Lipstick. Great Variety of Women's Lips. Set of Mouths

Difference Is In the Eyes Of The Prospect8

By Tibor Shanto –

There is a lot of talk about differentiation in sales, whether that is at the product level, sales technique level or other factors. Some difference is good, some goes a bit far, unfortunately most of seems to fall short. The main reason is that most vendors and sellers spend time and effort to differentiate themselves from other products, companies, or sales people. As with other miscues in sales, the problem is that most of the effort excludes the only element that counts, the buyer.

Buying and selling are very subjective experiences. While there are reams of tools and means for capturing requirements, allowing buyers to better understand what will help them achieve their objectives, presenting a clear and objective process, there is a range of undercurrents that allows a lot of subjectivity to creep in to the decision. Who among us has not lost a deal where the we were a perfect fit based on requirements. Or conversely won a deal, where on the face of things we were deficient and less cost effective than an alternative. The reason is simple and human, people are very subjective, (and buyers are people), and as such will make decisions using more than just logic, leading to the reality that difference, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder.

While many may not like it, but one advantage to having multiple decision makers or stakeholders in the deal, is that it can naturalize subjectivity, allowing us to better present and leverage real differences we may have. I say we may have, because most leading products have very few real differences, especially in the eyes of buyers. What some vendors think is really different, may not be that important to the market, which is likely why the others have avoided it. With “sameness” rampant in products, the other difference is how you sell, and by extension your sales process. The challenge here is that most people sell in a very similar way, leading to only superficial differences that even the least experienced buyer can see through.

Once you accept that difference is in the eye of the prospect, and not something you can ram down their throat or post on a billboard, you can then switch your approach to understanding how they see themselves and their reality as being different than others they are looking at. Let’s be clear, it may not always be true that what the buyers are looking for is all that different than their neighbor’s, but, we are dealing with buyer perception, not necessarily reality as we see it.

The only option is to have the prospect articulate what they see as being different. And while most sellers will tell you that they are doing that, when observed in action, they are still very much anchored to their product, and features they feel are “solutions” for the buyer’s “pain”. Presentations are geared to highlighting the “vendor’s difference”, rather than the difference the buyer is trying to achieve in their business. Presentations limit our ability to get the prospect to help us differentiate ourselves, mostly because they are centered around the product, and things we believe we are “solving”, that in turn make us different.

Especially early in a cycle, leave you your product, presentations, preconceptions in the car; go in armed only with questions that will help you uncover the buyer’s objectives, and impacts they are looking to deliver to their business. This sounds easy, and is often met by “we’re already doing that”, until we examine the questions many sellers ask, and the reality of some first and early meetings. Remember that the “difference” starts long before you engage, so how you engage, and what happens at your first encounter is key. You may think your PowerPoint is different, but it is still PowerPoint.

If you stay focused on the impacts and outcomes, you will start to establish a difference. When you get the prospect to share their objective, avoid the instinct to map those back to your product. First, drill down on those objectives, why those, how will that change their business, what are related risks, and more. This will allow you to demonstrate your Subject Matter Expertise, and help the prospect validate their direction and means of getting there. If that direction and means are less than optimal, help the buyer reorient their thinking, reorient their direction and path. Now that’s different, especially in a world where sellers are not experts, and seek the safety of “the customer is always right” over pushing back, getting the buyer to see things differently, help them down an alternate path to alternate results. (Easy Kellyanne, it’s just sales). When prospects start their journey, they are more focused on the end than the means, which is why your product, solution, or whatever, is not that important in the early stage.

With difference being in the eye of the prospect, the more we take ourselves and our product out of the early phases of the sales, the more different a prospect will see us; the more we can make them think instead of listen, the greater the difference in experience, leading to different experience and results for both the buyer and the seller.

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Think outside the box concept on a white background

Getting Out Of Your Sales Box2

By Tibor Shanto – 

Given today is Boxing Day here in Canada, and that I am off enjoying the holiday (the bargains), I thought it was a good day to reprise a piece from 2010 about thinking out of the box. Enjoy!

There is a lot of talk in sales and in marketing about ‘thinking out of the box'; this is big with me because I am sure that when they put me in a box I’ll be dead, and that’s not good. But all too many in sales people are stuck in their boxes, they may say they think out of the box, even when they are too afraid to come out of the box. It’s so warm and cozy, easy to explain, not like outside the box.

Now being in sales, and having the ego to go with it, you’re probably sitting there thinking “phew, can’t be talking about me, I always think out of the box, hey even that sales tech said so last week before I bought her lunch.”

Well let’s test things and find out, shall we?

Answer the following question: What’s one and one?




Write your answer here: _____

One more, what’s three and three?




Write your answer here: _____

So, what did you put down, 2 for the first one, and 6 for the second?

