Differentiate or Die

"If you can differentiate a dead chicken, you can differentiate anything," said Frank Perdue.

Differentiation takes some thinking. Nothing comes easy except for not thinking.

Sure, the marketplace is tough. There are more competitors than ever before. Our products, services and ultimately the final solution proposed to the client, all look alike. Or do they?

Your products, services, and solutions only look alike if you do not know what the client wants and why they want it. And your solutions only look alike if you don't know how to align the advantages your "solution" to what the client wants and address the client's critical issues. Understanding why a client wants a particular solution is important to defining your solution and finding points of differentiation.

Looking back at your current clients and understanding why they bought from you and your firm is another critical and required step. You can also learn a lot by understand why your competition beat you. Looking back over your company's past wins and losses, and applying those insights against what this new client wants can give you something your new prospective client does not have: insight. This insight is valuable, but only if you can frame it in such a manner that your new prospective client not only understands intellectually, but also appreciates the value of your insight. Insight must have some significance to the person(s) to whom you are  talking to.

Frank Perdue understood this. And he understood this from a mass market appeal. If he could understand this, so too can you. Not because you are smarter than old Frank was, but because Frank had a much tougher product to differentiate to the average consumer who usually bought chicken "on sale" or bought the lowest price per pound. After all, what's the difference between two dead chickens? Now that's a hard question to answer.

Your product, services and solution has multiple points of differentiation. Frank had to stretch to find his. How could he possibly differentiate a dead chicken from another brand lying right next to his in the supermarket?

Still not feeling great about differentiation?

Maybe you ought to thank God you don't sell water.

Great Sales People Cannot Fix Declining Sales

The world of selling has changed since yesterday. A lot of the changes we see in the world today have come through technology--primarily how people interact and get their information. These technological changes have also brought about other changes. Frankly "brought about" is a polite term that masks the dramatic and sweeping changes we have seen in corporations and government that all of us are far too familiar with. These changes are "oh yeah, so what" things now because they are now "normal." Nevertheless these changes are critical to how we operate today.


One of the big changes brought about by technology is the broad and sweeping competitors that come from all over the globe. You may remember a time when your major competitors were companies from the US. Now competition comes from India, China, even the old Soviet block countries who would not even dream of competing in the western world of business as it was for them, against their philosophy.


Think about that for a minute. But don't stop thinking there, because what was once accomplished through face-to-face selling is now being accomplished through a website. Sales people used to fight for a customer's business on the basis of their product's features and functionalities and benefits versus your product's features and functionalities and benefits.

Today many of these same products or similar products all look the same--except for minor variations that are difficult to articulate. This is commoditization. Commoditization  makes price the ultimate distinguishing factor for so many decision-makers. If price is the ultimate deciding factor, what is the role of the sales organization?

Who needs a sales force to show the customer their product is cheaper? Who needs a sales force for that? The correct answer is you don't. This is one of the biggest mistakes managers and executives don't understand they are making when they want to boost sales.
The best sales person, cannot make a commodity not a commodity.

Looking for Lowest Price is in Our Blood

The idea of shopping for the lowest cost product is not new. What is new, however, is we forget to recognize is how deeply this has become ingrained in our culture. Just look at the hoards of people who wait for "black Friday" hoping to get a better deal, or the rise of eBay where people are hoping to win something at a lower price point because everyone is bidding to buy something at a lower price point. Something else we do not recognize readily, is how this mindset has impacted our  marketplace.

Commoditization has seeped into our strategic services and solutions. Product and service marketing people have become lazy and have not taken the time to figure out how to reposition their services and solutions to pull their products and services and their companies out of the quicksand.

The Search for a Quick Fix

The easiest and seemingly simplest solution to declining sales and revenues is to hire "good sales people to get us out of this mess." The thinking goes, these "good sales people" have a rolodex of names, contacts who are so loyal to these "good salespeople" that they just buy from them; and these sales people can hit the ground running.

This approach is a solution with it's foundation based in a hiring strategy. This hiring strategy is rooted in a very false premise, that people (future customers and clients) will buy anything from  sales people. Even bad products.  Or so that's theory anyway. By the way--it's a theory that has proven false over and over again. Actually it's an ignorant or even stupid premise. I could go into a lot of detail here why it is an ignorant premise but I won't--except if you think about this premise, it means that sales people have such a loyal fan base of customers that this fan base of customers will buy anything they sell.

This way of thinking is done by some very superior minds. Except they are superior minds in other aspects of the business. But not the client-facing aspect of the business.

