How to Differentiate Yourself in a Crowded Market
We've been spending a lot of time on why change, and why now, and controlling that part of the process but you also do have to say, why us? Why should I work with you instead of somebody else? This is a different conversation and there's a lot of ways to think about this and I think you're gonna have a lot of questions here on this particular category but I'm gonna try to give you a framework and a structure for thinking about differentiation, because it's not enough just to be different. You have to be different in a way that makes a difference. So, after why change and why now, now I have to say, why should I choose you? This is a difficult conversation for us to have because most of us are perceived as commodities whether we are or whether we're not. That's the truth of the matter. You sell something, other people that sell something that looks like you are also calling on the same clients and they have a very, very tough time distinguishing from one from the next, so what they do i...
s that assume everybody's the same, the outcomes are all the same, and in a lot of cases in a lot of industries, it's true. The differences aren't that great. I can choose one, choose the other, I'm probably gonna get very close to the same results. So you have to have something to say to those. We now work in crowded markets, so in your market, and I don't know what all your markets are, but, I definitely don't know what you are at home, but there's plenty of competition. There's more competition than ever. In fact, in a lot of industries, there's more competitors than is healthy. And so, margins start to erode because there's not that great a differentiation. You're also dealing with people who have competing priorities and you're not only competing against a competitor for this project, you're also competing against other projects. In your world, this is 100 percent true and in your world, too. I know it. In your world, they're like, I could do this or I could do something completely different with this money and this time and this energy, so you also have to differentiate in a way that says this is the right thing for you to do now. And we're the right people to do it with. Here's why. And you have to be able to tie it to something strategic for them, for that to work. You also have to be special. you have to have some approach that says this is better than another approach and this is why we like that. Everything that we've been talking about when I keep showing you those commitments, that is a massive part of your differentiation. The fact that you understand what the process looks like and how to get somebody from A to B, that's part of the experience and they're looking at you, deciding as differentiation, do I wanna work with this person? Do I believe that they're the right person to take me down this path? What's the experience been like? And I talked about preference and how I don't think we think enough about it in sales. What we're trying to do is give somebody experience in saying, I would rather work with this person than anyone else. And the better that experience is, the more you're gonna be differentiated against your peers who are trying to be transactional. And unless you're watching this, you don't even know that there's a level four. I mean, most people have no idea that they should come in from the other side. When you do that, you're immediately different. And when you start taking care of people from that spot, you already are creating differentiated value where these people know more, they understand the process better, they're helping me more. I'd rather work with them than someone else. So that's it. Everybody wants something different, something better, something special, and so you have to be able to show that to them. What is that? And there has to be a reason to prefer you. And I don't know that we spend enough time talking about it. In fact, I know that we don't. We don't spent enough time talking about how do we differentiate our offering. Because ultimately, if it looks the same, they're gonna open up a spreadsheet and go to the lowest price. So we have to prevent that. But you can't talk bad about your competitor. This is one of my favorite questions. How do I throw my competitor under the bus? I love that. But you can't do it. Actually, there's a way to do it, but not like that. Not the way that they wanna do it. Because I hear 'em say things. I get to pay attention to salespeople and I get to listen to them and it's always interesting what they say. They say this, "Our competitor has a terrible business model. "They don't make any money. "There's no way they can afford "to have this irrational pricing. "And somebody they're gonna go out of business." And I get to say, they've been in business for 30 years. I mean, that loses all credibility with clients now because you keep saying that and they keep seeing that company continue to be in business. So no matter how irrational their model may seem to you, they found a way to make it work, so you can't say that about them and you can't say they're unethical and they're a bunch of dirty liars. You can't do that. I've seen it tried. I have one salesperson who calls on me from a software company and all he tries to do is slam the competitor and I literally called him on at the last email he sent, and I sent him back a note saying, "You are destroying any credibility you have "because the only thing you can do "to differentiate yourself, is to talk bad "about the other guy. "Tell me what makes you great." I don't wanna do that. And I sent him a rather strongly worded suggestion. And it took him about 15 minutes to call and he was horrified. And I said, "I'm trying to help you. "You're selling in a way that's actually detracting, "because you're