I work with a lot of different companies, and one of the most common complaints I hear is that offerings are viewed as commodities, which often leads sellers to presume it’s all about price. Despite this, in nearly all buyer surveys you see in large B2B transactions, price seldom makes the top five. One reason for this may be that when telling a seller she lost, blaming price is the cleanest way to end the discussion. That said I’ve always believed if sellers didn’t get a chance to tweak pricing then they lost for other reasons (i.e. they got outsold).

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As it relates to differentiators, broad differentiators are becoming elusive. The seller who better understands the customer’s issues and desired outcomes will have a better than average chance to win. In order to do this, I suggest sellers must do the following:

  1. Get title-specific with key players in buying committees.
  2. Keep features and capabilities, which promote ease of use, off the table.
  3. Relate value that quantifies how a differentiator can be used to improve business results.

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Sellers should also keep in mind that a given feature or differentiator can mean different things to different buyers. A few years back, a colleague of mine worked with a company that offered furnished condos as an alternative to hotel rooms for extended engagements in a given location. They felt a working kitchen was a crucial benefit, but he helped them realize how it impacted different people within prospect organizations.

For consultants living in the condos - users -- it meant the option to make their own meals to:

  • Eat healthier or less than they would eat dining out.
  • Take less time to eat due to potentially working during the evening.
  • Avoid the awkwardness of eating alone at restaurants.

For the consultants’ manager, it meant potentially happier, more productive employees with the potential to reduce meal expenses and reduced burnout from traveling. For HR, it was a potential tiebreaker, when recruiting new hires could improve employee satisfaction and reduce turnover. For the CFO, it was a roll-up of all these things netting out to an improved bottom line.

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If you can have different titles ascribe values to differentiators, they become got-to-haves versus nice-to-haves and should give sellers a better chance of winning the business.

The reality for companies today is this - long-term, sustainable, competitive advantages are the exception rather than the rule.

Even if a vendor enjoyed a product advantage, it would be hard to leverage it when calling at very high levels. Few executive buyers will tolerate sellers getting granular about product differences. One of the few sustainable, competitive advantages is providing superior buying experiences for executive buyers. This can be achieved by doing these six things.

  1. Discover the business outcomes they would like to achieve.
  2. Help them understand why outcomes are difficult to achieve in their current environment.
  3. Present only the capabilities relevant to address the barriers to achieving the goal.
  4. Establish value.
  5. Empower buyers to achieve the desired goal(s).
  6. Integrate the executive’s buying process with the vendor’s selling process.

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It used to be that if all things were fairly equal - price, product, etc. -- and the better salesperson would win the lion’s share of opportunities. Today, vendors' websites, messaging and sales approaches, which provide superior buying experiences, are most likely to prevail. Just remember to ascribe value to what you're offering buyers, so those nice-to-haves become got-to-haves.