How to Avoid Losing Your Sales Job to a Vending Machine

You must create value by differentiating your products and services on something other than price, or risk losing your job to a vending machine.

Commodity: [kuhmod-i-tee] noun, plural commodities; an article of trade or commerce, whether product or service, considered to be an even substitute for another of the same kind, typically differentiated only by price.

Example of commodity pricing: “What makes your 33.8 fluid ounce bottle of water different from any other 33.8 fluid ounce bottle?” Herb asked. “The price,” I answered. The price answer tells Herb that what is being offered is just a commodity.

Let’s be honest here – if you sell on price, sooner or later your product will become a commodity, where the only differentiator is price. To reduce the cost of selling, your employer may well eliminate your position to save costs, since a vending machine (or self-serve Internet store) can deliver the commodity for a lot less cost.

Here are five targeted strategies you can implement immediately to help you build value (“value selling”) through differentiating what you sell from your competitors, and especially from the “price selling” guys:

1. Choose the Right Customers. Not all customers are created equal. Some buy based on how well a solution fits the needs, wants, circumstances, etc. Usually these customers want a fair price for a solution that fits well. Let’s call these customers value purchasers. These are the customers with whom you want to do business.

Other customers buy strictly based on lowest price; let’s call them commodity purchasers. These are the customers ideal for low-cost sellers in a self-serve model (like vending machine and Internet store).

Customers have a choice of companies from whom they can choose to buy. Likewise, sales professionals have a choice of customers to whom they can choose to sell. To assure this choice, you’ll need enough prospects.

2. Create Value Through Differentiation. A differentiator is an attribute of a solution that is different from what is offered by other providers. The chart below identifies key questions to answer to identify your organization’s key differentiators.

Questions to Answer to Create Potential Differentiators

1. What specific features are only found in my company’s products or services?

2. What specific products or services are exclusively offered by my company?

3. What programs supporting your products or services are unique to my company?

4. What accessory/related products or services are uniquely bundled in my offerings?

5. What aspects of quality are exclusive to my products or services?

6. What distinctive benefits do I personally add to my products or services?

7. What terms of sale or delivery are solely offered by my company?

A sales best practice is to identify and present only those product and service differentiators which hold value for the prospect or account. One crucial outcome of this approach is that it moves your products and services away from customers viewing them as commodities instead of unique values. If your solution is only available through you, then you have “commodity-proofed” your product or service and will be better able to maintain your prices and margins.

3. Deep-Dive Needs Assessment Required. This is the most important step in the sales process, and it is one step that is never fully completed with any customer (in other words, something effective salespeople continue doing with every customer contact, for the life of the customer). In order to be effective, a needs assessment must dive deeply, and that requires an investment of time.

There are a multitude of reasons why needs assessments are the critical sales step. The following are resons related to improving your chances of value selling. An effective deep-dive needs assessment:

a. Builds the customer’s confidence and trust in you to deliver a solution that fits.

b. Discovers the circumstances and motivation behind what the customer tells you he wants and needs.

c. Locates the customer’s areas of pain, which become a primary motivator when you offer solutions that eliminate pain.

d. Allows you to tailor a solution for the customer, presenting only those things the customer values.

e. Will tell you if the customer is a commodity purchaser or a value purchaser.

4. Understand How Customers See Price and Differentiators. Consider the iceberg as a simple illustration of price and differentiators. Price is what is seen first; it’s the small part of the iceberg that floats above the water line.

blog-price-diffThe part of the iceberg that is under the water contains the product or service differentiators. You are the expert on your products or services, so you know the differentiators. Your customers do not. Here is an incredible truth: In the absence of being educated on the differentiators of your products and services, customers will assume that all solutions are the same, with the only difference being the price.

Differentiators are essential for selling to the value purchaser; they are almost meaningless to the commodity purchaser.

5. Present Tailored Solutions Pregnant With Differentiators. Based on what you learned in your deep-dive needs assessment, you can examine your portfolio of product and service offerings, and their associated differentiators. Present only those solutions which are tailored specifically to what was learned in the needs assessment. Highlight how specific differentiators will enable the customer to accomplish his or her end goals.

By presenting tailored solutions which use differentiators “below the water line,” you’ll move the discussion away from price, into the real field on which you want to play: value. Cost-justify your solution by demonstrating the financial benefits (cost savings, margin improvement, sales increase, etc.) the account/prospect will enjoy by accepting your solution. You’ll leave the commodity sellers behind in the dust.

Bottom line: The value creation skill is one of the Top Five skills all successful sales professionals must master. Vending machines and self-serve Internet sites cannot express value as effectively as a sales professional who consistently takes these five steps to build value. In a very real way, value creation is your ultimate job security!

Boyer Management Group works with organizations and their sales forces to help them become more successful. For employers, we offer world-class development training and tools to help them achieve consistent, optimal performance. For sales professionals, we offer tools, assessments and training to help them maximize their selling efforts. To find out more, please visit us at, or call us at 215-942-0982.


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