Some time ago, we commoditized discovery. Each salesperson would talk about their company, their clients, and their solutions, asking the client to share their problem. Because so many salespeople were taught and trained to use this approach, it commoditized a first meeting.
If two salespeople competed for a client’s business, salesperson A would follow this pattern on, say, Tuesday afternoon. Salesperson B would have the same conversation on Thursday morning. Every salesperson was trying to differentiate themselves using the same sales approach. Maybe the client liked one better than the other, but it wasn’t because of their sales approach.
Not too much later, sales organizations imposed a linear sales process. This decision offered nothing that might rise to the level of creating value. Instead, the promise of the sales process was that every sales rep would win the client’s business using a paint-by-numbers approach. Naturally, a lot of salespeople did no better with the linear sales process.
One client invited me to sit down with them to explore working together. When I entered the conference room alone, I was greeted by 14 people who made up what they called a task force. It sounded official. Prepared to start my legacy approach, I was interrupted by the senior leader who opened a question-and-answer session. There was no turning back, as I answered dozens of questions.
In another meeting, a client told me he would remove me from the building if I opened my laptop. More and more, I noticed that my clients had little concern for my sales process as they pursued their buying goals.
By the time I started writing here, I was a skeptic regarding the linear sales process. Oftentimes, turn-by-turn directions were unavailable in my location. I would be labeled a heretic, but my experience convinced me that the sales conversation is complex and dynamic much of the time. It also let me work on a nonlinear sales approach that was more flexible and provided me with the ability to lead the client, while giving them the room to tackle conversations as they occurred. My methodology here is found in The Lost Art of Closing: Winning the 10 Commitments That Drive Sales.
How to Commoditize Yourself
What follows here is a list of areas that can commoditize you, even if you believe you are differentiating.
- Using the linear sales process: You, your competitors, and your sworn enemy all start with targeting, then move through the stages of qualification, discovery, solution design, presentation, negotiation, and end up at win/loss. Congratulations, you now have done exactly what everyone has done for more than 20 years, believing you are differentiating.
- Poor discovery: When you ask your client about their problem, then their pain points, you are following a well-worn path that does nothing to create value for them, nor does it differentiate you from your competing clones. This makes you look like a commodity.
- Positioning your company: Many sales leaders believe the contest is between the companies competing for the client, but this isn’t true. Instead, the contest is between the salespeople. Unless you win a client without a salesperson, this is a brutal truth.
- Positioning your solution: Especially when you try to position your solution early in the sales conversation, you look and sound like every salesperson that has ever darkened your contact’s door.
- Asking the same questions: When you ask the same questions every other salesperson asks, your contact starts to feel a sense of deja vu. Because most salespeople fail to read and research, they don’t have access to the powerful questions that would differentiate you.
- A lack of value creation: If you are unable or unwilling to create value in the sales conversation, your client will recognize you as a commodity. Most salespeople believe that their solution creates value, although it is only available after the client buys.
- No awareness of the Strategic outcomes: You commoditize yourself by talking about the solution instead of the client’s strategic outcomes. End users want to know about the product, but decision makers want to understand how you will produce the strategic outcomes they need. Anyone can sell the solution, but few sell the strategic outcomes.
Avoiding Being a Commodity
It’s important that you don’t present yourself as a commodity. When there is no difference between you and your competitors, there is no reason for the client to buy from you instead of from one of your competitors. The only way to differentiate yourself is by creating value in the sales conversation.
The more your sales conversation matches that of other sales reps, the more your prospective client will believe you are a commodity. Your client will also treat you like a commodity unless you are different in a meaningful way.
On the Tendency to Commoditize Yourself
We tend to commoditize ourselves by selling in a way that does not differ from how everyone else sells. Eventually best practices are adopted by many companies, commoditizing the approach and the sales forces that use them. When everyone has a good company and a great solution, those are table stakes.
Buyers complain that salespeople cannot create the value they need. To win a client’s business, you must give them a reason to choose you over your rivals. To do that, you need to do something that will distinguish you as different. The best and fastest way to do this is to provide a better sales conversation.