Note: the following is taken from an article written by Fred Firestone, principal of the Ethical Selling Institute, that originally appeared in the September/October 2005 issue of Sbusiness, a publication of AFSM International, Fort Myers, FL. To read the entire article, click here.
PullingAhead of the Competition: Developing and Selling Your Competitive AdvantageAlka-Seltzer time?
If a business or organization continues to do what it has always done, it will get what it has always gotten. As demand for your category increases, your numbers will grow as long as you continue to get your share of the market. If, however, demand shrinks, in order to grow, you have to take somebody else’s share. Companies pull ahead of the competition by either further differentiating their products/services and/or further differentiating their selling system.
Step One – Differentiating Products/Services
The first step is to clearly establish compelling reasons why your offerings are more right for your prospects than the offerings of your competition. Whether one’s business is accounting, gasoline, groceries, healthcare or software, customers place value in two areas. They place value in your ability to solve a problem they’re experiencing. And, they place value in a customer experience that delivers on the EthicalFactor -- trust (genuineness), credibility (believability) and partnership (customer focus and accountability).
Differentiation will only occur if your prospects perceive they will be receiving a better solution to their problem and/or a more valuable customer experience than they would expect to receive elsewhere. Every product or service is composed of a core and an outer core. Inside the core would be solutions to problems and EthicalFactor experiences your prospects expect to get from the typical provider of your product or service.
In the outer core are benefits you offer that go beyond expectation. Differentiation happens in the outer core. Further, quality is a function of expectation; the less expected in the core, the greater the opportunity to stand out in the outer core. And, the extent to which you’re successful at differentiation turns on moments of truth and interactions your employees have with customers – not with what’s in a mission statement or customer commitment policy.
In today’s market, with customers perceiving much quality “equality” in products and services, it becomes increasingly more difficult to stand out with an offering that will provide a better solution to customers’ problems than they would expect to receive elsewhere. While there may be very little perceived difference between your products or services and your competitors’, there are innumerable ways of differentiating by giving your customers an experience that delivers more of the EthicalFactor than they would expect from your competition.
Step Two - Differentiating the Selling Process
Once the foundation of differentiation is established, however, many companies need to go beyond merely communicating their differentiators. They need to focus on the crucial moment of truth that greatly influences whether their products/services are bought: how they sell. This can be the ultimate Kodak moment. Whether prospects end up doing business with a company often has as much to do with the selling process as the effectiveness of products/services to address their needs.
When we started our company in 1988, we offered workshops and keynotes on how to differentiate products and services. We found, however, that some of our clients who had to “sell” their products or services, faced this scenario: They would approach their prospects, and convey the fact that they successfully differentiated their products/services – that there were compelling reasons why their prospects should buy them versus the competition. The response they received all too often was, “Leave the literature and we’ll get back with you.” Our clients firmly believed the best decision their prospects could make would be to buy their offerings, yet buyers were commoditizing them; they were being put on the spreadsheet. (Nothing is more frustrating than being categorically dismissed as being the same as everyone else.) The issue they wrestled with was once you build it (effective differentiation), how to do you ensure people will come (sales).
Our challenge then was how to move prospects from the point where they say, “We already have what you offer,” or “Just send me your literature,” to the point where they are the owners of the unique advantages our clients brought to the marketplace. We didn’t believe the answer was found in conventional sales training programs that sought to manipulate prospects into buying with gimmicks and manipulative closes. These programs and their methods too often only served to compromise integrity, not enhance it. We developed the Ethical Selling System to address these concerns.
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