so negative about somebody "who I've had a 10-year relationship with. "And you don't need to do this. "It's not working for you." But you can talk bad about your competitor and differentiate yourself, but there's a way to do it. So the way that you do it, is instead of saying, Competitor X does this. You say, the industry generally does things this way. This is the way our industry mostly works. We don't think that's the best way to do it. And in our experience, there's a better way to do these things, so even though we have a lot of friends that work at that company that you just mentioned, and they're really good people and we like 'em a lot, and they have a really hard business model, we found that in the situation that we're talking about in your case, that we found some things that we think work better than the things that they believe work better. Can I share that with you? I'm not gonna talk about anybody individually. I'm gonna say just generally, the industry tends to work like this, and I learned to do this in staffing and I figured out that to be different, we had to do things different and one of the things that we did was we decided we're going to interview everyone face-to-face and never send anyone to a job from home. That that was gonna be a disservice to those people. We wanted to give them the best chance they had to succeed in a new role, so we made 'em come back into our office and we made them sit down with us while we did a long onboarding process with them. They didn't wanna come in and do it. We didn't wanna have to do it and spend the money doing it, but it turns out that they succeeded at a higher level. So we were able to say the industry generally calls people at home and sends them to a job. We make 'em come in so we can go through this paperwork with them. So we can have 'em watch a series of videos. So we can walk through what either job is gonna look like and what it's gonna feel like to work in your company, so they get a fair start. We just wanna get them a fair start. So that's a differentiator. And they're like, immediately, okay, so other people do this another way. Yeah. Other people did group interviews. We just bring people through like cattle and we send them out. We don't do that. And here's why we don't do it. Because when we do that, they don't have a fair shot. They show up, they're disoriented. They're brand new in a job. What would you want? So I always ask the question, what would you want if it was your son or daughter starting a new job? How would you want them to be treated? Would you want them to have a fair chance to succeed? Well, we think that's the right thing to do. I'm differentiating on values and on our approach. That's the differentiator so people care about people. That's gonna resonate with them. If they think people are transactions, it's probably not gonna resonate with them. Just send us the bodies and we'll churn 'em through. We don't wanna do that. You lose credibility and you look desperate. You're Desperate Danny or Desperate Daniel when you try to talk about your competitor like they're terrible. They do bad work, we've taken customers from them. You start to lose all credibility with people and you don't wanna do that and it's not necessary. So what you do instead, you speak about the industry as a whole. You say, this is the industry's general approach. They like this, we do this different. And that's how you do it. Then you can differentiate and say we do this different and this different and this different, so, I wanna give you a way to think about this in a structure. So what you do is you think about this I what the industry generally does. So you would write that down in one column. And then you say, what do we do different? Why do we do this different from them? What is it that we're doing different? You do group interviews, we do individual interviews. We send people from home. We make people come into the office so they have a fair shot. Those are differences. And then you have to say why. Why do you do this different? And you have to be able to explain the value of doing this differently. We bring people in because they have questions and they have concerns. And we get a second look at them and they get a second look at the job. So instead of doing an interview where it's in theory, we're actually interviewing them for this specific job so we get to explain this to them. Here's why. And we find out when we sit down that they smoke and you have a tobacco-free facility and it's not gonna work for them and we send them some place else where they can work and we send you people who are gonna be comfortable in that environment. This is the Why. And it matters why are you doing something different. So it's not enough to be different. You have to be different in a way that makes a difference for them and you have to be able to explain the Why to differentiate yourself. As somebody who speaks and does workshops, I get a lot of comments back and one of the comments is, you're the first speaker that's made us have three conversations with the sales leadership team, with the salespeople and with the people that are hiring you to speak. You are the only one that's ever asked us to do that. That's different. Why? Because if i know something about that audience, then I can tailor my speech to that audience. I wanna tailor it. Some people want me to transact, and they're like just show up and give your regular speech. My regular speech is tailored. That's my regular speech, so I have to have these calls. Yeah, but our sales leaders don't wanna talk to you. They will after they get on the phone. It'll all work out fine. But it's different. And I'm asking them to do something different to make this work for me. And in staffing, you have to do something different. In software, you have to do