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Consultative Selling

Is Your Sales Team Creating Real Differentiation?

By Tom Roth

To avoid the pitfalls of competing on price, salespeople are often told they need to “sell the value.” Another strategy is to “value-add” by offering the customer extra services or product features without charge. While these strategies can be effective short-term, neither of these approaches produces a sustainable advantage. Selling the value implies that the salesperson either truly understands what the customer values, or that the value offered is perceived as significantly different from the competing offerings. All too often, neither one of these is true. At the same time, a value-add strategy has its own drawbacks. While it may sometimes win a sale, it produces customer expectations of “free stuff”; it also erodes margins and may be easy for the competitor to match.

Salespeople rely on these strategies, ineffective though they often are, because they find it difficult to achieve genuine differentiation based on something the customer values and is hard for the competition to replicate. But suppose a salesperson were able to create a highly differentiated offering that provides real value competitors can’t copy because it is unique to the customer? The secret lies in going beyond features and services that are easily commoditized and developing what Ted Levitt called “the potential offering.” Salespeople can achieve this kind of differentiation by looking beyond their product to all aspects of the customer’s experience across the whole process of buying and using a product or service.

The Customer Life Cycle, as it is sometimes called, provides a lens for understanding the experience at four critical phases, from buying the solution through the end of its useful life. Each phase offers an opportunity for an innovative salesperson to find sources of differentiation.

The secret lies in going beyond features and services that are easily commoditized, and developing what Ted Levitt called 'the potential offering.'

Tom Roth

Tom Roth is Chief Operating Officer of Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc. (U.S.) and President of Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc. (Japan). With more than 40 years of experience developing and implementing human performance improvement solutions, Mr. Roth is responsible for the strategic direction and business performance of Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc. operations. In addition, he leads the global marketing services and R&D solutions group, which is responsible for the research and development of all solutions and position papers. Mr. Roth assists global executive leadership teams with issues related to employee engagement, leadership development, strategy alignment, and business transformation. Before assuming his current role, he was President of the global R&D and solution development groups and also served as President of Wilson Learning Corporation.

Mr. Roth has extensive experience developing and implementing human performance improvement solutions. He is coauthor of the book Unplugged: How Organizations Lose Their Energy and How to Get It Back, coauthor of the book Creating the High-Performance Team, and is published in numerous business publications. Mr. Roth is a frequent speaker at national and international conferences and client events, presenting on a wide variety of issues including leadership, employee engagement, change, and strategy implementation.