Top-ranked sellers who work in crowded markets—especially in industries where the products or services are commodities or hard to distinguish from each other—can teach you a lot about how to be a stand-out sales performer.
They show you that anything is possible when you’re willing to challenge assumptions about what your product or service can or cannot do. And their lessons of product process and people are applicable to any market
Begin by looking at your product (or service). Rethink limitations.
If you treat your product or service like a commodity, your customer will too. Instead, differentiate to create your own spaces to grow.
Create a premium line.
All sellers learn a lot from the Business-to-Consumer (B2C) market and apply it to their own area. They see Shake Shack revolutionizing what’s possible in the crowded burger chain business. They see Apple thriving in the mobile and computer market where margins were thought to be razor thin. And they see opportunity.
I have clients in the natural resource sector, the agricultural supply business and even in the software industry where they’ve applied this lesson. In each case, they’ve created a new, platinum-level service offer for their customers. In each case, they’ve carved out a specialty niche among their customer base. That way—from farmers to mechanics, from plant managers to CIOs—those who want to excel in their business can do so with a premium-priced product or service designed to generate a dramatic return on investment.
Consider differentiating your product by segmenting your market. In other words: be picky about what you do or who you choose as your customer. Understand the unique problems that your customer has and create solutions that they can’t find anywhere else but with you.
Here are two examples. First, a plastics manufacturer that I work with discovered it was far more profitable for them to specialize in making customized squeeze caps, and pumps that produce precisely-measured volumes of various products (well-known beverage and fast food chains are their best customers). They let others in the market compete in the race to the bottom for producing generic caps and lids and instead focus on products that that help their customers minimize waste and ensure product consistency.
Second example: McDonald’s has a highly effective recruiting campaign. Rather than pitch their job openings to anyone with a resume, they reach out to first-time job seekers: calling it “the best first job.” They understood the importance of making their offer different from others in the service industry: more than just offering a place to earn a paycheck, they’re offering transferable skills that can shape the career of an ambitious young person.
Find a niche or be a generalist (but not both).
When you’re a niche supplier (like my plastics client example above), you produce a specific solution to a specific problem that your customer experiences. It means they count on you to be the best at one thing. On the other hand, when you’re a generalist—such as an industrial supply company—you earn your customers by anticipating every need they have. Beware the middle ground of trying to cater to both. Since customers are looking for either niche or generalist suppliers, trying to settle on a middle ground means you will either disappoint one or frustrate both types of consumers.
The market can support both extremes, so pick one and be decisive. For example, at Engage we have clients in the same industry who serve the markets in dramatically different ways. One is a nationally based generalist, and the other is a locally based specialist. Both are thriving. One sets himself up as the “one-stop shop” that companies can come to for all their needs in an area. The other sets himself up as the specialist for a specific market need that requires strict environmental and safety regulations. Between the two of them, they dominate their market while not stepping on each other’s toes. Meanwhile, their rivals struggle to compete.
Next in this series, we’ll have a look at the second method you can use to be a stand-out seller: focus on process.