After polling thousands of CEOs, C-suite executives, and salespeople, I was astonished to discover that only a handful knew what their prospects and customers wanted most. This explains, in no small measure, why so many businesses have become commoditized. Many think that because they sell the same product or service as their competition, they must surrender and play a price game. And when they do, they give up their best negotiation chips.

The research we conducted for my first book, Creating Competitive Advantage, proved that more than 90 percent of businesses had no clue how to articulate their competitive advantages. I have since learned that even fewer understand that a differentiator that is not valued by the customer is not a competitive advantage. If it’s not relevant, it doesn’t matter.

Years of research revealed that very few businesses deliver sales and marketing pitches that are relevant. And that mistake costs them dearly! Most businesses simply do not align their operations with their customers’ priorities—internally or externally. This is not just my opinion or conjecture, but one of our key findings from more than 100 customer surveys conducted for our client companies. We compared the results of all those customer studies to the companies’ perceptions of what their markets valued. Frequently, what a company’s staff and sales force thought would be most important was rated lowest by the customers themselves.

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