something different. And whatever the complex solution that you sell, you have to do something different. And if you're watching this and you're a creative, you have to have a process for that too. Whether you're a photographer, a videographer, a graphic designer, a musician, voiceover, whatever it is. You have to be able to say, my approach is different and here's why I do it this way. We do more discovery because it matters that this shows up the way that it needs to show up. We do this differently because it allows us to deliver this better result that we can't deliver if we don't do this. So if you're trying to keep up and keep score on this, it's what does the industry do, what do we do different, why do we do it different, and the last thing you have to answer is, how does it produce a better result for them? The better result for me as a speaker is tailoring it to the audience. So this audience here. Not that audience out there, 'cause I can't see them and I don't know who signed up. But here, I did know who signed up, so I printed all of your LinkedIn profiles so I could look at you. I did. I wanted to see who was gonna be in this room 'cause it lets me know some things about you that I wouldn't know otherwise. That's helpful for me talking to you because I know that. This thermos is Phil's coffee and if you haven't been to Phil's in San Francisco, it's differentiated. And the approach is differentiated and when you walk in, the first thing they do is accost you at the door or as early as they can, and they say, this is pour over. They want you to know that it's gonna take a few minutes to get your coffee. So if you were expecting Starbucks, you're not gonna get it because it's not gonna be that fast and you're gonna stand around while they make the coffee and then they're gonna ask you questions about coffee that you've never heard before and you're like, I don't even know what you're saying, person. They're like, it's like a mojito. And you're like, it's like a coffee mojito? Yeah, but it's different. And you have a very different experience there than you have anywhere else and they're trying to explain to you. It's pour over because it's better. And the last time I was in San Francisco, I was with a friend and he said, "Can you put ice in my coffee for me?" And they said, "We will if you want us to, "but there's another way that we would do it "that would make the experience better for you." And he said, "What is that?" And they said, "We'll pour it back and forth "between a couple cups, so that we can "reduce the temperature for you. "But you don't wanna ruin the taste of it "by putting ice cubes in it." This is a cup of coffee. It's a cup of coffee! I will admit, of my values and my priorities, coffee's very, very high on that list. It's like number three, probably. After wife and children, coffee. That's right there. It's right at the top. But this is a lot of care. And then we think about our solutions. If they go to all this trouble for a cup of coffee, to be different and to be better, what should we be doing? We have to think this through and you have to have some idea of how you create compelling differentiated value and how you explain that to them, especially if you have a higher price. If you have a higher price, that's part of this equation. And there's two strategies and I alluded to this earlier, but I wanna explain it here for just a minute because differentiation matters a great deal. The way that industry and business is being pulled, it's going in two different directions right now. One is super transactional by Amazon. They're the best at transacting. But you see more and more models showing up like that where you can transact. Uber's a transaction. You hit a button. It's a different driver every time. No one knows you. They don't care. Amazon does a pretty good job sharing things that you might like based on your preferences and what other people buy, but it's still transactional. The other way that things are getting pulled is super relational. It's the people in the middle, though, that are struggling. Because they wanna be differentiated, but then they're asked to compete on price, so they start going this way. And then once you step on to that slope, and you decide, it's easier just to give up investment and take price out of the equation so we can do this, and then you take the money out of the solution so you can no longer stand over here as super relational 'cause you don't have the money to deliver it anymore. You don't have the money to deliver that. You decided that you're gonna be transactional so you step this way, and as you continue to step this way, you get more and more transactional. There's less and less value. And when there's less and less value, you can't command a higher price. So you have to make a decision as to what your model is and you have to look at your business. When I see salespeople worry about differentiation, a lot of the times, it's on price. Our price is higher and we basically have the same product. Your price is higher because you're delivering greater value. That's why. And it's so you can deliver greater value. And as soon as you step onto that and decide to go transactional, then things start to get very difficult and I would tell you my experience is if you think it's hard to sell with a higher price, and a compelling differentiated product, try selling a commodity. It's very hard to sell a commodity because you are going straight to price. You're gonna end up on a spreadsheet and there's not a lot for you to do. That's how you differentiate. Now we're at Q and A.
So I had a question on the Why. The differentiating why and how we do it. Do you recommend people put that on their website? Or is that more of a communication that you would do when you have your meetings in a B to C room?
