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Differentiate or die…

Read it?  It’s the title of a business book that’s been on my “To Read” list since July of 2007.  Maybe I should get around to reading it!

You see, I’m finding myself discussing pricing and discounting tactics with my clients a lot lately.  Are you finding yourself in frequent pricing; discounting; deal-approval activities too?  No?  Well then please teach us how you are differentiating.

OK, while waiting for our Teacher to arrive, permit me to offer further opinion on our dilemma when differentiation is absent.  Preface:  I admit I am the owner of the statements, “Never lose a deal over just money”; and “I’m not too proud to discount”.

However, I try to balance this thinking with the off-setting viewpoint:

In absence of differentiation, the only thing the client has to talk about is price.

If this reflects today’s reality, than pricing (and discounting) actions should be our tactic of last resort and employed only after we have executed everything in our power to differentiate, yes?

But exactly how do we differentiate?  Exactly?  Oh Teacher – chime in whenever you want.

Well, while we’re waiting for our Teacher, permit me to offer additional opinions about what is, and what is not, differentiation.  Let’s start with the old, “walking the walk; talking the talk” wisdom:

Men are all alike in their promises.  It is only in their deeds that they differ. 

John Baptiste Moliere

In the movie Batman Begins, the lead actor echoed this when revealing his identity to his heroine – remember?

It’s not who you are inside but what you do that counts.

So, how are we at the “doing”?  It could be the key differentiator our prospect is looking for.  But “doing” what?  What’s the key?  What’s the secret?  Where’s our Teacher?  Is it in one of the many business books I haven’t read yet?  Perhaps not.

When I’m on the buy-side working with a sales-person, the difference maker to me is all of the little things vs. one big secret.  Are they prompt; courteous; articulate; helpful?  Do they follow-up before I buy; after I buy; when I’m having an issue? Proactively?  All the little things:

If we oversold or under delivered, then it wasn’t a sale; it was a lie.  Lying is easy; selling is hard. 

Rick Page

Look I get it – if I’m buying something that requires me to interface with a sales representative vs. just transacting online, then what I’m buying probably has a degree of complexity (and corresponding risk) associated with it.  I’m seeking the sales professional’s clarification skills; her problem-solving skills.  It’s how she helps me think; helps me make an informed decision – not “closing me”.

I’ve noticed my clients are so busy they only want to interact with me when they believe I can add value.  In my world, absence of value = “gone dark”.  So every time I’m interacting with my clients I’m seeking their value – and sometimes it’s simply the little things within our interactions:

That Mary is the Under-Vice President of Expectation Deflations for the western semi-region tells you nothing.  That Mary is wicked smart, totally frank, and a trip to work with tells you everything. 

Rick Levine

You know – their job is tough enough; when my clients call me I try to lighten their load not add to it.  I may not be the smartest; most technical; most skilled resource at my company.  But I do try to be a trip to work with.  And sometimes that’s differentiation.

How about you?

GAP

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