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:
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”.
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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