Leveraging Sales Differentiation Strategy – When You Can’t Differentiate What You Sell
My son, Steven, is a senior in high school. During the early part of the school year is when he, like other kids his grade, makes his college decision. During his junior year, my wife and I were constantly asking Steven to research colleges and schedule tours. He scheduled some, but not as many as we desired.
Outside of school, Steven’s favorite thing to do is play baseball, and he’s a darn good player. He’s been playing high school baseball since his freshman year, but no one could have predicted what would have happened the summer between his junior and senior years.
Steven was selected to play on our city’s American Legion baseball team. The team played in a tournament that attracted college baseball coaches from throughout the Midwest. During that one-week tournament, he hit, not one, but four home runs (and three doubles). What better time could there be for him to be hot than when college baseball coaches were in attendance.
The whole process changed!
His entire college selection process changed after this tournament. He went from contacting colleges to them calling and emailing him. Seven colleges were in the mix, and Steven was going to face a tough selection decision a few months down the road. He was being recruited by college baseball coaches and, if you have not been through a college athlete recruiting process, it is pure salespersonship.
Each of the seven schools offers the major he wants and is in the locale where Steven desires. Their tuition fees are all in the same ballpark. How is Steven to decide which school to select?
In my bestselling book, “Sales Differentiation,” I talk about the opportunities salespeople have to differentiate both what they sell and how they sell. Some salespeople don’t have the opportunity to differentiate their products much like these college baseball coaches. They can’t add majors or classes. The can’t change the look and feel of the school. They can’t change the location. Their product is what it is, and they are competing against other “salespeople” without what you sell sales differentiation in their toolkit. However, that doesn’t mean the opportunity for sales differentiation is lost. They can leverage how you sell sales differentiation strategy which some of the coaches have embraced. Here’s how…
When you visit a college, parking is a hassle. Finding a spot where you won’t get ticketed is like finding a needle in a haystack. It adds irritation to the process immediately upon arrival. One school we visited turned the parking hassle into a sales differentiation opportunity. As we drove into the parking lot, we were greeted by a sign on a parking stall with Steven’s name on it. That quickly got our attention and put smiles on our faces. That was different!
After we parked, we were greeted by the school’s baseball coach who handed Steven an itinerary for the visit. Just like the parking spot, Steven’s name was at the top. Right in the first moments of the visit, this coach differentiated the experience. He created “WOW!” At the end of our visit, he spent an hour and a half with us explaining his program and where he envisions Steven fitting within it. At the end of the visit, he invited Steven to spend an evening with the team to get to know the players.
Following the visit, we returned to our car in awe of the experience. This coach differentiated his school by personalizing the experience and demonstrated to us that he cared. “Care” is a meaningful differentiator to buyers and so is being genuine which he was. I can’t imagine how many players he is recruiting, but he made us feel like Steven was the only one.
We visited another college on a rainy day. The coach asked Steven to text him upon our arrival. He met us in the parking lot with umbrellas. Like the other coach, his only tools to woo Steven were to be found in how you sell sales differentiation.
He didn’t start with a tour, but rather with a conversation over coffee to discuss Steven’s wants and desires in both a school and baseball program. Rather than have an admissions counselor take us on a tour, he did it himself. He spent almost four hours with us and made Steven feel like he was already part of the program. He too invited Steven to spend time with the team on campus.
A third school also differentiated its approach. The coaches invited Steven to visit a team practice. While there, the players, on their own, came up to Steven and introduced themselves. They also made Steven feel as if he was already part of the program. In addition, the coaches spent time with Steven asking him questions and also asking him to share his questions. He came away from that experience with a huge smile on his face.
None of these schools was on the radar screen when Steven was first considering his college options, but they jumped to the top of the list. They knocked down Steven’s original top choice.
Steven’s top school at the beginning of the process dropped to the bottom. He loved the campus and environment of that school, but their baseball coach didn’t do any of the things the other coaches did. That coach relied on the school’s brand to attract potential players. He was supposedly very interested in having Steven play for his team, but his actions didn’t communicate that. While these other schools made Steven feel special, this coach made him feel like nothing but a number.
College baseball coaches would never describe themselves as salespeople, but that is exactly what they are. They are trying to sell top talent on attending their institutions and playing on their teams. When selling, they are limited to sales differentiation through how you sell just like many of you.
Often, salespeople forget the opportunities they have to differentiate themselves, not just through what they sell, but how they sell. Every interaction between seller and buyer opens the door for salespeople to provide meaningful value which differentiates them from the competition. Take advantage of that opportunity!
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Lee B. Salz is a leading sales management strategist specializing in helping companies build scalable, high-performance sales organizations through hiring the right salespeople, effectively onboarding them, and aligning their sales activities with business objectives through process, metrics and compensation. He is the Founder and CEO of Sales Architects, Business Expert Webinars and The Revenue Accelerator. Lee has authored several books including award-winning, best-seller “Hire Right, Higher Profits.” He is a results-driven sales management consultant and a passionate, dynamic speaker . Lee can be reached at lsalz@SalesArchitects.net or 763.416.4321.