What is sales differentiation and how does it differ from product or market differentiation? Sales differentiation is the way that you engage with the prospective customer during and after the sales cycle that distinguishes you from the competition and solution to the customer’s needs alternatives. It is what allows you to build stronger and more strategic relationships with the customer. Some refer to achieving “trusted advisor” status with the customer as the end goal, rather than simply yet another vendor or provider of X services/solutions (i.e., the dreaded column fodder). It starts with the first interaction with the prospect. What homework have you done prior to calling the prospect? Do you know about their industry and company challenges? Have you helped their customers or competitors solve similar problems? What do you bring to the proverbial table that is unique from your competitors and that is meaningful to the prospective customer? All too often sales people come in with a canned pitch that is obvious to the listener and they quickly reveal that they don’t know anything about the customer’s needs. This goes beyond qualification and requires true discovery with the prospective customer to truly understand their pain/business needs as well as crafting a unique value proposition for the solution.

Effective sales differentiation requires insightful sales people that are analogous to a conductor of a large orchestra performing a complex symphony. Simply put, you need to understand the critical inflection points in the sales cycle and when you bring strategic resources from your end to bear. Adhering to quality sales differentiation is challenging and requires more of an up front investment by the sales person. You tend to reap the rewards of this strategic investment in the form of better qualified opportunities (or expressed differently, higher win percentages and less resources wasted), larger deal size and less discounting based on building a unique business case through the discovery process, stronger, more strategic customer relationships resulting in strong customer advocacy and add-on purchases, etc.

It never ceases to amaze me how disconnected a lot of sales people are from the way that they are perceived by the customer. I have conducted countless win-loss analysis both as a VP of Sales and as an outside consultant helping companies improve their sales effectiveness and there is a direct correlation between the percentage of disconnect between how the sales people feel they are perceived by the customer¬† vs. how they are really viewed by the customer and sales success. Good sales people get how important sales differentiation is and treat it sacriligiously. Marginal sales people don’t understand it and most likely never will.