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How We're Different from Our Competitors

This lesson is a part of an audio course 15 Sales Stories That Work by Paul Andrew Smith

Professional buyers will tell you that competitors in just about every industry are so similar that it’s hard to tell them apart. They need a differentiation story—which means you need a differentiation story.

One of my favorite examples of that comes from Sharad Madison, CEO of United Building Maintenance. That’s a commercial cleaning company — so they’re the people who come in and clean office buildings at night. And guess what, there are a lot of companies that do that.

So, in order to differentiate his company from his competitors, one of the things Sharad does when talking to a new prospect, is to tell them what he typically does when he gets a new client.

For example, he’ll say, “When we took over the contract for the Verizon building in New Jersey, we had a 30-day transition period. We typically take that time to go walk the floors and see what the current cleaning staff was doing—to find out if they’re properly trained and have the right tools. We typically inherit the cleaning staff along with the contract, so it’s important to know.

When we went to see the guy who vacuums the carpet, we found him using a regular residential vacuum cleaner. Well, those hallways are 12 feet wide and over half a mile long! And that’s just on one floor! Can you imagine trying to clean it with the same machine you use at home? It would take all night, and it still wouldn’t be very clean. Plus, that machine’s going to break down after a few weeks of constant use. So, we ordered him a triple-wide, industrial-strength cleaner that’ll do the job in less than half the time and last forever.

“Then we found someone else shampooing those same carpets with a regular walk-behind shampooer. Again, that could take all night just to shampoo that one corridor. We put him in a high-speed riding shampooer that could do the job in a fraction of the time, with much better results. Plus, it gets the guy off his feet. So we have fewer workman’s comp issues.

“Then we got to the offices and started looking at the top of the file cabinets. You could see half-moons swiped out on top.” He said, “I know exactly what that means, so we went to find the people who dust those cabinets.”

“When we found them, my suspicion was confirmed. Those cabinets were five-and-a-half feet tall and several of the people doing the cleaning were shorter than that. They weren’t lazy. They just couldn’t reach high enough with their handheld rags to clean all the way to the back. That’s what leaves the half-moon shape. The truth is, they’d be better off not cleaning it at all, since the contrast between the dusty part and the clean part makes it obvious that it’s dirty. Well, we gave them all 18-inch extension wands so they could reach all the way to the back.”

Now, if it isn’t obvious, Sharad’s goal isn’t to be the cheapest cleaning service in town. His goal is to be the best. So, he could simply say that UBM uses industrial-strength vacuum cleaners, and riding shampooers, and gives their staff 18-inch extension wands for their dust cloths. But that won’t make nearly the impression the story does.

Telling this story allows his prospects to see, in their mind’s eye, the difference between his company and his competitors. They can see the guy riding around on the shampooer like a Zamboni machine on an ice hockey rink. They can see the people easily dusting the cabinets with the extension wands without leaving the half-moon shape. The story is a far more effective way to illustrate the facts than the facts are by themselves.

So, if all you have to explain the difference between you and your competitors is a list of facts, you don’t have enough. Turn them into a story.

Okay, in the next lesson, we’ll talk about the invention of the product or service you’re selling.

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Written by

Paul Andrew Smith