It’s the holy grail of business. Numerous books have been written on the subject. Owners and executives pursue it with reckless abandon. And marketing agencies get rich by making sound difficult and complex.
It’s one of the most common questions that I get asked, and it drives me crazy every time I hear it. “How can we differentiate our [fill in the noun]?”
Here’s the bottom line, differentiation is a result, not a means. Yes, if you look at the overwhelming majority of successful companies you will see that they’ve differentiated themselves. But, that does not mean that if you’re differentiated you’re any closer to success.
People do not buy products or services because they’re different. They buy because the see relevant impact, and that relevancy happens to be different.
What I find most useful is that the companies, especially small and mid-market (SME) B2B, that focus on solving their customer’s problems rather than on differentiating, never seem to have to worry about standing out in a crowded field.
Think about this. If you’re company or offering is truly different and relevant, how much time should it take for a prospect to understand that difference? Not much!
Here are 5 keys to differentiating in a way that matters:
The fastest way into a sea of sameness is the failure to clearly identify who your best customers are, and then cater your products, services and messaging to attract those best customers.
2. Focus on results.
We’re naturally geared to focus on process. We love telling people what we do or how we do it. What few companies do an effective job of is focusing on why it matters. The most important thing you can remember as a sales oriented executive is that no one wants your stuff; no one wants to buy anything from you. What we all want are results. Focus your message and your sales process on results, and differentiation will take care of itself.
3. Be authentic.
This is a scary one to write down, because more and more “authenticity” is becoming, well, inauthentic. Authenticity is not a tactic, it’s a mindset. It means that you’re real. As I’ve shared before, a key to increasing sales is to stop selling.
4. Solve important problems.
Think about this, if you solve a problem (that matters) for someone who fits your best customer profile, aren’t you, by definition, different (in their minds at least)? This tip is a close cousin of the 2nd tip, and it’s worth keeping in mind. The more you talk about solutions, the more you sound like everyone else. Helping people understand their problems is the best Purple Cow I’ve seen.
I launched my company and this blog with a very simple question:
Would your customers/prospects be willing to pay for a sales call?
I’ve since added, would they be willing to pay to look at or have access to your advertising or marketing materials. If the answer is yes, you’re creating value. If not – you are not creating value and you’re throwing yourself into the center of the commoditization trap.
Content is crucial to standing out, but not for the mere sake of creating content. Focus on making your audience better and smarter – even if they never buy from you – and you’ll never have to talk about differentiating again.