You’re so in the box!

The first one is obviously eleven; and the second is thirty-three.

Absolutely it is a right answer, look, just step out of your box a minute, yes you can keep one hand on it for security if you need to.
Look here man, 1 and 1, or 11, it’s eleven. Again, 3 and 3, 33, thirty-three, right?

Of course it is, if you said two, you choose to only partially listen to what I was asking. Thought you heard one plus one, right? This was amplified by the echo chamber that is your box, and bam, an answer that misses the opportunity presented. How many times do you faced this same risk with customers, thinking you understood what they were saying only to blow it?

In sales, you must float on or ride your experience, not be weighed down by it; like a surfer on a big wave, you can use it to be propelled forward, or be crumbled by its power. You need to interpret and react according to the specific situation, be creative in responding, not predictable with your comebacks.

You need to use and leverage language and imagination in moving sales forward. But if you insist one and one is two not 11, then you need to relax and open the lid a bit more, a lot more. By leveraging language and imagination you will not only challenge yourself to creatively resolve challenges, but also encourage your buyers to step up and step beyond their limits, especially in how they limit their view of their challenge, and things that limit their perception of “a” solution.

It is one thing to say you think or act out of the box, another to execute. Many talk beyond their box and then be as conventional as ever in their execution. Selling is about change, step out of your box if you expect the buyers to abandon theirs.

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Boy scratching his head, confused by what is happening

Is That All The Difference You Got?0

By Tibor Shanto – 

Here is an example of an element discussed in Monday’s post.  It’s hard to see the difference when you all look the same. Time for Sales and Marketing to step up and say something that makes a difference for the buyer.

Ever wonder why buyers would rather go it on their own?  I did when I was watching my favourite Sunday morning political pundit parade, these commercials were one spot apart in the same break.

If this is the best Marketing and Sales can come up with in speaking to their potential customers, no wonder it is coming down to price, there is little other difference between the two.

No wait, did the one guy shave his beard for the second one?  Is it surprise buyers are confused and would rather do it on their own, and companies need apps to do their selling for them?

Back to the drawing board.

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Voicemail word cloud

Voice Mail As A Differentiator1

By Tibor Shanto – 

If you’re in sales, you know that a crowd favourite is differentiation. Companies, marketing folks, sales people all want to differentiate, which is not an easy thing in a climate where differences are few and subtle. Often the only real difference is the sale itself, since products tend to be often all but identical. The “sale” has two main components that allow for differentiation, the individual involved, and how they execute.

The first is important, but not as much as people make it out to be, you’d have to really go out of your way to play-off someone to the point where they won’t buy your product. As rare as that may (should) be, when it does happen, the buyer can usually procure the product through other means, depriving the “bad seller” of both the satisfaction and the commission. This leaves execution as the key differentiator.

Yet most sales people seem to almost go out of their way not to be different, either in the way they do things or don’t do things. They spend time and effort to meet a social norm and construct not of their own making or choosing, all in an effort to fit in and not be different from the herd perusing the same prospect. I have written in the past about sales people constantly telling me “oh, I couldn’t do that.” Or the more inclusive “you can’t do that.” When I point out that have checked with the federal, provincial/state authorities, and municipal lawmakers, and there is no law preventing them from in fact carrying out the act in question, they still tell me they can’t do it, and why, it is different. Isn’t that what you want to be when the person you’re calling has heard it 6,000 time before.

Rather than taking the opportunity to be a breath of fresh air, they labour at being “more of the same”, but a little shinier. Jumping on every bandwagon riding through town all in an effort not to be different.

Take voice mail as an example. One of the reasons many will give for avoiding telephone prospecting is the pervasiveness of voice mail. I could see this being an issue in 1987, but not since. The logical thing would be to develop a method for getting targets to call you back, not to avoid something because it is there. Add caller ID to the mix and it is clear that you need to do something different than your competitors, and different than what the target is expecting from a sales person.

For years I have been sharing a method for leaving voice mails that get returned, I generally average 40% – 50% of messages I leave being returned within 72 hours. Just this past Tuesday I left five messages, got responses by end of the day, and one appointment, and a follow up call in April; I hear sales is not a numbers game, but even then, that’s good no? Those who try it, execute it the way it is presented regularly improve their return call ratio, and increase appointments and pipeline.

The problem is that the methods I use is different, not comfortable, at first, then when you get sales it all changes. The great thing is that when prospects call back, I have already differentiated, and can continue to be different, and deliver an experience for the buyer that is different, and better than what they have been conditioned to expect from those who talk, but don’t act differentiation. The method has been challenged, ridiculed, mocked and dismissed by a whole bunch of people who have not tried the method, a behaviour not that different than the rest of the 80% they are claiming to be differentiated from. It is always the same, a few years ago someone wanting to feel good about their insecurity shared my method in a LinkedIn group, there was a rush of condemnation. But then a few days later, a bunch of people who tried it in the real world, chime in about the success they had connecting with people they have been trying to reach for some time. Being different takes work, and requires you to step away from the comfort of the crowd.

