B2B Sales – Why you need differentiation and how to do it – Part 2 of 2

Part 2 of why differentiation is crucial in B2B sales. Learn how to differentiate at 2 levels – the market and the opportunity

B2B Sales – Why you need differentiation and how to do it – Part 2 of 2

B2B Sales – Why you need differentiation and how to do it – Part 2 of 2 150 150 Visible Pathway
Author: Mark Cotgrove      Reading time: 5-6 minutes

Last week we talked about why your business needs to differentiate itself. I would suggest reading that article before you dive into this one.

We said that you had to differentiate at what we have called the value spot. This is the point where your customer sees real value from what you offer or do which might not be where your product marketing team are telling you it is. I gave you a real life example of how that played out in a B2B software procurement I was involved with recently on the customer side. We touched on how to begin to differentiate.

This week we are going into the ‘how’ in more detail. You will have tangible things to do when you have finished reading.

Differentiation on 2 levels

You can differentiate on 2 levels, at a market level and at an opportunity level. These are very different in their execution as one is less able to be ‘tweaked’ at the point of customer contact, guess which one. If you said market level then you were right!

1st level – Market

Market level differentiation is achieved using your brand, messaging, collateral, website, essentially all your marketing assets. They can be digital, analogue or printed. It is anywhere someone can look at what you do without interacting with you directly.

Your business needs to differentiate

Changes to market level differentiation are expensive, time consuming and slow to make a ‘difference’. You can liken it to a change in course heading for a container ship. After you move the wheel 10 degrees to port it takes a long while to see a substantial change in direction. In fact if you stopped the engines at full speed it can take a container ship over 30 minutes to come to a complete stop. In that time it would have covered about 10 kilometres!

Often companies, even fast moving ones, will only do this annually. In a mid-sized global software business I worked in some years back, they would ‘test drive’ their new market level messages in Australia. they did this first to see how it resonated and second whether it was making the desired impact.

We were in fact the guinea pigs. However we also got to provide input into any tweaks that we felt needed to be done prior to it being announced globally. This approached avoided costly mistakes. Even though there is a difference between different markets, there were common problems globally that we could solve for our customers.

Outflank your competition

You can also monitor what your competition is saying in this area and then do it better! You must thoroughly understand the customer’s job to be done. Then your content will resonate with much more authority to this audience. If you did not watch this video last time, you can watch it here now.

You can do this by developing

  • keywords in your marketing strategy that reach this audience
  • content specific to this market designed around these keywords
  • specific landing pages on your website that talk only to this point and run targeted campaigns
  • specific product features that address this market
  • case studies specific to this market and customer job
  • a team that employs people with this specific market experience e.g. consultants

I would also recommend becoming a voice in these markets and looking for opportunities to provide commentary and opinions on market trends and direction. This includes reaching out to industry journalists. They are often eager to talk to someone with a point of view. Don’t forget your favourite social platforms too. It may take time to crack the code but it is worth it for that moment when they call you asking your opinion on some ‘breaking news’. And the good news is it’s absolutely free excluding your time.

I would recommend becoming a voice in these markets and looking for opportunities to provide commentary and opinions on market trends and direction.

2nd level – Opportunity

Opportunity level differentiation is done on a case by case basis. This is far more dynamic and fluid and can be done in isolation of the market level activity. Think of this like being in a speedboat. You can accelerate quickly and change direction almost instantaneously. Every change in speed and direction happens almost immediately including going from a complete stop to full speed and vice versa.

Your business must be agile and able to move quickly

© Kit Suman

Each opportunity can be, will be, slightly different from the others. What I mean is that there requirements will be subtly unique. Just like customers, no two are identical.

Do you get Request for Proposals?

If you engage in RFPs or vendor shootouts then getting this piece right will

  1. win you lots of business because you have honed right in on the customer job and therefore are differentiated in the value spot (metaphor-hunting with a rifle, one shot = one kill)
  2. save you lots of time and money by not pursuing opportunities that you cannot realistically win and make profit from, this is called qualifying out (metaphor-hunting with a shotgun, spray and pray)

Opportunity level differentiation can be well executed by literally any B2B business. It is very low cost, time efficient and only requires your sales folk to do their job really well. And you can do it in a relatively short space of time. Plus if it doesn’t work then who’s to know? It is self-contained to that opportunity. That means you can review it and go again with no damage to your market brand and image.

How to get started

You can start opportunity level differentiation today. In fact, ask yourself what possible excuse can you or your sales team come up with not to do it? Please email me your excuse so I can extend my education too.

I have something for you o help you get started.

Competitive Analysis tool

I have developed an easy to use spreadsheet tool. This will help with this process. You should make it part of your standard opportunity assessment and qualification process. You can download it here . The tool is highly visual so you can see at a glance how you rate against your competition and also in respect of your customers’ requirements. I strongly recommend doing this exercise as a team. This will avoid individual bias which will distort and devalue the results. All the instructions you need are contained within the spreadsheet. If you need more help you can contact me at chris@visiblepathway.com

At the market level the tool will let you continually evaluate yourself against your competition. you do this by rating your capability across multiple areas and aspects of your business. Quite quickly you see where your market sweet spot is and also where it is for your competitors. This guides you as to where to hunt with your arrow.

Your business needs to differentiate

© Annie Spratt

If you operate in different markets then chances are you see not only different customer value spots but also different competitors too. Simply copy and paste the worksheet to manage for different markets.

This tool makes it easy to stay in tune with all your markets and ensure your marketing and sales teams are in tune too.

Opportunity qualification tool

In addition to this at an opportunity level you can include your prospects key business requirements in the matrix. You can see how well this aligns not only with your strengths but also those of your competitors.  Being very visual you can see straight away how you stack up against your customers’ requirements. I have used this spreadsheet as the sole qualification exercise when pursuing larger projects. We would sit down as a team, enter what we knew and quickly come up with one of 3 results:

  1. qualify in because there is a lot of green lining up with the customer requirements
  2. qualify out because our competitors are better positioned to win this one and we are not strong where the customer sees value
  3. illustrate that we don’t know enough about the customer requirements and so ask the sales team to go and find out more then review again

To make this easier to understand I have included a real life worked example. Look at this to see how it works and behaves. There are also extensive explanatory notes in the spreadsheet.

Another resource on competitive analysis from sciencepost.org worth looking at is here.

Your business needs to differentiateConclusion

Hopefully by now you understand why differentiation is so important. That it is not difficult to do but also that you need to do it the right way to get great results. But differentiation is only half the equation really.

The other half is qualification which I will cover in another article. If the majority of your sales engagements require qualification and differentiation then you are in what I call a ‘Value Added’ market.




The key requirement in a Value Added market, indeed in any market, is to be aligned with what your customer is doing all the time during their buying journey.

That way you can be sure to get the majority of ‘the fish in your basket’ and not in your competitors. For more understanding of being aligned with your customers visit this page.

About this article

For more information about how to go about sustainably and profitably growing your business please visit visiblepathway.com. For more information about this article’s content you can contact me directly on LinkedIn

If you want to dive deeper into the concepts in this article then please check out our digital project “How B2B Customers Buy”. You can try it free and with no obligation to continue. It explains these concepts and much more in detail and gives you step by step instructions to apply them to your business to reduce friction in your sales process, closing more sales that are more profitable.