sales professional must show that the differentiator addresses the pain and that addressing the pain solves a major business challenge.
Sprint Selling Uses Customer Conversations to Redefine Solution Differentiators
Sprint Selling integrates four key elements that teach sales professionals what critical actions are needed to win deals and how to apply those actions in an agile way with skills techniques and tools.
This approach reveals the customer’s most current needs so the seller can identify the solution features that are truly differentiated.
Sprint Selling distills more than 40 years of training 3+ million professionals across 900 businesses. The result is a single effective program for increasing win rates, reducing cycle time, and driving revenue.
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