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#SellersBecomeMarketers - Product Differentiation: Why Different Is Better Than Best

Liston Witherill
Liston Witherill
14 min read

The reality is… it’s not easy being different. Our brains are wired to be pattern-recognizing machines. And if you fit into the mold of the masses, well, it’ll be difficult to stand out from your competitors.

That’s why being different is a critical — actually, a required — marketing skill. Today, as we continue the #SellersBecomeMarketers series on Modern Sales, I explain why it’s more critical to be different than to be the best, how you can tackle this difficult challenge, and what to do today to start standing out.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

Why being different is a core marketing skill

  • Our brains are wired to digest our complicated world into recognizable patterns. This helps us be predictive. So, if we do something different to disrupt a pattern, the brain (and your prospects!) will notice. We become memorable out of the masses.

The 3 layers of differentiation

  • Sellers can think about being different in three ways: your product, your market, and yourself. Whether it’s a product or service you’re selling, how is it different from your competitors? Are you targeting a niche market? How does the way you, the person directly interacting with your clients, differentiate from someone else?

The sacrifices you’ll need to make to be different

  • Whatever you’re selling, it’s probably not for everyone. Even if it is, it’s a losing sales and marketing strategy. To establish a unique position in an overcrowded marketplace, you will have to narrow and specify your clientele.

That’s not all! I give you a series of action steps to help you begin mapping out your unique differences.

Mentioned in this episode:

#SellersBecomeMarketers – Sales Skills We Learn From Marketers
#SellersBecomeMarketers – Being a Mind Reader with Sales Copy
Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Al Ries
Purple Cow by Seth Godin

For more information on remote selling and a complete list of links mentioned in this podcast, visit this remote selling article on our website.

 #SellersBecomeMarketers – Product Differentiation: Why Different Is Better Than Best:

Full Transcript

I want you to commit the following list to memory. 10, 47, 82, waffles, 39, 56. Think of a number, now think of a city and now think of a breakfast food. I’ll wait. I bet your breakfast food was waffles. That’s because the human brain is a pattern recognition machine. We’re really good at picking up on patterns and finding meaning in them. It’s how science works and it’s how memory works and it’s why waffles stood out to you so much because they didn’t fit the pattern, which brings up the core challenge with patterns and selling. Patterns are predictable by nature and become boring, so when patterns are broken, it jars our brain and demands our attention. Being different is quite memorable. Here’s an example. Is it easier for you to remember one of the numbers at the top of the show or one of the breakfast foods? I personally am suddenly hungry for waffles. In this episode of Modern Sales, I’ll tell you why it’s more critical to be different than to be the best, how you can tackle this difficult challenge and what to do today to start standing out.

Welcome to Modern Sales, a podcast for entrepreneurs, business owners, and salespeople looking to have more and better conversations with your perfect clients. You’ll get a healthy scoop of psychology, behavioral economics and sales studies to help you create win-win relationships. I’m your host Liston Witherill, and I’m pleased to welcome you to Modern Sales.

This is the hashtag Sellers Become Marketers series on Modern Sales where we’re talking about the huge shift in sales that demands that we all become marketers too. In today’s episode, we’ll be covering the new demand, actually the requirement to roll product and service differentiation right into everything we do as sellers. Each of the episodes will have the hashtag Sellers Become Marketers at the beginning of the title to help you find them quickly, and if you’d like to start from the very first episode in the series, just scroll back in your feed and look for the hashtag. Before we dig in, this episode is brought to you by Serve, Don’t Sell, my sales training and consulting firm. If you’d like to help your team dig a bit deeper, sell business outcomes and get rid of costly lost deals or price negotiations, I can help you with remote and on-site training options so that your team can ask questions with a purpose. Just head over to servedon’ to learn more about how it works.