A Dose of Reality--the Market's Reality

The thinking is too narrow and it is too incomplete. If you have a bad product (or service) a great sales person is going to have poor sales--period. The problem here is, great sales people before being recruited are smart enough to know to ask the recruiter, "What is the product and why isn't it selling?" The great sales people may ask the same question differently by asking, "What makes your product better than all the rest?"

Here's a chart for you to review and digest. See if this makes sense to you. If it does, and it should, it is a simplified version of what we are discussing.

You cannot talk your way out of this.  These are the facts. A great salesperson, even if you could persuade him or her to come over and join your firm, will not come to sell a less than good product or service. This factor, is one of the reasons these salespeople are truly great. Another factor that makes them great is they will not sell inferior products or services to their clients.

Here is the warning I am trying to make: don't make the mistake of not looking at your products as the culprit or at very least part of an overall solution strategy.

There is good news. At least I hope it is anyway. Very few firms sell only a product or service alone. There are other components that go into an overall solution. More on this in the next post.


The Mask of Authenticity

There's a lot of buzz right now about being authentic. So more and more people are putting on the mask of authenticity.

"I am being authentic," they silently scream. Some not so silently. Some people are just plain rude and ill-mannered. And these are professionals who make a lot of money by most people's standards.

What we need is less authenticity and more politeness, more decorum, more professionalism. If you need to be authentic do so, but please, don't mistake being authentic for rationalizing your ill-mannered behavior. And don't think being "authentic" will make you better if you aren't.

I remember a group of engineers sitting around a conference room table talking about how to win business. Even though none of them had been outside of the cement walls to even meet a client, let alone explain how the solution may meet the client's needs, they all had an opinion--strong opinions. The harder they voiced their opinions, the more it sounded like they had years of experience winning business.

One senior engineer said, "Just be yourself. That's all you need to be." As if that was the key to winning business and the final statement.

Not being an engineer and someone who spent a lifetime in front of clients, I couldn't take it any more. It was not my best showing when I said, "Yeah, like you were when you interviewed for this job and you wore a suit and tie and you practiced and rehearsed all the possible questions the interviewer would throw at you."

I am not sure they got my sarcasm. But they would have if they would have looked at the clothes they were wearing (they were dressed in clothes I wouldn't be seen cutting my grass in). That is they were not wearing the suits they interviewed in, when they were "just themselves."

I think this sums up what I am trying to say. One client said to me, "I want people to be themselves. Unless they are assholes. Then I want them to be someone else."

Be yourself if you are a Prince (or a Princess). But since most of us aren't, (I'm not that's for sure), we have to work at being charming, delightful, and professional. Maybe authenticity has more to do with the slogan of 12-step programs: fake it until you make it.


If You Think Keeping Clients Satisfied is Hard, Try Losing and Having to Replace One

Does it seem to you that companies are only paying lip service to customer satisfaction? Have you gone to the store and asked for help only to feel like you are being extremely bothersome?

A Culture of Poor Service, Low Expectations, or Have We Become Boiling Frogs?
When we call our service provider for cable TV or internet services, how long have all of us been put on hold to change a service, get someone to help us, question a charge, or set up an appointment for installation?

And why is it that I am saying "thank you" instead of the customer service rep saying "thank you"? Who teaches these customer service people, who seem to be more surly every day, to say, "No problem" to our "Thank you"? Why am I even saying "thank you" to them?  When did this start?

I think Chick-fil-A has it partially right when they wait on us, with, "My pleasure" in reply to our "Thank you" as we reach across the counter for our trays of food.

But even then, shouldn't their response be "No, no, no! Thank YOU!!"? With a big emphasis on the YOU.

Have we just become numb to bad service? Have we all just given up? Have we become the boiling frog in the pan of hot water that we don't even notice that the water is beginning to boil?

And, because we are numb, has our low expectations drifted into providing poor service to our clients too?

Are We Expressing Our Appreciation Very Well? At All?
Many of you don't provide commodity services, don't place chicken sandwiches on trays, and don't answer cable service problem phone calls. We provide strategic, big ticket items. Which makes this all the more important. When clients choose our firms to solve their big problems or achieve their big goals, shouldn't our management (or you!) make a big deal of reaching out to their organization's leadership to let them know how much we appreciate their business?

Didn't we all do this at one time? Why not now use this as an opportunity to differentiate yourself at the professional level by having this conversation to explain that we want to create such a great value-based relationship. Even more, that we look at this as an opportunity to develop a lifelong approach to keeping their business by keeping them satisfied. And even more--helping them establish value to their customers.