I would wanna do it in every chance I could. I would definitely want it on my website. And i would wanna talk about why we do what we do different. I think that's an important conversation to have and so the more that you can tell that story, and if you can tell it in a story, I mean, if you wanna see the best example, just watch Apple. Apple's the best. They come out with a new computer and then you get Johnny Ives, right? I wish I had your accent for this. That would be great, but I don't. He comes out and says, "To do this we had to start over from scratch." Every time they had to start over from scratch. And you're like, it's the 10th phone, Johnny. You didn't start over from scratch. It's mostly already done. But he always has this story, right? Like, "We had to find a way to do," and you're just like, it's this great thing and you're sucked in. You're like, it's totally different. It's not, though. It's the same thing. They're just telling you this story. But I think that you wanna tell that in that form, on the website for sure, you can do that. And then I think you wanna reiterate it in person just to say there's a reason why we do this different. And here's the outcome you get when we do it this way. Because what you're doing is you're driving a wedge between you and the competitors. So when the competitor says, this is how we do it. And you've already said, there's a better way and this is a better way and here's why, you've got a wedge between your prospective client or your client and your competitor who's coming in to try to tell a similar story. Even though most people don't spend enough time thinking about the differentiation. They think that just being there is going to create a preference, and it's not. You have to work harder. Good, you have a follow-up question.
I just have a follow-up question. So I know that some companies have a little grid on their website that compares themselves against the competitors and then they put names of the competitors on that little grid. Is that something you don't recommend because I heard you talking about what the industry says versus what you do.
I think everything is contextual. So it depends on the situation. The only thing I would tell you about that is that if you do a grid, they probably have a grid too and they're gonna try to say in these areas, we're better and in those areas. I don't know that it always serves people the way that they think it does, but I also think it does step towards transactional to say it's just features and benefits without product and I would wanna try to have much of that super relational conversation as I could. I wanna go this way and let me explain to you why and let me have that conversation because I think your odds of creating the differentiation go up because one, you're doing it, and two, because it's not a grid that says line by line, product feature by product feature by product feature and instead it's about outcomes and your outcomes may not be listed that way. That's my guess is that the outcomes are not gonna be listed. It's gonna be features and benefits and solutions. And you're nodding. You know this story, right? Yeah, it's easy to do, but it doesn't create the result, I think, that we want.
And you probably in your process you've already headed this off the pass, but there are times when prospects will say, well, can you tell me, can you send me a comparison between your solution or your product and somebody else's product. They want you to do their research and to me, it's a race to the bottom when they do that.
It can be, for sure. And again, everything is in this situation, so in that, I would wanna do something different, if it were me. I would start off by saying in these two applications, the competitor's product is gonna be far superior than anything that we have. Right out of the gate. And the situations that you described that we've talked about, I believe our product or our service is gonna be better for these particular reasons. And the reason I would put the other competitor first is to acknowledge, they're good, they're strong. They have a competitive offering. I'm not gonna try to downplay that or say anything and these situations, they may, in fact, be the best choice for you. But in the ones that we've talked about so far, this is what my deal would be. And in a lot of times, it can be a race to the bottom. To say, look, there's not that much differentiation. So you do have to talk about your values and why you do what you do and you need to try to put people in the box on that to say this is why it's really important and get the values because values does that. But they may also be looking for you to just validate the decision that they're making because somebody's gonna come around and ask them and say, why are we paying 12 percent for this group? We were trying to save money on this and you're now taking a higher priced offering. Why are you doing that? And so they need to be able to defend that and justify the delta between your price and theirs and sometimes, people just need you to do that work for them. I've had this go both ways, personally. Like, if you work in sales long enough, I've had it where they ask me to do that because they were trying to prove that there's no differentiation, and then I've had more people ask me to do it so they could go make a business case. I'm going with them because there's a business case to go with something better that has a higher price point. So I think you have to look at it and try to decide, what are you looking at? Are they really trying to get you to just reduce your pricing. In which case, you're taking money out of their solution. Or they're really trying to get validation that this is the right thing to do and that's what they should be doing. Is that helpful? Okay, not easy.