Now let’s talk about standing out, shall we? Whatever market you’re in and whatever product or service you sell, it’s getting more and more competitive. There are just more competitors out there. And all of those competitors are doing more marketing, they’re buying more ads, they’ve got more creative, they’re sending more emails and they’re making more phone calls. There’s a pattern out there which is noise is bombarding your prospects, eyeballs and ears and brains, and that’s the pattern that you’re going to have to break. Just look at the CRM category on G2 Crowd, a software review site. Right now there are 402 CRM choices. CRM, of course, standing for customer relationship management, the biggest CRM being Salesforce.

If you’re selling a CRM and someone’s in the market for one, why should they choose your solution? Because look, the glut of competition out there is just a result of several factors. One is there are less barriers to starting a company now than ever before. It’s easy to put up a website. It’s easy to find who you might raise money from if you want it to do that. It’s easy to access markets. You can scale-up advertising, emails, phone calls, content, whatever it is. All of that can be scaled up pretty quickly, which means more and more and more and more and more, yes indeed more competition. And let’s be honest, being different is really hard. That’s why you get such an advantage when you can be different.

So the solution to breaking through all of this noise of course is being different. Differentiation. Sometimes this is referred to as positioning, which is quite similar and there are three layers of differentiation that you can use. The first is your product, I.e. product differentiation. And if you’re selling services, this is the same exact thing and it basically asks how are you different from the other options your clients can buy in the marketplace. The second layer of differentiation is the market and target client that you serve. Sure, there are 400+ CRM options out there in the market, but some of them are targeted at enterprise, some are targeted at small businesses, some are even more specific to industries or specific use cases like consultants or agencies or SAS companies or people who get all of their leads from Facebook ads like whatever it is. There’s lots of ways that you can focus your solution on your market and your target client.

And the third layer of differentiation is all about you, you the person selling and directly interacting with your client. How are you different? One way I strongly suggest that you differentiate is to serve, don’t sell. Of course, I would say that, but here’s the thing. There are a lot of selfish, self-interested and me-first sellers out there. Not only will your focus on your client drive trust and liking, but you’ll also stand out from lots of other options and that of course is the point of this whole exercise is to stand out.

Now, even with the glut of information out there, I’m reminded of a quote from Seth Godin’s book, Purple Cow, and it says consumers are too busy to pay attention to advertising, but we’re desperate to find good stuff that solves our problems. In that book, Seth makes a really strong argument for being different and he uses a powerful metaphor. If you were looking in a field of cows and one was purple, which cow would you notice? The purple cow obviously. Now think about a field of cows in terms of marketing and sales messages. We’re tuning out advertising left and right, but when something is genuinely useful and catches our attention, then we’ll look more into it.

I’ve already talked about the number of CRMs and the challenge was standing out of that market and I’ve already made you hungry for waffles, which begs the question, why in the world is it’s so important to stand out in the first place? In a word standing out helps you be more memorable. The reason is that we humans are pattern recognition machines. It’s how we simplify and make sense of and predict a complicated world. These all turn out to be very important functions.

There are many theories of how we learn and many ways that we absorb and interpret information, but one is called the probabilistic learning model and it goes like this. As we identify patterns in the world, it gives us predictive powers or maybe at least it fools us into thinking we have predictive powers. So when I turn on the faucet and water comes out and I stick a glass under the water and that glass fills up, I can drink the water. If water comes out every time I turn the handle on that faucet, I will believe there’s a 100% chance that water will come out the next time I turn that faucet. But if one time I turn on the faucet and nothing comes out, my model just broke. What the heck? Right?

Not only is the outcome unexpected, it jars my attention to the waterless faucet and I know I have a faulty algorithm that I must update. After all of those previous observations, I now know there’s less than a 100% chance that water will come out of that faucet. So I update my algorithm and I’ve just learned something new. The pattern wasn’t exactly as expected. I stopped, I took notice and I thought about the flaws in my thinking and perhaps the limitation of the information that I previously had. So again, at that point I stop, I take notice, I update my algorithm, and now I have a slightly opinion of what happens when I turn that faucet on.

