Try Selling Sand

As much as sales people try to sell solutions or sell value, too often they fall back on great products. They focus on product, features, functions, feeds and speeds. Recently, I saw a “sales playbook” from an enterprise software company. It was 121 pages, of feature by feature comparison of their product to competition, “Our date field is structured this way, which is better than the competitors………”

Too often, particularly with organizations with great, hot, or complex products, our selling is really about the product and nothing else. We limit ourselves, we frustrate the customers. As great as our products may be, for the customer it’s not about the product.

We work with lots of organizations whose products have become commodities. Some of them sell sand—well, it’s silicon for semiconductors. Others sell basic materials like chemicals.

They face the ultimate selling challenge—how do you differentiate your solutions when your product is not differentiated?

How would you change how you sell when you are selling sand? When your product is not different than the product your competitor sells, how do you set yourself apart, maintain your margins, and win business from someone else that’s selling exactly the same product?

What’s amazing, by circumstance, these sales people understand it’s not about the product. That customers buy for a huge number of reasons that have nothing to do with the product that you are selling.

These sales people sell differently. I never see PowerPoint decks proclaiming the features, functions, feeds and speeds about why the beach they got their sand from is better than the beach competitors get their sand from (I can imagine the beaches in Fiji being decimated.) I never see 121 page playbooks talking about the molecular superiority of their sand.

They realize the customer is buying much more than the product. There are all sorts of things beyond the product that are important to the customer. It may be supply chain management, logistics services, reliability of supply, risk mitigation. They focus on the entire customer buying experience, making it easy for the customer to buy.

They exploit intriguing strategic alliances, perhaps coming up with unique formulations that help their customers better service their customers. While their product is consumed in manufacturing, they work with design to make sure the product is being utilized as efficiently and effectively as possible. And often, they realize it’s the sales person herself that’s the differentiator.

When your product is a commodity, you have to create value and differentiation on things other than the product you ship. How you sell, and what you sell changes profoundly.

How would your selling change if you sold sand?

Now imagine you have a great and differentiated product. What if you are selling complex enterprise software, a complex manufacturing or design system, professional services, something else?

How would your competitiveness change if you combined the lessons one learns from selling sand, with a great and differentiated solution? You would become unbeatable! You will have broken the magic code—one that customers tell us every day, but we don’t listen to, what the customer buys is not just about the product. It’s about so much more.

Any time you are struggling in differentiating your solutions to the customer. Imagine your product is sand. Imagine your product is exactly the same as all others your customer is considering. Now what do you do? How do you create value, how do you differentiate yourself, how do you get your customer to buy you? If you need help, just ask your customer. They really don’t care about the product, they care about what they are buying.

Could you sell sand?

(Today, Matt Heinz wrote a related article you should read, The Commodity Sale Is Dead. Thanks for the inspiration Matt.)

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