Click here to learn more about the different but effective voice mail technique, and start differentiating.

Tips to Use Your Business Differentiators to Increase Your Sales3

April 15

The Pipeline Guest Post – Megan Totka

One great way to make your business rise to the top is to focus on what makes it different from the competition. What you do with that realization can make your business. Get more out of your selling time and learn why your business is different from the competition — and why your differentiators matter to your customers.

There isn’t a single business out there that can thrive by selling products at a reasonable price exclusively. Here are five tips for integrating your differentiators into your everyday sales.

1. Understand your business differentiators and how they benefit customers.
Even if you’re selling a service or product in a competitive space, there is always something that makes your business stand apart from others.

Think about the anti-aging market. How does a company make its skincare line stand apart from the other ones out there? While price is important, hone in on what else there is to offer customers. How can you help them? What can your products do that other skincare products can’t?

As a business owner, you need to focus on your value-added difference and that will help distinguish your business from all of the others like it. It’s also vital to know and communicate to your customers what makes your business one of a kind. Make sure you can explain to your customers what impact your differentiators have on them. Focus and advocate for those differentiators – this is one of many ways to attract more new business.

2. Understand your competition and how to sell against them.
To help refine your own differentiators, it is helpful to grasp what your competitor’s differentiators are too. Get to know their strengths and their weakness. It’s important to understand the ladder – it can help you can step up your game in those areas. If you do lose a sale to the competition, go ahead and be brave: ask why that prospect chose to do business with them instead of you.

3. Always have integrity.
In a recent study by The Institute of Business Ethics, it was found that companies displaying a commitment to ethical conduct outperform companies that do not display ethical conduct. No one trusts or wants to do business with a salesperson that is dishonest and stomps all over competitors in an over-the-top sales pitch. Stay true to your business core values – and to yourself. Avoid highlighting the competition’s negatives – just be better about explaining your positives. Selling isn’t an effortless business, but a salesperson with integrity – someone who does the right thing at all times – is a massive differentiator and goes a long way to creating a compelling experience for their customers. Building a reputation of integrity takes years – but it only takes a few seconds to lose.

4. Integrate your differentiators into your marketing messages.
As you develop a marketing platform, make sure your differentiators play a big role in it. Your sales and marketing operations should be ingrained and clear so your customers can plainly see why you are the business he or she should chose to support.

5. Ask — and listen to — your customers’ wants and needs.
Your customers are the ones who can really help you figure out how to succeed in the business world. What matters to them? For a moment, step outside of your business box and look at it from a customer’s point of view. This can help you change your sales pitch and marketing message to focus on what exactly will help you seal the sales deal.
There are a lot of great businesses that offer good products and services. In order to make your business stand apart from all of the others out there, always remember to operate with integrity. Take the time to understand your differentiators and keep those at the forefront of your mind. Always listen to your customers and focus on what they want and need, not what you want to sell them.

How do you convey your differentiators to your customers? Has it helped you find success?

About Megan Totka

Megan Totka is the Chief Editor for helps small businesses grow their business on the web and facilitates connectivity between local businesses and more than 7,000 Chambers of Commerce worldwide. She specializes on the topic of small business tips and resources and business news. Megan has several years of experience on the topics of small business marketing, copywriting, SEO, online conversions and social media. Megan spends much of her time establishing new relationships for, publishing weekly newsletters educating small business on the importance of web presence, and contributing to a number of publications on the web. Megan can be reached at


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What Makes You Different?5

by Tibor Shanto –


People always want to present themselves as being unique or different, even as they are lined up overnight for the latest iGadget, all adorned in the latest gadget-ware from Fashion Star.  So I am rarely surprised when sales people tell they or their products are different.

I recall meeting with a VP of sales from a software company, the latest killer app, and while he agreed to take the appointment knowing what I do, it seemed his objective was to validate how their product and sale were different than anything I had seen to date.  If I had $10 for every time he said “Tibor, you have to understand we are different, our product is different, and our sale (process) is different”. While I am not qualified to comment on the nature of the software, I had to ask about the sale of their software.

Me: Am I right in thinking that all your reps are all delivering quota?

VP: No, we have a couple that are, some just below, about half haven’t hit goal for the last couple years.

Me: So let me see if I understand Harvey, your people don’t have to prospect, leads and prospect are abundant, normally potential buyers are lined up around the block; it’s just because you knew I was coming this morning that you cleared the sidewalk for me?