And that’s why the core marketing skill of standing out is absolutely essential. It’s also, let me be honest, a really, really difficult thing to do, so I’ve broken it down on those three levels. Your product or service, the market or target customer you’re serving and you may have multiple of those and then you, whatever’s different about you as an individual. Each of those layers are going to help you stand out. Now I generally think people spend too much time focusing on their competition. Why they do it is pretty clear because it helps them understand how they might stand out and how they might be different, but I do think that spending too much time on the competition, it gives you a negative focus. It’ll help you define what you’re not, but you also need to define what you are, what you stand for, what you’re building and why you’re building it, and it really forces you to focus on your client if you want to decide when you decide who you are and what you are for, which is to say something essential and difficult. Your product or service is not for everyone.

Here’s a quote from Al Ries in his book, Positioning. The essence of positioning is sacrifice. You must be willing to give up something in order to establish that unique position. I’m going to repeat that. The essence of positioning is sacrifice. Now, if you’re going to sacrifice something, we have to be really clear about what we’re going to give up and we have to be really clear about who we’re not for, who do we not want to serve, who is a bad fit or who is a less good fit for what it is that we’re doing.

Now, I’ve talked to lots of sellers, I’ve had lots of clients, lots of friends, and I hear this all the time when I asked someone who they serve and they say, “You know this is pretty much for everybody.” Probably not. Probably not. I’m sorry, whatever you’re selling, it’s probably not for everyone, but even if you’re right, it’s a losing sales and marketing strategy because if we know for a fact that we have to stand out and the way to stand out is to be different and the way to be different is not to be for everybody, then saying anybody could use this is not a useful exercise. It’s much better to focus our time, energy and effort on the people who it’s best for and the people who are most clearly see the value in what we’re doing and the people who will most clearly understand the differences that we can highlight.

Which brings me to another point. You don’t need to restructure your product or your service in order to be different. There are already aspects of it that are different and so I’m not telling you to go and re-engineer it from scratch, but what I am telling you is certain things need to be highlighted in such a way that you’re making a compelling case about how you’re different to people when they observe what it is that you’re doing. Now, as usual, I want to give you some really, really clear action steps that you can take in order to be a little bit more different. And the first one is focusing on your product or service. So in order to understand what’s different about what it is that you do, what I recommend is you do some interviews with your existing clients and ask them why they chose you and what stands out about you to them.

Now, you may be in a very fortunate position where your product or your service is engineered from the ground up in order to have a clear differentiator and clearly be different. I’ll give you two examples locally here where I live in Portland, Oregon. My wife gets her haircut with a woman who specializes in curly hair and in particular curly hair women. So she doesn’t cut everybody’s hair. In fact, she turns down clients who don’t have curly hair and she only cuts women. So you can see the size of her market shrinking and shrinking and shrinking. But the good news of course is the results of that is she’s much more strongly going to attract women with curly hair.

My wife and I also used to take our cars to a mechanic shop that no longer is willing to work on our cars and the reason they’re no longer willing to work on our cars is that they’ve converted to an all-electric vehicle mechanic shop. Well, that may seem a little bit insane today. However, there are lots of Teslas here in Portland, Oregon and certainly one would expect more and more electric cars to be made and put on the road in the near future. It’s also very clear, once again, who that product or service is for. If you have an electric car, go there and if you don’t go somewhere else, that’s very important. So if it’s less clear to you how your product or service can be differentiated, start talking to some of your clients or talk to other people on your team about what it is that they see and why their clients buy from them. What do their clients say about how you’re different?

The second layer is in your market. Now, I told you I’m not a huge fan of going out and spending a ton of time on looking at the competition, but it is useful to see at some level what else exists out there because some of your clients are going to be shoppers, right? So I do recommend, spend some time looking around at the competition to figure out how you can be different from them. There are lots of ways to research and the type of research you conduct is really dependent upon your market and the data that you have available to you. But if reviews are available in your market, if you sell software, or even if you sell services now, look at what people are saying about you or your competition online.

