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Things I’d Like to See Go Away – The Differentiators List

by Hank Barnes  |  April 24, 2018  |  8 Comments

I started this series of  things that need to go away with the logo slide (albeit with that one still having utility in certain cases.  Next on the target is the “differentiators list.”   This one needs to go away forever.   It takes many forms:

  • A slide in a presentation
  • A collection of content on a Web page (often a “Why Us?” page)
  • A part of most brochures
  • And more

In the vast majority of the cases, the list, whether for a services or a product company looks like this:

DiffLists

What makes us special?

  • Our people
  • Our experience
  • The fact that we care about our customers
  • and other general meaningless comments

There are a few problems with this approach.  First, they are pretty much what anyone would say.  Like others have said about strategy, if the opposite of your statement is not true, then it’s not relevant.  Would any of your competitors say “Our people are lousy”, “We are inexperienced”, “We just want your money, we don’t care about you”.

Probably not.

And that plays to the other issue.  As I’ve said before, differentiation is inherently comparative.   And differentiation lists rarely establish that context.  Declaring what you are different than and why.

Instead of meaningless differentiation lists, create comparative stories that outline exactly what you are different than and why.   It is also a great test to see if what you declare for the alternative (remember, the competition may be status quo or different approaches) is believable.

What buyers can do to help put an end to differentiation lists

As with the logo slide, there are things that you can do to try to expose differentiation lists.  And as with the logo slide, I suggest doing this politely.   First, ask about the comparison.  If a vendor says “our people are great as a differentiator”, ask them “Which of your competitors have lousy people?”   Second, pick it apart.  Tell them “I know a vendor like you that has great people”  or “I know another vendor that takes a software approach like you do.”   (You probably do this anyway but only silently).

And then give them a chance to recover–if you think they deserve it.   Tell them, “we’ve been thinking about approaching our problem this way, how are you different than that.”  The approach could be a specific vendor or broader.   Then listen to what they have to say.   And see if they can tell you something that you believe, or are willing to explore.

To put it simply, rarely if ever, is a differentiation list truly about differentiators.   So why bother?

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Category: go-to-market  

Tags: b2bsales  competition  differentiation  sales  strategy  trust  

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 Things I’d Like to See Go Away – The Differentiators List


  1. Dave Brock says:

    I’d also like to see the “corporate glamour” slides go away. The one’s that say, “here are our wonderful locations and corporate headquarters, here are the logos of our customers….”

  2. craig kensek says:

    (a) Stating anything about “our secret sauce”. Is it gluten and/or MSG free?

    (b) “(fill in the blank) is in our DNA”. CRISPR? Did it hurt to insert?

  3. Bob Apollo says:

    “Who would claim the opposite?” is a great test of whether any differentiation is credible

  4. John Kratz says:

    “Create comparative stories that outline exactly what you are different than and why!” I’m going to quote you Hank. FYI, Mike Bosworth, author of Solution Selling: Creating Buyers in Difficult Selling Markets has some interesting ideas on how to do that.
    Would make for an interesting read for your #FridayFails post. I’d be happy to connect you if you don’t know him already:)

    • Hank Barnes says:

      Mike and I exchange ideas regularly….and yes, I think he does have great ideas on creating great stories.

  5. Chris Ryan says:

    Spot-on article Hank. I’ve had this discussion with CEOs/CMOs many times. No one believes that your people and service are the best. These are highly subjective attributes that are proven after someone becomes a customer. Like you say, and Bob Apollo reiterates, any statement that can also be made by your competitors (e.g. “we really care”) is not a differentiator.

  6. The vast majority of ‘differentiators’ are really opinions. Buyers are not interested in the opinions of salespeople.



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