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Opinion: 5 tips for standing out from the crowd

Business Shifts-Smart Ways Series

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We live in an age of low differentiation, a time when parity among competitors is common. This makes it difficult for our businesses to stand out from the crowd.

Technology certainly levels the playing field, and this can have a flattening effect on a company’s differentiation strategy.

For customers, significant similarity between solution providers gives them increased negotiating power. For the solution providers, it often increases price pressure and squeezes margins.  

Several years ago, sales managers or salespeople might be heard saying, “Our product sells itself.” Not so much anymore.

In a Web browser, enter the search term “the commoditization of everything,” and thousands of references surface. Numerous experts believe commoditization is here to stay, and I certainly agree on this point.

From my humble perch, the threat of commoditizing product value is far from another faddish business cliche. I see a serious challenge to any business marketing or selling value to savvy customers. With access to more information than ever before, most buyers are aware of all the compelling offers.  

Consequently, differentiation effectiveness requires regular attention. Here are five ways I see smart companies accomplishing it.

1. Attach uniquely to the customer’s needed solution. This is harder than you might imagine. I reached out to Chad Sanderson, managing partner of Denver-based Value Prime Solutions, which helps businesses strengthen marketing and sales messaging in multiple industries. “The challenge of standing out is complex because there are more purchasing options for customers, attention spans are declining, and distractions by digital media makes it hard to get your message through,” he said. To attach your value with a customer’s needed solution requires understanding and connecting your unique value to those needs.  

2. Get everyone on board with delivering great customer experiences. Customer experience is not a solo activity. If you expect to deliver a top-notch experience consistently, and you want to woo customers to remain loyal and provide referrals, then you must engage your entire organization in delivering positive experiences consistently.   

3. Connect with today’s consumer mindset. The other day, I entered an address into an app and was frustrated because it couldn’t get a fix on my location. As consumers, I think it’s fairly common to expect our environment to relate with our preferences. Sanderson believes there’s an application to the modern-day salesforce: “Today’s salesperson must adjust to their customers perception of value and that means connecting with what matters to them.” 

Consumer experiences have changed and experts like Sanderson think it’s also changing the expectations of business-to-business purchases. The bigger point to keep in mind is realizing how easily our products or services get lost in the sea of sameness today. 

4. Appeal to company and individual value drivers. Individuals have a stake in getting their organization the best overall value, and they often have personal reasons for choosing one provider over all others. For example, recently I asked the CEO of a client company what she wanted personally as a result of the project. She answered, “To make all my stress over this situation go away.” Using insights into your B2B customer’s personal value drivers can help differentiate your value.

5. Sell customers the way they want to be sold. It’s true that people buy “how” you sell before they buy “what” you sell. A 2017 study in Sales and Marketing Management indicated the No. 1 influence on a B2B purchase decision is the salesperson’s selling effectiveness, outranking both quality and price as determinants. How we sell is noticeable to buyers, creating either a positive or a negative image. Improving initial discovery, building trust earlier and selling value over price, are three ways I’ve seen businesses successfully create points of separation during the sales cycle. Standing out often starts with how we market and sell.

To increase customer perceived value incorporate smart ways to stand out from the competition.  

Consultant and professional speaker Mark Holmes is president of Springfield-based Consultant Board Inc. and He’s also the author of “The Five Rules of Megavalue Selling.” He can be reached at


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