And there are two things you can highlight. One is highlight what people say they like the most about your company. So when people write reviews, they’ll say the things that stick out to them. And the second thing is highlight the things that you do well that frustrate potential clients who are working with your competitors, right? So going back to the CRM example, if I’m not selling Salesforce and I’m selling some other solution, I would go on the Salesforce reviews page and look at what do people say they hate about Salesforce and look for trends. And if I can identify two or three trends, I would use those to contrast how I’m different than Salesforce. And at the end of this exercise, I would challenge you with this one question. Can you get more specific on your ideal client or the markets that you serve? If you can, do it.

The next thing I’d propose for you to think about is to decide where you fit within this model. Better, faster, cheaper, choose two. So this is old, old business advice. I’m not exactly sure where this started. I had a hard time figuring that out. I did do a little bit of research on it. But the core idea here is you can be the best and you can be fast. But if that’s the case, you’re not going to be cheap, right? Or you could be fast and you can be cheap, but then you’re not the best. So airlines are a great way to look at this model. So if I’m looking for the cheapest ticket for a flight, then I know it’s not going to be the best or the fastest necessarily. Similarly, if I wanted to fly with the best service and with the fastest connections and the most reliable connection time, I know it’s not going to be the cheapest. It’s just the way it is.

So I’d ask you, which are you? Can you deliver a lower price in the competition? Can you deliver what you’re doing a little bit faster than them? Or are you the best? And of course, how can you prove it? You’re going to have to prove all of these things. So think about that model better, faster, cheaper and which two are most suited to what it is that you’re selling. And use that as a way to contrast yourself from the other options in the market. The next action step I’d ask you to take is to draft your personal different statement. So this is about you, the individual. Why should someone want to buy from you? And you can think about this in terms of you versus your colleagues at your company.

You probably have a specialty. You probably have a preferred work style. You have a personality that’s different than other people’s. You have a way of doing business, and this shouldn’t be a speech that you give your clients, but it’s more of a guideline. It’s more of a way for you to understand what it is that you bring to the table that’s unique or special that your clients would get from you. And it’s good to show your personal difference through your actions rather than through your words. So again, you’re not going to tell your clients a speech as a result of writing this personal different statement. You’re going to come up with ways of showing people why you’re different.

So do those four things. Look at your product or service and differentiate there. Look at your market or client type and differentiate there. Decide where you fit into that model better, faster, cheaper, and draft your personal different statement. Because we are living in a noisy world and you have to find ways to be different so that you can cut through the noise. Being the same it means you fit into an existing pattern, which is no good. You won’t be able to capture your prospect’s attention. There are three levels of differentiation, product and service, market and personal differentiation. In each of those dimensions, you have to have a concrete and compelling way that you’re different, that’s both relevant and memorable to your clients. Look at that better, faster, cheaper model. See which two you fit into the most and no matter what you do, always remember, be able to tell a story of how you’re different.

That’s it for this episode of the hashtag Sellers Become Marketers series. In next week’s episode, I’ll be covering the importance of content and I’ll give you the secret behind how I make this here podcast and why by all means, you should not start a podcast. If you aren’t already subscribed to Modern Sales, please do so by clicking the subscribe or follow button. You can also get notified of all podcast episodes with some behind the scenes info as well as other exclusive sales content I’ve put out by signing up for the newsletter at It is totally free and it’s linked in the show notes.

And finally, if you’re looking for help training your team to sell more of your expensive, complicated products and services to big companies, I can help with remote and on-site training options. Just head over to, click the contact button and you can fill out a quick form to begin the conversation. Thanks so much for listening. I’m Liston Witherill all of Serve, Don’t Sell, and I hope you have a fantastic day.

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