Derailing the deal, part 4: Me-too positioning and messaging

Do you ever feel like your deals are heading down the track toward success, but then somehow end up not closing and falling apart? What is happening between point A and point B? What is derailing your deals? In part four of this mini-series, we are going to look at another common issue that causes deals to miss the mark:

  1. Wrong Buyer Profile
  2. Unqualified Buyer
  3. Status Quo Wins
  4. Me-Too Positioning & Messaging
  5. No Value Proposition

Me-Too Positioning and Messaging

If you have done your job as a seller in the discovery stage with your prospect, then your buyers are no longer giving “status quo” any real credence as an option. In essence, you have helped the buyer answer two of the three core questions they must answer on their buying journey:

  • Do we need to do anything at all?
  • Do we need to do anything now?

If you are confident your buyers can answer yes to the first two questions, then comes the final core question:

  • Why should we choose you and your solution?

In discovery, you (and your prospect) may not know the answer to this question yet, but you should have a good idea of what the answer may be. Ideally, the line of questions you employed in discovery helped “leave a crumb trail” for your buyer to follow. Even more so, while you have not been selling your solution to the buyer yet, you have unmistakably added value for the buyers to this point, and have laid a critical foundation to “why us?” in the credibility and trust you have established.

The battle before you as a seller is to distinguish your solution from the other competitive alternatives available, and the true fight is to overcome the “me-too” conundrum. What is the “me-too” conundrum, you ask? Let’s look at the definition for “me-too” for some guidance:

Main Entryme-too
Pronunciation: ‘mE-‘tü
Function: adjective
Definition: 1: marked by similarity to or by adoption of successful or persuasive policies or practices used or promoted by someone else 2: similar or identical to an established product (as a drug) with no significant advantage over it. (Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Research from CVI reinforces the challenge before many organizations in a competitive selling environment.

  • Only 17% of sellers believe their pitches are truly different from the competition.
  • Nearly 48% of sellers believe their pitches are not focused on the right things, making them a commodity.

Ouch! If that is what sellers believe, imagine how “me-too” you sound to buyers since differentiation is gauged in the eyes of the beholder.

In essence, you lack differentiated positioning and messaging to employ against your competition.

For centuries, many have considered Sun Tzu’s The Art of War an indisputable compilation of strategies and tactics for garnering success in military combat. Many view the ancient Chinese general as a strategic genius and we can draw corollaries from Sun Tzu to sales excellence. One of Sun Tzu’s more recognized quotes relates to “terrain” — that is the positioning of a military force in relation to its (competitive) surroundings: “Terrain can be distant or near. It can be difficult or easy. It can be open or narrow. It also determines your life or death.” Your competitive positioning and the related messaging framework you employ can also “determine your life or death.”

Because of many outside factors and the competitive nature of a sales cycle, you will never completely be in control, meaning each cycle requires careful analysis and thought. Winning sales professionals analyze their surroundings within a sales cycle, then apply their distinctive capabilities within that dynamic to create an unfair competitive position™. They do so by trivializing the strengths of their opponents, then changing the game in the mind of the prospect using differentiated concise and compelling messaging, while aligning with their own advantages. This truly determines your victory or defeat in a sales cycle, or as Sun Tzu called it, “life or death.” Equally important, once you establish your presence and maintain an advantageous position, it is very difficult for your competition to overcome that unfair position and permeate the client for future opportunities.

A common mistake in establishing competitive differentiation is failing to recognize (and communicate) what is common and what is different in your offerings. Weaker organizations too often “drink their own Kool-Aid” and employ solution messaging based on “me-too” traits that are easily countered by the competition. On the contrary, top sales teams constantly evaluate their uniqueness and seek to prove or disprove the validity of the answer by testing the messaging with buyers and key buying influences, including company insiders and third-parties, such as analysts and the media. Where no clear differentiating elements exist, changes are made in the solution, or the solution may be enhanced through bundling with other products and services to achieve that differentiation.

What factors do we need to take into account in order to create an unfair competitive position™ and the corresponding differentiated messaging framework? There are four attributes of a differentiated message — Unique, Valuable, Provable and Memorable — and it takes ALL FOUR to be a true differentiator.

Take a few minutes with your team to perform a simple test on your messaging to assess whether it is differentiated or not by first brainstorming your solution’s differentiators. Then, grade your differentiators using all four attributes mentioned above.

  • Unique: Is it truly different from the competitive offerings your customer is evaluating?
  • Valuable: Does the solution (or capability) provide value to the buyer?
  • Provable: Can we clearly prove the value of the uniqueness through a client story and/or demonstration?
  • Memorable: Is the message concise and crisp enough that my buyer can remember it and effectively defend it to others in their organization without my direct participation?

Do not be disappointed if your initial list of a dozen differentiators gets whittled down to 1-2 once you put them through the filter. It is OK as you only need one differentiator to win and ensure you are not just another “me-too” to your buyer. Or as Sun Tzu said: “You must engage only in winning battles. Position yourself where you cannot lose. Never waste an opportunity to defeat your enemy.”

Sun Tzu likely would have characterized it this way: a world-class sales team will position itself uphill from its competitors with the sun and wind at its back, making it difficult for the enemy to attack, let alone win a battle!