Shouldn't management be saying to clients who buy our services and solutions, "Look. You placed a great deal of confidence in us with your order. I want you to feel free to tell me how we are doing ANY TIME. Here is my business card--my cell phone number and my email address. Let me know what we need to do if you are ever even slightly unhappy. Call me day or night--weekend or holiday." Do people still do this? And really mean it?

I think too many people say after winning a piece of business, "God, (there are no atheists in this business) now we have to implement this." Or they think this, I have to get to back to my laptop and look at the 400 emails that I missed (that say nothing by the way).

I believe all clients could use better service. I believe all clients want better service. Who doesn't? And without the almost silent groan of being bothered.

Has the cable service call center industry with its poor service seeped into our business culture? Where is that. "I am so glad you called. Tell me how I/we can be better?" Or even the, "You bet. Let me see what we can do to help you" attitude we all once had when our clients asked us for help.

Perspective: A Matter of Looking Backward from the Future
For perspective try losing a client--lost revenue and margin (i.e. profit, jobs, yours and mine). And then remember the hoops you went through trying to steal a competitor's client to replace that business you lost.

I can tell you this much--if you think your client was hard to deal with, your competitor's clients are even harder to deal with.

My point is this in case I am being indirect: KEEP YOUR CLIENTS HAPPY. It is the little things that count. Both good and bad. Do you do little things for your clients? Do you let them know you did this little thing for them? It's the little things that add up to become big things.

What Do Clients Want? The Little Things Matter
What kind of little things do clients want? In my research (see the book Clientize, the study of exceptional professionals, below) I found that clients want someone who manages their account to understand their priorities, solve problems before being asked, take responsibility when problems occur, report ahead of time--issues and challenges and how you recommend they be addressed, ideas and opportunities--even if your firm does not provide the services.

Of course this only scratches the surface. But they want professionals who are observant, not oblivious.

Become Observant and Get Aligned With The People
Doing the little things is a matter of being observant. Look for ways to help. Straighten up the picture that is hanging off center. Read their earnings report to understand their challenges. Understand the clients pressures--from an organizational perspective and a personal perspective (stuff flows downhill).

Make working with you easy. How? Talk the client's language--if they speak ROI--you speak ROI. If the client speaks using words like: "I need a clear picture to see how this would work." You don't try to explain to them how it works. You draw a picture on the whiteboard so they can see a clear picture.

Don't say, "I understand how you feel. I feel we can get a firm grasp on the situation if we get hold of the data we can dig out of this."  If you are not sure what I am referring to here, then look at Clientize. Clientize helps you gain the perspective of the client--the specific individuals you are dealing with. Here's a hint: feel, firm grasp, hold, data, dig.

Why is this important? Because you want to speak the client's language to gain and provide quick understanding. If you don't you are going to make the client feel like you are walking up the down escalator at Macy's the say before Christmas.

Grab a Mirror and Check Your Attitude
More important, maybe you'll find that it isn't your clients that are difficult to deal with after all. Perhaps it is the image in the mirror and the attitude you reflect to your clients and the staff supporting your clients.

Clientize--Why Clients Buy From Exceptional Professionals
Want to win clients and keep them for life? Find out what exceptional professional do in the study of clients and how professionals make the difference in creating lifelong clients.

Buy the book on Amazon right now. Click this link to Clientize.

Clientize--"A Landmark Book" The Survey that Will Change How You Approach Clients

How To Win Clients--What Exceptional Professionals Do
"Clientize: Who Gets In, Stays In and Why is a landmark book, with thoughtful analysis, certain to become a widely referenced guide for illuminating the darkness surrounding clients selection behaviors. Murphy provides an extensive assessment, examining the mistakes wrought by self-centered professionals and his 7 Strategies to Win Lifelong Clients should serve as a 'gut-check' for conscientious professionals everywhere; reminding us of our vulnerabilities and forcing us to validate our strengths."— Patrick J. McKenna, seasoned management consultant, co-author of First Among Equals and acknowledged contributor to The Trusted Advisor.

The 400-page client survey and study that will change how you approach winning clients and how to keep them for life. The survey that reveals what exceptional professionals do--and how you can move from good to exceptional without tricks or manipulation, but by being genuine, observant, caring, and focused on the client's needs first and foremost.

This book is now available for Amazon Kindle users. You can get the book here for a limited time only for a deeply discounted price. Click Here for your Copy of Clientize--Who Gets In, Stays In, and Why


Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner