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Differentiation is a powerful tool for achieving competitive advantage, and in sales it’s a term we hear often. It’s likely you’re well-versed in how your offerings differ from those of your closest competitors, and in many cases, your customer is almost as familiar with those details as you are. But effective differentiation is more than simply laying out those differences and hoping your customer understands the distinctions.  Effective differentiation means creating a customer preference for your solutions. It means establishing a value edge based on more than product features and pricing.

Think of your value edge as the difference between the value you propose to deliver to your customer and what your competitor proposes.  

Ideally, you’ve built a relationship with your customer’s team based on trust, credibility, and value creation and co-creation. Your customer already has a positive perception of the solutions, advantages, and business value you offer. You’ve shown them how your solution fits their business and addresses their challenges.  After you’ve established customer mindshare, the next step is to expand it into customer preference—for the fit of your solutions and the uniqueness of your business value. To accomplish this, you must call upon your thorough understanding of your customer’s external drivers (factors impacting their business over which they have no control), business objectives (how they plan to address those drivers), and internal challenges (the roadblocks to achieving their objectives).

Equipped with this knowledge, you can create customer preference in three fundamental areas:

  1. Your solution’s fit against your customer’s requirements. You’re able to demonstrate the overall fit of your solutions against what’s important to your customer.  The stronger your fit, the more powerful your differentiation will be.

  2. The uniqueness of your business value. When your business value connects directly with your customer’s drivers, objectives, and challenges, you can clearly demonstrate how you will ensure your customers success by helping them meet and exceed their objectives.

  3. A partnership with your organization. When the customer wants to work with you and believes your organization is the one they can partner with most effectively, you can often win the business even if your fit isn’t the strongest or your value the most unique.

Defining your value edge means creating space between you and your competition, and your customer has multiple ways to evaluate your organization:   

  • Products. The customer believes that your products are superior to your competitors products.

  • Resources. The customer believes that your people and technology will enable their success.

  • Expertise. The customer believes your people are knowledgeable, credible, and able to share relevant best practices.

  • Services. The customer believes your service levels are higher and more proactive.

  • Customer Experience. The customer believes that your work and experience with comparable organizations reduces their risk.

  • Brand/reputation.  The customer believes in your reputation for quality, service, and product excellence, and you derive competitive advantage as a result.

Ultimately, your goal is to establish unique differentiable value: you can deliver a type of value to your customer that no one else can; you are capable of distinguishing the uniqueness of that value in the six areas mentioned above; and your customer recognizes and acknowledges it.

When the customer finds you “value-able” in ways that they don’t find anyone else valuable, and those areas of value connect directly with what’s most import to them, you have something very powerful. When you demonstrate that you understand your customer’s value expectations, it’s likely you are having conversations with your customer that no one else can have. You have gained the value edge.

That’s how to win business.

Dave Stein is the co-author of Beyond the Sales Process: 12 Proven Strategies for a Customer-Driven World