We know the importance of differentiating ourselves in attempting to win business.

We try to do this at our web sites, often posting comparisons and charts showing how we have more features and functions than the alternatives. Too often, we think differentiation is about checking more feature boxes, having a richer product, than the competition.

Web sites are filled with pages of, “Our Value Proposition.” Only when you compare competitors side by side, they say the same things—we improve your results, reduce your costs, improve quality, Blah, Blah, Blah……

Sales people go through endless demos, showing the capabilities of their products and comparing to others, “Our UI is easier and more intuitive (perhaps to them, but all of them confuse me),” “You can change the background image on our screens…” and the list of differentiators continue.

Then there’s the ultimate differentiator too many sales people fall back on, “We’re cheaper!”

But what’s it look like from the customers’ points of view?

CEB data indicates, “86% of B2B buyers find no real difference between suppliers.”

They could flip a coin and any solution would satisfy their needs.

Quickly, we come to the conclusion, differentiation is seldom about what we sell. When any solution will do the job, what do we do to get the customer to select us?

The only way we differentiate ourselves is by putting the customer, the individuals and organizations, front and center to what we do.

What specifically are they trying to achieve and why? What’s keeping them from getting there? What happens if they don’t change? Why is this important to them and their futures?

These issues tend to focus on the outcomes the customer is trying to achieve. Understanding what is most critical enables us to focus our conversations on those issues they care about—“No I really don’t care that you click more features boxes than your competition or you offer a wider range of colors…..”

But this isn’t the only place customers struggle and where we can differentiate ourselves. Our customers struggle to buy, they struggle to define their problem, the outcomes they want to achieve. They struggle with aligning the diverse agendas and priorities of the 6.8 + people involved in the buying process. They struggle with what their problem solving process should be—after all, they don’t do this–at least for these problems, every day.

The struggle because they don’t know what they don’t know.

Here’s a huge opportunity to set ourselves apart. While your competitors are polishing up their demos and their product comparisons, you set yourself apart by teaching them and collaborating in solving their problem. This is where you create some of your greatest value and differentiation.

Alternatively, customers don’t know they should be changing, they may be stuck in running their businesses the way they always have, they may not recognize better ways of doing things or opportunities they may be missing. They become prisoners of their own experience, failing to see how their customers, markets, industries, and competition is changing.

Sales people create huge value in helping disrupt our customers’ thinking. We help them realize they must change and commit to that change. Your competition, focused on features and functions, will always miss these opportunities. But those who engage the customer in thinking differently and committing to change differentiate themselves in ways that few competitors can meet.

How we differentiate ourselves is always centered on the customer and what they need to do to differentiate themselves, growing as businesses. What are you doing to set yourself apart?

SOURCEPartners in Excellence
Dave Brock
Dave Brock is the founder of Partners in EXCELLENCE, a consulting and services company helping to improve the effectiveness of business professionals with strategy development, organizational planning, and implementation. Dave has spent his career working for and with high performance organizations, ranging from the Fortune 25 to startups, including companies such as IBM, HP, Nokia, AT&T, Microsoft, General Electric, and many, many more. The work Dave does with business strategies is closely tied to personal effectiveness of the people in the organization. As a result, Dave is deeply involved in the development of a number of training and coaching programs.