Redefine the competitive landscape – win the day

Differentiating Yourself in Your Customer's Eyes

Differentiating Yourself in Your Customer’s Eyes

Pick up any business magazine – or for that matter any self help magazine – and more often than not you’ll see an article about how to reinvent yourself.  It’s a popular topic as people try to position themselves for new opportunities by redefining who they are and what they are good at.

Recently we read an HBR article where the author addressed this topic from a personal perspective. We thought the insights were applicable to Sales and how salespeople can win against their competition.  The three core ideas introduced for successfully reinventing yourself were:

  • First, change the mind frame to focus on your advantages – not your shortcomings.
  • Second, think about scarcity – or, in other words, what do you do that’s rare and also potentially important.
  • Finally, recreate the playing field so you are competing by your rules, not someone else’s.

Let’s take a look at how to leverage the underlying redefining spirit of these ideas in the competitive B2B landscape.  Perhaps one of the more important considerations for winning in a highly competitive market is the ability to uncover, influence and when appropriate redefine the decision criteria the customer is going to use to decide between you and the competition. The ability to uncover and influence decision criteria is one of the most underdeveloped important skill sets in selling.   

What are the decision criteria? Customer specifications and preferences can vary from very concrete decision criteria (e.g., the extent of vendor experience with the customer) to criteria that are more difficult to quantify (e.g., vendors’ capability for innovation).  It is both important to develop a shared meaning of the decision criteria and to get a sense about the relative priority on the importance scale.

For example, a customer might view the capability to provide “innovative alternatives” as a key specification. Only after you get clarity around the exact meaning of that criterion can you assess whether it is truly a strength or weakness. Remember, you may also see a criterion that you believe is important but its importance is not recognized by the customer, so gaining clarity can also be about helping the customer redefine what is important for making the best decision.

How do you stack up?  It is important to not only understand the customer’s decision criteria but also to determine in perceived terms the customer’s assessment of how you stack up in regard to the criteria.  This best practice seems straightforward.  Unfortunately, it frequently is not followed.

The customer often has a history with you and therefore knows a lot about your capabilities.  But anyone making a judgment about a particular capability may have less than a complete assessment. It is important to find out the customer’s view. If that view is not objectively accurate, then finding a way to correct the misperception is both important for the customer and for you.

There are times where it is appropriate to help customers change their point of view.  Perhaps the most interesting idea in the article when viewed from a competitive landscape perspective is this notion of scarcity.  Is there some capability at which your company is particularly competent that customers rarely consider in making a decision that in objective terms they would be better off if they did?  That as they say is worth thinking about.   

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©2014 Sales Momentum, LLC

About Janet Spirer

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. Janet has followed two different, yet complimentary paths. First, as a B-School Professor she taught marketing, sales, and business strategy courses. She also managed a consulting practice focusing on sales productivity and marketing – working with a variety of clients ranging from Xerox to IBM. She translated those experiences into a book – “Parlez-Vous Business” – that helps sales people develop the business savvy to sell successfully. Since co-founding Sales Momentum® in 2000 with Richard Dr. Spirer received her Ph.D. from The Ohio State University, an M.P.A. from The University of Texas at Austin, and a B.A. in Economics from Brooklyn College. She holds the appointment of Professor Emeritus at Marymount University.
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2 Responses to Redefine the competitive landscape – win the day

  1. brian MacIver says:

    Janet, as always insightful and Thought Leading.
    “The ability to uncover and influence decision criteria is one of the most underdeveloped important skill sets in selling.”
    It is as you rightly say TWO things, DISCOVERY and INFLUENCE.
    Discovery of the “Buying Criteria”, by using Questions is still taught by many Sales Trainers, but few, very few, show how to build a Vulnerability Analysis, and then how to influence the Buying Criteria, of the D.M.U. in your favour.

    This article reinforces your recent one of “early entry” into the Buying Process.
    If you are not there, then HOW can you influence their Decision Criteria.

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