Seven Steps to Differentiating Your Solutions

With all due respect to the U.S. Declaration of Independence, not all people are created equal. While  the Declaration powerfully focused on equal opportunities and rights, people are most certainly different in nearly every other aspect -- size, weight, color…right down to our ability to juggle or memorize the Periodic Table!

Your solutions are – or at least should be – different, too. They should stand out from the offerings of your competitors. Even more important, the differentiators that you’ve architected into your solutions should be clearly understood and valued by your customers. You’ve spent a lot of time and money designing your solutions offerings; you should make sure that you’re leveraging differentiators that matter most.

Working with a wide range of companies in recent years, we've observed that solutions marketers often make several important mistakes in developing and creating message for their solutions. In too many cases, they fail to see that their supposed differentiators are not that different; they overestimate the importance of what may well be unique features of their offerings; and/or they overlook “hidden” differentiators that actually do hold real value to their customers.

The following seven-step Differentiator Model provides a sure-fire way to gain a realistic understanding of what your solutions differentiators are, how important they may be to customers, and how best to leverage them in marketing and selling activities.

List everything that you believe differentiates your solution from competitive offerings. These can be anything from unique features or supporting services to the way you write service level agreements (SLAs) or measure return on investment (ROI).
List the real value and benefits of each differentiator. Be brutally honest in doing this; exaggerating the value is not helpful!
Review the entire list to determine where you may have significant differentiators compared to your competition. Again, be brutally honest.
Create a simple grid and plot each differentiator according to degree of uniqueness (from the competition) and customer impact (i.e., how meaningful it is to customers). The grid will show clearly which differentiators are most significant and could be most effective if emphasized in your marketing and sales tools and messages.
Plot the current perception of your differentiators as best you can. To what extent do customers and prospects perceive your differentiators as truly different? Do this on two levels: the perceived degree of differentiation, and the strength of the perception.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that all investments focus on the strongest differentiators -- although playing to strengths is certainly important. There may also be good reason to invest in areas where your differentiators are weak or nonexistent.
Create a full roll-out plan of how you will leverage the differentiators, including activities, costs, time lines and responsibilities, and how these activities will complement your other marketing plans.

In today’s highly competitive market, the key to your success in selling solutions is your ability to articulate how your solutions are different from competitive offerings, and how these differentiators will benefit your customers’ business performance. Determining which differentiators are truly worth emphasizing, though, is not always obvious. Following the seven steps in our Differentiator Model, will dramatically increase your chances of focusing on the right differentiators for the right customers and prospects with the right materials and tools.

What do you think? What tools or processes have you found to be helpful in defining differentiators for solutions?

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Comments (3)

Kathryn Wong

Have you ever heard of the purple cow? If you go on a road trip to the countryside, the first cow that you see will definitely catch your attention and interest. The second, third and fourth will do too but after maybe 30 minutes of seeing the same green scenery with the same brown cows then you will feel bored. What if you suddenly see a purple colored cow? That will really catch your eye! Differentiation is like this purple cow; if your company chooses to do the right differentiation and in the right steps then customers will start to notice you and your offerings.

Rahul Arora

Differentiation is a of course the crucial aspect when providing any product, services & solutions offering in the market, no one will remember your company, if u did not provide anything unique in the market, For example; Home Depot & their solutions for home fixtures. It is never a viable option to start solutions services in your company, without having any key differentiator from your competitor’s offerings. Including the seven attributes mentioned above, I would like to a 1 more, which states that; You need to have a unique differentiator, but it should be flexible to change, so in near future, when competitors develop substitute to your offering, you can customize your offerings and keep your solutions offering differentiated.

Oscar Morales

I have read some articles, essays and theories about competitive advantage (most of them my Michael Porter) and how to create differentiation. I do not think the overall methodology or framework will vary from solutions, to products or services. The characteristics of the implementation of a model will change since measurements, designs, offer and messages will be different. Have you heard about The Lofts? a model created by P&G and so far, in my perspective, the most complex, complete and robust methodology to create differentiation! P&G will re-design an empty loft when the company tries to create a huge media campaign, product innovation (differentiation) or product design. The idea is to create an experience within the loft. P&G will hire professionals of design and psychology to create the perfect environment for work. Once the environment is created (lights, sounds, looks, textures, smells, etc.) a group of employees from P&G will work in the loft for several days (in teams) towards one of the objectives already mentioned. In a sense, it comprehends the seven steps that is proposed on the blog, but the methodology is delivered through and experience. Which in my opinion could have a big differentiation while creating differentiation so to speak.