Sales and Sales Management Blog

October 7, 2011

A Simple Way to Distance Yourself From Your Competition

Every seller, no matter the product or service they sell, is looking for ways to demonstrate how they differ from their competition.  Most of us will go to great lengths to try to make our prospects and clients recognize how unique we are and how fortunate they are to be working with us.

In order to create that sought after difference we’ll talk up how great our customer service is, some will give out cute or useful freebies, others will bring in other vendors to help create the perfect comprehensive solution to their prospect’s or client’s issues.

Certainly we should be giving exceptional customer service.  The problem is every one of our competitors is claiming to have the best customer service also.

And by all means we should be doing everything in our power—including partnering with other vendors if necessary—to give the best and most comprehensive solution possible.  The problem is most of the time our prospects and clients don’t really grasp the true extent of our solution until after the product or service is delivered and has been in place for awhile.

But there is a much simpler way to not only demonstrate a real difference between yourself and your competition, but to give your client a very different experience than what your competition would give.  Furthermore, this strategy is so seldom used that it really stands out to the client.

What, pray tell, is the fabulous strategy that is simple yet can make such an impact on your client?

It is simply giving the client the purchasing experience they want rather than the one you think they want.

So simple, yet so few sellers do it because frankly they have no idea what their clients want to happen during the purchase because they simply don’t ask.

Yep, that’s it; couldn’t be simpler.

Most sellers mistakenly think they know what their clients want to happen during the course of the sale.  Ask a seller what their client wants and they’ll rattle off a number of things such as on time delivery, prompt service, a quality product at a fair price, a seller they can trust, and a number of other “expectations.”

These are so general that they are almost useless in defining what a client’s purchasing expectations are. 

What does “on time delivery” really mean?  Does it mean the same thing to each and every customer?

What does prompt service mean?  To one customer it may mean that a phone call is returned within 24 hours, to another it may mean the call should be returned within an hour.  To another client a phone call might be totally out of the question as they prefer to communicate only through email.

The fact is that no two of our clients have the same expectations but we treat them all the same because we assume we know what they want.

We never ask the most basic and simple customer service question—“What can we do to make this the exact purchasing experience you want?”

That question is asked so infrequently (some customers have never been asked that question) that many customers won’t know how to respond; they really won’t understand the question.

In that case you’ll have to ask some follow-up questions such as: “How do you prefer to be contacted, phone or email?”  “If something comes up and I really need to speak with you, is there an emergency number that I can reach you at?”  “Do you want me to keep you posted daily or weekly, or would you rather I only contact you if there is an issue or question that needs to be dealt with?”

Obviously the number and type of purchasing experience questions you need to ask will depend on the particular product or service being purchased. 

And a great side benefit is you can find out upfront if your client has an unrealistic expectation, and if they do, you can deal with it before it becomes an issue later in the sale.

If you want to really make a quick impact on a client and put yourself in a different category from your competition, quit forcing them to live through the purchasing experience you want to give them and begin giving them the purchasing experience they want.

It’s simple—just ask them, they’ll tell you—and then all you have to do is give them the exact experience they wan—and  that no one else can give them.  You’ll be a hero—and all you had to do was ask a few questions that you should have been asking every client anyway.



  1. Agree about how many people fail to utilize the basics. What I have found is integrating the good, better, best approach as well as changing what some may view as obstacles. Cash flow is critical to small businesses even though with $50 million in sales. So by offering 30 day solutions for executive one on one coaching removes this obstacle or by offering solutions based on a one year engagement with monthly payments is also another strategy. What is so beneficial is that you can quickly showcase small wins provided you identified them up front.

    Leanne Hoagland-Smith
    Author of Be the Red jacket

    Comment by Leanne Hoagland Smith — October 7, 2011 @ 2:02 pm | Reply

  2. Well, given that I’ve written a book called “Roadmap to Revenue: How to Sell the Way Your Customers Want to Buy,” I obviously agree. I recommend “asking them” and give specific instructions on how to do it.

    What I’ve learned is that customers will tell you what you want to know, if you ask them the right way. For example, in this case, you could ask, “Can you tell me who made it super easy for you to buy and use their product or service?” And, “Is there anyone out there who does this exceptionally well? What could we learn from them?” Don’t ask them what they want; ask them what they’ve experienced that has worked for them.

    Every buyer has a “buying scenario” in mind when they come to you – they already know exactly what they want to buy and how they’d like to buy it. It’s their movie; you just need to play your part. Thankfully, I do find that customers have a lot of wishes in common. You can interview 5 – 10 customers (of a given type) and the main issues will be super obvious – and almost the same. You can then proceed with confidence, knowing that you will be pleasing the majority of your customers.

    Great article. Thanks.

    Kristin Zhivago

    Comment by Kristin Zhivago — October 7, 2011 @ 5:05 pm | Reply

    • Kristin,

      Thanks for your comment. I do have a couple of areas where I think we disagree.

      You say not to ask your client what they want but what has worked for them in the past. Why not ask what they want? What’s worked for them in past, even though it worked, may not be what they want. I’d rather give my client what they want than to give them something that has worked for them but doesn’t really meet their expectations. Yes, they could be the same–but just as well they could be very different.

      Also, you again are talking in generalities–find out what 5 to 10 of a given type want and then you can be pretty sure of pleasing the majority of customers. Pleasing a majority isn’t what we’re after. We want to wow every client.

      I think much of the difference between your comments and mine are that mine are directed to individual sellers, yours are probably directed at a company. The only one who can truly meet an individual customer’s expectations is the seller, the company simply cannot get that level of customization and can only try to create a customer experience that will meet satisfy the majority.

      Comment by Paul McCord — October 7, 2011 @ 5:21 pm | Reply

  3. Paul, this is so true. In fact, I don’t think we as salespeople even care about the prospect’s purchasing process or experience. We try too hard to get them to follow OUR sales process, even if we take the trouble to understand their purchasing process and preferences!

    Comment by salespsicosis — October 11, 2011 @ 3:48 am | Reply

  4. Paul,

    It’s today’s reality—sales people must do more with fewer resources. Still, the average sales persons squanders 45% of their selling time. It’s difficult finding time to build the quality experience you suggest. The answer is automating the tasks that bog reps down. Where possible, of course. Great advice, thanks!


    Comment by Jack — October 14, 2011 @ 2:36 pm | Reply

  5. Well said, Paul.

    I think for the most part it’s knowing you’re being given a bespoke product or service, tailored exactly to you. Of course, there are many who say they do this but will still bundle all of their clients and customers into the same group and think “bespoke” goes as far as their demographics, location, budget, etc.

    But you’re right… People who go to the effort of asking what their client or customer wants is not only more likely to satisfy their needs, but will also gain their trust quicker and easier and – reinforcing the main point of your article – differentiate themselves from their competitors.

    Comment by Steve — October 17, 2011 @ 5:22 am | Reply

  6. Absolutely correct….if your relations are good enough with your clients then there is no issues at all…Thanks for the post.:)

    Comment by Client Management — January 20, 2012 @ 7:43 am | Reply

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