What’s Different about Differentiation Today?


The answer is a head-scratcher, but it’s true: Nothing—and everything.

Differentiation has long been a watchword in business. But recently, amid pervasive disruption and fierce competition in many markets, our clients and prospects seem to be more concerned than ever about knowing exactly how they’re different and then how to leverage that differentiation. You can feel the urgency.

The main worry is that they will become commoditized and fall prey to eroding margins. Other worries are that the speed at which business is done now means commoditization and diminishing profits are likely to strike fast and hard and that no defense exists to fend them off.

We hear this concern expressed in two basic ways. First, “Our company isn’t all that much different than the companies we compete against.” Second, “The market doesn’t understand the value our differentiation brings.” Two different problems requiring two different solutions.

Good News #1: No matter what you think or what prospects (or maybe even customers) tell you, your company is different. In nearly 30 years of helping businesses and professional services firms grow the topline, we have yet to come upon a viable business that cannot differentiate itself in meaningful—and revenue-generating—ways. The roadblocks are usually that executives don’t know how to identify points of differentiation or don’t know how to develop or create them. Sometimes it’s both.

Good News #2: Even companies that do know how they’re different and better too often don’t know how to communicate the value of that differentiation in the marketplace. And that means they can’t get paid as well as they ought to get paid for the value they provide. Companies and firms whose business developers do know how to communicate their value not only sell more of their product or service but can also sell at higher prices.

To see where you stand—right now—take a moment to answer a fundamental question:

Which problem is bigger?

Your company truly does not create differentiated value and is, in fact, a commodity or close to it.


Your sales force and other business developers don’t know how to communicate the value your company does in fact offer and—this is critical—get paid for it.

Have you decided? Great, then read on. We have solutions that, in many cases, go hand-in-hand with and reinforce each other to achieve stronger results.

First Problem: Really, our company just isn’t all that different. Well, really, we don’t believe it, and you and your team shouldn’t either. But if you do, it’s a problem that has to be solved sooner rather than later. Here are steps you can take yourself, or with the help of outside professionals, to uncover differentiators that already exist or identify areas that have potential to become differentiators. We’ve guided clients down this path to increased sales and stable or improved margins. We know it can work.

First Solution: Develop a routine that gleans fresh information from the sales force. Doesn’t it just make sense? You want to help your customers and prospects. Well, who has the most contact with those groups? The greatest chance of learning about new problems, trends, and changes in direction? The sales force, mainly, but also other business developers you might have.

Understand which market leadership discipline matches your company. And then own it. The three leadership disciplines are customer intimate, product leadership, and operational excellence (low-cost provider). No company can excel at all three; few can excel at one and also even be very good at another. It’s essential to invest resources in the right one.

Do formal market research to see what the market likes—and doesn’t like—about your business. In this step, you’re trying to learn two things, as specifically as possible: why customers do buy from you and why prospects don’t. Which needs does your company meet exclusively, which do competitors meet exclusively, and which does no one meet? We’ve found that managers know only about half the reasons customers choose their company over competitors—and are often surprised to learn about the others.

Explore, individually, how your company’s attributes or skills might contribute to differentiation. The issue of time alone offers several possibilities—faster or more accurate delivery times, more efficient product development or time to market, taking the time to solve customer problems completely and in a way that makes customers happy they told you about their problems. And then there are physical attributes or functions to consider: location, product size, type and quality of materials or finishing, documentation (to satisfy regulators, for instance), project management, and others.

These aren’t the only ways to determine how your company is different, but they’re a good start. To learn more, just give us a call at 847-446-0008.

Second Problem: We don’t know how to communicate our value in the marketplace. This problem is all-too familiar. The solution comes in two parts. They’re known as marketing and selling.

Second Solution: Strong marketing and a strong sales process.

Marketing must target the right customers with the right messages. If it does, your company’s visibility and credibility in the marketplace will increase. Then, when “sales” makes contact in whatever form—face-to-face, on the phone, on-line, even with good old snail mail (still effective, by the way)—prospects will be much more likely to recognize your company’s name and to respect its work.

Your strong sales process must equip your salespeople with superior consultative selling skills and an approach customized for your company and industry. That will enable them to compete in the increasingly tough business-to-business arena. The very best salespeople—the 20 percent who consistently bring in 80 percent of all new business—do in fact do things differently than their less successful counterparts. Our consultative selling course, FOCIS®, has helped hundreds of salespeople and professionals develop the skills and the behaviors that can help them become the best in the business whatever that business is.

The customized sales process they develop during our FOCIS® course enables them to use their new skills to sell more and shorten the sales cycle. It can also enable your company to charge higher prices. The reason is that prospects will more clearly understand just how your offerings will make their companies better. And that will enable them to charge higher prices, too.

Marketing and selling are both necessary to growing the topline: “Marketing gets you to the door. Selling gets you the deal.” We can help you understand your company’s true differentiation, and then we can help you sell it.

If you’d like to discuss your business growth goals and challenges, please call 847-446-0008 or e-mail pkrone@productivestrategies.com.




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