How Not To End Up On A Level Playing Field With The Competition!

Summary: After the listening, every good business and sales person can respond with business models and benefits. But if that's all you talk about during the sales process, you're on a level playing field with the competition. Why hide your light? To win, you have to go beyond everyday benefits to the specific advantages of your offering. You have to sell both benefits and features! And if you are going to really succeed with business model- and business case-based selling, you'll need detailed model inputs about how your technology makes a difference to their business!

Deep Dive:  Every C-Level executive and every experienced and successful sales rep know the same things. Whether gained in the school of hard knocks or in B-school, the principles of business success are widely understood. And because business knowledge and business skills are widely disseminated, it's difficult for any one organization to consistently outperform any other organization in their market. It's not impossible, but it is difficult. You could say that business competition in open societies occurs on a playing field that is at least somewhat level.

With these facts in mind, why would anyone ever reduce a technology sell to "business benefits"?  The fastest way to end up on a level playing field with your competition is to downplay your unique technical advantages -- in favour of generic business benefits such as "faster time to market" and "lowest total cost of ownership" and "better information".

Selling breakthrough technology requires that you stick close to what makes you really different. Staying ahead with technology is tough enough, without giving up any slim advantage for the false "allure of the generic". (You'll also bore your prospect -- a sure route to a quick exit.)

A call to stay close to your technology flies in the face of typical sales training. For this reason, it's worth exploring for a moment the strengths and weaknesses of most sales training. Sales training is intended to help the sales person overcome one the most difficult challenges of being human, and that is the challenge of thinking of others first. A successful sales person has the ability to care about the needs of the "other", and in those moments of listening, caring and dialogue is able to fashion a solution to the problems and needs of the other. The expression of this typical sales approach is to focus on benefits to the customer. And these benefits can be specific (the power washer will save you time and money) or more general (your plant will have a 5% increased capacity) or even personal (you won't have to come in on the weekend to supervise an extra shift).

There's nothing wrong with this benefits-driven sales model. In fact, your sales people won't succeed if they have not mastered the model, either naturally or by practice. The importance of the model is underscored by the almost universal phenomenon of junior sales people who start out focused exclusively on product features, as opposed to product benefits. It seems to be part of the human condition to start from the self before one thinks of the implications for others.

Of course the job of the sales person is never done.  Having mastered the art of the benefit, the sales person finds that they have merely ended up in the same room as all the other great sales people!  Everyone talks benefits!  Everyone is a master of generic ROI, and shmoozing on the golf course!

So where does this leave us? Is sales just a treadmill or an endlessly level playing field where you must run just to stay in one place? You can certainly earn a good living at this endless game; and corporations need the sales professionalism and staying power of the rep who has reached this high level game.

The answer is an exciting one. Don't hide your light. Don't sell commodities, even if you are selling commodities. 

And especially in a world where technology-driven change is accelerating, be a champion of your technology, as well as a master of customer benefits!  Don't give in to the allure of generic benefits!

V 1.2