Difference versus a “Differentiator”


When does a “difference” become a “differentiator”?  Typically, a marketing or product marketing team provides a list of differentiators to the sales organization. Sales reps then take that list and trot it out to customers and prospects.  But, are lists like these really full of differentiators or just differences in the way a company approaches the market?  Why is this such an important question?

What happens at the end of a sales cycle if we have not differentiated our solution?  Most of the time, the decision will come down to price.  Have you ever heard a prospective client say, “you guys are all pretty much the same”? This can be avoided.

Isn’t a feature or capability just a “difference” unless the prospective client has a problem that it solves?  And what is the best way to find out if a client has the problem that you (your company) solve uniquely or better than anyone in the market?  That’s right…we can ask.

Let’s take a deeper look at this concept.  We can safely assume that your product and/or service has some amount of difference from the competitors in your market.  Now, identify one key capability or feature at which your company excels.  OK, now the tough part.  Can you identify a specific problem that is solved by having this feature or capability and who (title or role) would have that problem?  Be specific and really clear on the problem solved.  To find out if your customer or prospect has that problem that you solve uniquely or better than anyone, we need to ask.  In ValueSelling, we call this a “problem-probing” question.  Take that problem that you’ve identified and turn it into a question.  For example, if the problem we (our company) solve better than anyone is easy data integration, couldn’t we ask the client, “does your team struggle with the complexity of data integration at all?” From this question, we can get two answers, yes or no.  If “yes”, we know we have a differentiator for this client and, presumably, associated differentiated value in solving this problem.  But what if the answer is “no”?  Well, if it’s not a problem for this client, doesn’t that mean our capability isn’t a differentiator in this scenario?

Arming yourself and your sellers with a handful of solid, meaningful problem-probing questions helps identify differentiation that matters to the prospective client.  We don’t need to deliver a list of features as differentiators, we can instead identify those capabilities that solve problems for the client and ask if they, too, experience those problems.

The very best sales reps ask the very best questions to understand the prospective client’s perspective of their objectives, their problems, their view of the solution, the stakeholders involved, and the steps necessary to progress a campaign.  In addition, asking those problem-probing questions helps us differentiate our solution in the market and uncover the associated unique business value.  Truth be told, it’s not what we say in a sales call…it’s what we ask.


As a Vice President of Visualize, Jason helps organizations improve business metrics by creating a better connection with their customer’s definition of value. Following a successful career in sales and sales leadership, Jason has rejoined Visualize and now focuses on refining his client’s selling approach to differentiate; to drive increased revenues, market share and profitability.