Before every customer interaction, I ask my sales team to try to figure out ways to ensure they stand out from the pack. While this has always been a challenge, it became more difficult during the pandemic when we’re not able to meet most prospects and customers face-to-face. Although the environment we’re operating in now has changed, the business requirement for differentiation hasn’t changed.
So let’s turn our attention to six ways that we can differentiate today. These are only examples that I’ve seen and used but sales professionals can use their own personal creativity to solve the problem of differentiation. So think about how these concepts and examples might work in your own sales universe or come up with your own.
1. Zoom meetings – or whatever technology you use – are what we are all using to get in front of our customers these days. And these types of meetings may stay with us long after the pandemic has ended. Until the pandemic hit, I for one never used the camera feature. But as we started using these meetings all day, I insisted that my team had to turn the camera on. And it was fun…at first. Remember when you discovered how to put your own personal backgrounds on the meeting, so you could hold your meeting with the beach in the background? Or in a field of cattle in the high country? Well, after a month or so of doing this and having the added pleasure of watching your attendees faces melt in and out of the background, people stopped using those backgrounds. Faced with this, I decided to customize some backgrounds by going to Home Depot and creating a quick assemble stand made of PVC. I bought some fabric and paints and painted my own backgrounds. To keep a consistent theme, I painted something that would build on my hobby of playing guitar that some of my clients knew about. My daughter and I worked together to paint three album cover backgrounds. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, which was simple and helped me learn the process. Then I painted Hotel California, and finally One of These Nights.
Everyone recognizes these album covers so my background stands out on well during web meetings. As I do different meetings with the same companies, they see different backgrounds and comment on them which differentiates me. How do you differentiate yourself? I have a colleague who always wears a different hat. They’re usually colorful or quickly recognizable. He would never wear a hat during an in-person meeting, but this works to differentiate him in these days of Zoom meetings. Maybe you can hold your meeting in your library and put a different book in a prominent spot behind you. Use some of these ideas to come up with a plan of your own, one that fits you as well as the album cover idea fits me.
2. It’s important to keep your name in front of your prospects and customers during this pandemic because in the past when you might have dropped by for an ad hoc meeting, or maybe to take your client out for lunch, you likely can’t do that anymore. Maybe start getting involved in LinkedIn with interesting and value-added posts. If you aren’t active on social media start up a twitter or Instagram account. Many companies offer up content that you can forward on via these channels. If you like to write, now may be a good time to tell your story or many of your sales stories about what you do to be successful. Are you the top sales professional in your industry? Write something for a leading industry magazine. Use this article as a template for your own story.
3. Is there a way to use you iPhone to differentiate? I worked with a partner and some of my inside sales team to dissect webinars into a few key thoughts relevant to my customers. Think of pulling up that Nine Inch Nails 90-minute concert on YouTube and going right to the spot to see We’re In This Together Now, your favorite NIN song. The differentiating idea is to know precisely where in your recorded web meeting to find the issue that’s key for the prospect. Take a video of it. Then forward it via text to the customer.
4. I’ve also been successful in taking my customers out to lunch, albeit pandemic-style. Before I go there, let me state that I am crushed for the people not as blessed as I am during this pandemic. In particular, people in the restaurant industry, be them cooks, waiter or waitresses, bussers, or even the owners who have invested their risk capital to give us a good meal. I can help these people out as well as have a low-key lunch with my prospects and customers by offering to send them a meal from their favorite local restaurant via door dash. Then we have a quick 30-minute meeting as they dine on my expense account. The customers love it, and they understand my strong feelings towards those less fortunate, which actually helps to humanize someone they might have just looked at pre-pandemic as a “sales guy.”
5. I’ve also been making use of that old school method that was really on the back burner pre-pandemic – snail mail. Taking advantage of the insanity that 2020 has been, I put together a 2020 Yearbook for my sales team. In the yearbook was over 27 customer win stories from the last year that provided my prospects and customers with tremendous depth of value from our cloud applications. I mixed in a good amount of humor because we all needed to laugh in 2020 if only to keep from crying. People loved this yearbook. As an added bonus, getting everyone’s home mailing address actually got me closer to my clients than if I had just sent it to their offices. What can you offer? Can you run any contests? Can you send off some great items that will land at their doorstep and cause them to remember you?
6. The challenge of differentiation is for my whole team, not just for me. Thinking about the people who I work with on a daily basis to close software deals and mixing in some reward for a tremendous year prior, I designed and bought championship rings for everyone on my team. And when I say rings, I really mean RINGS! When we are on calls with the customer or prospect, I insist that they wear them, and in virtually every meeting someone says something. I mean, if you saw this ring, you would understand why. Of course, the ring also rewarded those who helped me blow my number away. But it’s main value is differentiation when I’m on a video call with them and the prospect or customer.
I hope this article will get you thinking, and get your creative juices flowing to find ways that you can differentiate during trying times. If you’re successful, you might just come out of it stronger and with better relationships than you had going in. Good selling!
Mark Kuta, Jr. is one of the top sales producers for Oracle ERP Apps. He is the author of five books, including the award-winning sales book Think Like a CEO. He holds an MBA from the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado Boulder, where he was appointed to the faculty as an adjunct professor in 2015.