How To Differentiate Yourself When You’re Selling


Ian Brodie

Ian Brodie

Ian Brodie teaches consultants, coaches and other professionals to attract and win their ideal clients by becoming seen as authorities in their field.


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Selling Professional Services

How To Differentiate Yourself When You’re Selling

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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 upcoming bids, pitches and sales meetings you've got: what's your strategy?


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Ian Brodie

Ian Brodie

Ian Brodie teaches consultants, coaches and other professionals to attract and win their ideal clients by becoming seen as authorities in their field.

  • user

    AUTHOR Paul Simister

    Posted on 9:58 am December 9, 2010.

    Ian, another interesting posting on your blog.

    I suggest that people look back at their own buying experiences and see what helps them to make a positive decision and also what eliminates competitors from the choice.

    Often, it’s not what you say – which as you’ve identified can tend to be very similar – but what you do.

    Actions do speak louder than words and everything you do creates an impression which moves you nearer or further away from your goal of persuading someone to buy.

    I’d also recommend that people go back to their clients and ask a few simple questions like “why did you choose to buy from me?”

    The reasons may not be what you think and you should also follow through on those who didn’t buy and find out why. You may have price thrown at you because it’s an easy excuse, so try to set it aside.

  • user

    AUTHOR Patricia Lane

    Posted on 10:15 am December 9, 2010.

    Good topic, Ian!

    Making that first cut is, to me, the hardest part. Once you have the opportunity to get face to face with the client, it is the human interaction that is going to make the decision – for both parties (sometimes, yes, the service provider can discover a previously imperceptible casting error too!).

    You underscore well that competence by this point is presumed, the differentiating factor is the human connection, people preferring to work with those they feel comfortable with, like, and trust.

    All of us, unconsciously, send out a zillion non-verbal signals that support (or destroy) what our carefully crafted questions and responses say. People respond to and learn more from what they see than what they hear or read. They look for the reassurance synchronicity brings. You have surely had instances when you won or lost a project, yet can’t identify the precise reasons why that is. The decision making process (the buying process) is often sub-conscious and emotional, regardless of the logical veneer that is often put on it.

    It works both ways. I recall one face-off with a prospect where I asked when I could get access to XYZ information to launch my end of the project properly. The prospect shifted to the side, crossed his legs, crossed his arms and looked down and right when he responded the documents would be made available to me within a week of signing. A big red flag flew up in front of my mind’s eye – I knew this wouldn’t happen and the project would derail right at its launch. I graciously declined, and some time later, learned the company had been bought over and my prospect “retired”.

    Getting “face time” with a new prospect is critical: it can be what wins you the deal, or saves you from a costly mistake.

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