VP: No, no, no, we need to prospect like mad, we are always looking for ways to get enough of the right prospects in the funnel, we get a web leads, but they need to prospect more.

Me: But once they get in front of the right prospect, getting the buyers to buy into your value prop, and getting to proposal is just a formality, right?

VP: No, we have to do a lot of information gathering, understand their needs, and explain what we do just to get them to actually appreciate what we can do for them.  It’s a grind and a struggle for some of the AE’s.

Me: but once they articulate the value prop, and the buyer gets it, it just goes straight to signature and close.

VP: No, there is a lot of haggling, back and forth, we lose too many sales at this point.

Me: So Harvey, I may be slow, but I am not sure I see the difference.

Do you?  The one area where Harvey failed to differentiate is in the way they sell.  Like other mere mortals, they have to prospect, engage, execute a discovery to find common ground and gain commitment?

The difference is rarely in the product, the difference is in the way you sell.  If leading products have an overlap of some 80% or more in features, capabilities and output, the only way left to differentiate is in the way you sell and interact with your buyers.  If you are no different in that perspective, than there will be little difference in results moving forward.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Different, How? – Sales eXchange – 12336

Differentiation, sale types talk about so much you would think achieving it is so rare and unique.  With almost every group I work with, the item at or near the top of things they want to learn and do better, is to differentiate in the eyes of the buyer.  But as you drill down, you begin to wonder if “differentiation” is something the are really seek, or is it something else?

I sometimes ask, where they want to be different; I often hear them respond, “In the buyers’ eyes”.  OK, different how?  “Different so they buy from us”.  “Different from what?”  “From the other offerings”, and on it goes.  But, consider this, that the way products are today, there is little difference to be found between the leaders of the pack, I recently read that in many instances there is 90% overlap or commonality among leading products/services, this does not leave much to differentiate on.

Worse, when I listen to many reps respond to the question – What Do You Sell?  Based on their responses, you would think they are trying to avoid differentiation.  The reason is that most sellers tend to talk about product features, generic benefits (stuff that any buyer assumes is there to begin with); descriptions such as solutions, “peace of mind”, reliability seem to pop up a lot, like buyers haven’t heard that before.  What most fail to talk about when asked what they sell is the actual impact the buyer will realize.

It is not that they don’t know, it is more that they are distracted by things don’t matter as much.  If there is a 90% overlap, than there is a 90% overlap in what the buyer is hearing, meeting after meeting.  Most also can’t tell you why being different is somehow better.  Well it is not.  Like most consumers, B2B or B2C, most like the safety in numbers concept.  Deal with one of the market leaders and you have the comfort of standards, commitment to continuous development, and other elements.  So buyers are not looking for something different, as much as they are looking have something that addresses “their” “specific” requirements.  Don’t believe me, think about how many times as a sales professional you hear “oh Harold, you see we are different”, and how often are they really different?  Exactly.

So what does that leave for those still looking to differentiate?  Simple, in how you sell.  This comes back to focusing and talking about the impact they will realize when they buy from you.   Since you have successfully sold to others, you know the impacts they talk about, so sell to that, not the product or deliverable.  You have buyers who can discuss with you in specific details what impact they were seeking, how your product help them achieve that.  What you will see is that each will present these as though they were unique, but to you they will not be very different. But sell to those impacts, develop questions that not only surface them, and demonstrate “your understanding”, “your difference”, especially when the other 90% will talk about the same old.  Develop questions to which you know the answers, the impact they seek.  If by chance you don’t hit a bull’s eye the first time out, you will have differentiated yourself in your approach, and encourage the buyer to continue, and share how they “are different”.  They will tell you they are looking to have impact on A, B, or C; and there you are, your differentiation has put the buyer’s issue on the table and now you can present your “solution”.

So if you are really looking to differentiate, differentiate on the most important element of your selling success – how you sell.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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3 Specific Actions You Can Take for a better 2011!20

As we are about to enter 2011, it is time to think about how you are going to improve your sales, while we all sell different products in different markets and ways, the one thing we all likely have in common is the fact that our stakeholders will be expecting “more”. Whether that is more revenue, more new clients, more transactions, or some combination of all; the other certainty is that we will not be getting any more time with which to deliver more.  So it is down to us to figure out how to go further next year; to be fair, some employers will be providing training, tools and support, but the key element for sales success, execution, will be left to each individual sales professional.

To help, we want to focus on three specific actions you can take to improve your output regardless of which sales approach or methodology you employ.  They are in no specific order, at different times during the year or sales cycle one may be more important than another but over the course of the year, all three will figure and be a factor in your success.

  • Collaboration
  • Proactive
  • Differentiate
  • Read On…

    What’s in Your Pipeline?
    Tibor Shanto

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