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The Impact of a Failure to Differentiate

by Hank Barnes  |  February 2, 2016  |  2 Comments

We recently processed the results of an update to our differentiation research from a few years back.  We’ve published research on that for Gartner clients (Tech Go-to-Market: Differentiation Challenges Continue to Plague Tech Providers – Paywall) in January, but I wanted to share some of the findings through this blog.

At a high level, the results have not changed substantially,   Buyers still are frustrated by providers’ inability to differentiate themselves and turn to others for help.  That is not surprising.  But there is an area we explored this year that is important.   We asked the respondents what the impact of a provider failing to differentiate  is on their buying effort.   And the impact is significant.


As the chart shows (multiple responses were allowed), 59% of the respondents indicated it would push them to other suppliers that they already know.  But the other impacts are also significant.  Buying delays, eliminating you from consideration, no decision, price concessions.  None of these things are particularly appealing. (Note: There were 211 respondents to this survey.  Not a huge sample, but reasonable.  The audience was the Gartner Research Circle–a community of clients and non-clients that regularly participate in Gartner surveys.  This was the same audience pool (albeit with an ever-changing member base) as the last differentiation survey).

We also asked respondents some questions (with responses from 1 to 7  in terms of disagreeing or agreeing) that help guide on things that buyers find frustrating.


The first chart (sorry for the size) shows a collection of statements that point strongly toward a need for more stories, less bold & unproven claims, and the importance of brand and trust.



This chart indicates that providers are “okay”–a little below average–at communicating value, but really struggle to illustrate what it is like to work with them after the sale.   This is a huge gap as buyers struggle to understand how they can capture value.

Differentiation is hard, but it is imperative.  There is a path to progress:

  1.  Start with positioning.
  2. Identify what you want to be different than (the alternative)
  3. Differentiate from that (not from everything or anything).
  4. Use customer stories.
  5. Move from features to value.
  6. Describe how value is achieved.

Get moving.



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Category: go-to-market  

Tags: differentiation  positioning  

Hank Barnes
VP Distinguished Analyst
6+ years at Gartner
30+ years IT Industry

Hank Barnes explores the dynamics, challenges, and frustrations enterprises face when buying technology products and services. Using that customer-centric lens, he advises those responsible for marketing technology products and services, general managers responsible for product portfolios, and startup CEOs on next practices to drive success for their customers and their business. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on The Impact of a Failure to Differentiate

  1. Very interesting article and good food for thoughts for vendors in a challenger position.
    However, there is little caveat related to the suggested path to progress. Whereas starting with positioning looks like the absolute pre-requisite in terms of marketing and communications, in a sales call, the first step should be about listening to the potential customer and leading them to open and talk about their context or at least to be receptive about the positioning of the challenger vendor. Without this preliminary step, the chance of the vendor’s sales rep to be listend to are minimal.

    • Hank Barnes says:

      Thanks for the comment. The approach outlined is for setting your strategy and plan to uncover and develop differentiation and communicate it in your content. I fully agree that sales reps need to listen before talking–but actually they need to research, observe, and listen to be prepared for an effective dialogl

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