Differentiators vs Features - Stop Bad Pitches

By John Honovich, Published Nov 06, 2015, 12:00am EST

Most sales pitches are bad.

Most confuse differentiators and features.

We receive many pitches and the most fundamental problem we see, over and over again, is that companies confuse differentiators with features, even when we explicitly request them to tell us their differentiators.

In this note, we explain the key differences, provide examples for video surveillance products and offer guidance on how to radically improve one's pitches.

Key Difference

A feature is what your product can do. A differentiator is what your product can do that few or none of your strongest competitors can.

Listing all your features, which is the most common technique we see used, makes a pitcher seem just like every other product and does nothing to stand out. Buyers have too many options and can too easily find something that has the same basic list of features as the one being pitched to them.

The key is to focus / lead with those features that are uncommon and that help show the value you provide that others cannot.

Strongest Competitors

One common mistake is to focus on features that average or lagging competitors lack. This might make a sales / marketer feel good but most prospects know well or will be called on by the top competitors. Pitchers need to make sure their claimed differentiators are not offered by their strongest competitors.

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The strongest competitors are usually easy to determine as these are the companies that a company faces the most (in 2015, in North America, for cameras, Axis and Hikvision are clearly two, for VMSes, Milestone and Exacq (plus Genetec for anyone targeting larger systems) are common and for 'solution sales' Avigilon).

Real Differentiators

Another common mistake is to claim a differentiator that is simply factually untrue. We regularly see pitchers say we do X but Axis / Milestone / whomever does not, when they simply did not realize that those companies did the same. Pitchers lose credibility doing this. A lot of this is simply due to ignorance but if you are a professional, it is your job to know these things. Surprisingly, we see even some product managers lack basic knowledge of their competitors.

We talked to a VMS manufacturer recently who claimed connecting to cameras via RTSP was a differentiator, which obviously is not as RTSP is broadly supported by VMSes. Even a 5 second Google search of 'RTSP Exacq' or 'RTSP Genetec', etc. easily shows that.

Meaningful Differentiators

One of the toughest challenges in picking differentiators is choosing ones that are meaningful. Many times pitchers pick minuscule differences, often UI variances or extremely uncommon features. While it is appropriate to include those, too often pitchers focus too hard on them and expect that to alone justify picking their product.

If you lay out cameras slightly different than your competitors or use a vertical slider instead of a horizontal one, unless you have qualified that the person who are talking to has these as hot button issues, chances are it will make no difference in selecting you vs your rival.

Changing Differentiators

Pitchers need to stay up on the market. What was a differentiator 2 years ago may not be a differentiator now. For example, in 2013, Axis could brag about Lightfinder and super low light performance. Now, they do it at their own risk of being laughed at. The market has simply caught up and essentially all their major competitors have equivalent or better, including their low cost Chinese rivals.

On the other hand, right now Axis has a big differentiator with Zipstream. Others are following and probably in 2 years this will be commonplace but right not they have a clear advantage on bandwidth / storage efficiency on most everyone.

Multi-imagers are in the midst of a transformation from Arecont 'unique' offering to a limited number of major suppliers. This will shift the battle for differentiation from simply having multi-imager to what types of multi-imager you have (resolution, varifocal, low light, WDR, frame rate, etc.)

Don't Have Any?

Once companies really focus on picking and promoting true differentiators, they will often find that they have very few real, meaningful differentiators. At that point, sales people need to differentiate on their own abilities, i.e., how charismatic they are, or how helpful they are, etc. However, companies need to look hard at themselves and figure out ways to develop actual differentiators (this is especially critical right now on the camera market as Hikvision et al., are driving prices down for generally solid (read: competitive) products).

Suckers and Features

There is some hope for feature based selling. With the Internet making it so easy to see what else is out there, it is harder and harder to sell on generic features but there are always some naive people who will take your feature list, not bother to compare it, and pay whatever you ask. But it is not a large segment and is one clearly on decline so be careful and try to focus more on actual differentiators.

Beware People Being Nice

The other issue is that many people do not want to tell people to their face that their differentiators are not real or that they do not care. This might make the pitcher feel good ("Hey he smiled when I said that") but you still risk the person not buying because you are not convincing them.

What is your Differentiators?

In the comments, I am happy to discuss / debate what your product differentiators are. Throw them out and let's see what I and your IPVM member peers think.


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