From The Editor | June 7, 2022

Differentiation, The Forgotten B2B Fundamental!


By Perry Rearick, Chief Editor, Follow Your Buyer

Clones GettyImages-924499810

I recall spending several pre-pandemic days at a large manufacturing tradeshow. When first stepping onto the tradeshow floor I was met by a vast ocean of stainless steel, colorful banners, and uniformed sales teams in matching polo shirts. It radiated a carnival-like energy.

After a few hours of walking around and speaking with vendors, I was feeling overwhelmed, and it all started to look the same. To organize the market landscape and the vendors I spoke with, I began asking them how they were different from their competition. It turned out to be a tough question and the answers I received weren’t very clear, or differentiating. If there were real differences among the vendors, the sales teams didn’t get the memo.

The Forgotten Fundamental

Somewhere among marketing’s four P’s, five key concepts, six fundamentals, and seven principles, and there are many others, lies differentiation. Often referred to as a marketing strategy, it feels like it has lost its importance. When B2B marketers and sales teams are asked how they differentiate themselves from their competitors, the answer is kind of like explaining why your office still has a FAX machine. We toss around a few vague words, but do we really know?

B2B sellers tend to consider differentiation early when new products or services are being developed or at the end of the buyer’s journey when salespeople are overcoming objections or in a head-to-head battle for business with a competitor. It is not used enough when it can be most impactful, during the early and middle stages of the buyer’s journey.

Differentiating is Tough, But Sales are Tougher When You Don’t Do it

Brands may have a distinct advantage when first rolling out a new product or service that is different than anything else in the market. But there isn’t much preventing others from copying what you have. Even patents have expiration dates. Great ideas catch-on quickly.

Waiting until the end of the buyer’s journey, when the buyer reaches out to a seller, also has significant disadvantages. By then, the buyer has completed most of their journey and you are likely to be competing directly with one or more competitors. From the buyer’s perspective, you are alike.

Sustaining a differentiated brand in the minds of your buyers is not easy. What can you do?

Buyer Differentiation Criteria

When asking B2B buyers how they differentiate among brands, they use words like trust, transparency, good at listening, and easy to work with. While many of us understand this, we don’t often address it well with our marketing content and messaging. We have all seen examples of sellers using those words in their taglines. “We listen to our customers” or “our customers trust us.” Those tactics don’t resonate with buyers.

Rather, sellers ought to be demonstrating trust and transparency, and the best way to do that is in their early to mid-stage buyer’s journey content. Thought leadership, problem solving best practices, and customer success stories all provide sellers with great vehicles to project those characteristics that buyers use to differentiate brands. When differentiating themselves using buyer criteria, sellers will win more business before the buyer ever reaches the final stages of their journey.  

Here are some examples:

  • Trust - a thought leadership article sharing industry insights, common challenges that buyers have and solutions, and trends shaping the future. 
  • Transparency – share your own best practices for operational efficiencies, driving quality, and reducing project timelines. 
  • Listening – a customer success story on how you collaborated with a client to solve a difficult problem.
  • Easy to work with – a customer success story that includes your own project management standard operating procedures.

So, let’s bring back the importance of differentiation, but instead of the traditional seller’s criteria, let’s differentiate ourselves from the competition using the criteria that buyers find most valuable.