8-Steps to Sharper Differentiators

Sharpening your competitive differentiators can impact your company’s pipe gen, sales and win rates this quarter and this year. If that’s something you need to do, here’s the approach I use. 

What is a Product Differentiator?

Product differentiators are unique ways your product creates value for customers. George Hu, when he was at Salesforce, used to have every PMM interviewee name a consumer product they loved, and then have them articulate and defend that product’s differentiators — on the fly. Cool interviewing tactic for PMMs.

What Are Differentiators For?

Why would you carve time out to nail down differentiators? While the whole truth about your company is too much for any prospect to absorb., differentiators boil it down – AND will help you structure your sales pitch, website, demos, content, and conversations.

Step 1: Write a Competitive Feature List

  • List everything your product does in a column in a spreadsheet. 
  • Add columns for your top 3 competitors
  • Line up similar items across you and your competitors in the same rows
  • Highlight what’s unique to you, gray out abilities everyone has

Step 2: Don’t Work in a Vacuum 

You’re not alone. Ask your product manager(s) what they think your differentiators are. Ask your engineers. Ask your sales people. Ask your CSMs. They know a lot that you don’t know. Use them. Build as big a list as you can, even if some items are small. 

Step 3: Build Differentiators out of Features

Once you’ve built this marked-up list, group multiple unique features into clusters of capabilities that apply to a specific customer need. If you wind up with 1 differentiator, that’s a great starting point, but dig deeper. Specific industry, size of company? Use case? Specific type of user?

If you’ve got 3-5 differentiators clusters, you’re in business.

Step 4: Name Your Differentiators 

One good naming pattern is a two-word phrase made of a “buyer word” and a “surprising word”.

  • Buyer Word, is a term of art from your user’s business domain, an everyday business English term (e.g. “employee” for an HR buyer or “campaign” for a marketing buyer).
  • Surprising Word is a word from an analogous process in real life. An example from the BI market is ‘slice and dice’, where the word comes from food prep, but gets across the idea of multi-dimensional data analysis – without saying “multi-dimensional data analysis”. 

Step 5: Bench Test Your Differentiators

Put your differentiators on a slide/spreadsheet/piece of paper and write a simple functional description of each. No marketing, just the functionality. Now walk it around and ask people whether they think these are your differentiators.

  • Internal roles: product, sales, CSMs, engineers, marketers, other PMMs
  • Customers
  • Prospects (via a recruitment platform or CRM)

Step 6: Build Alignment

Once you’ve got your feedback, iterate on the differentiators, iterate on their names, and their order of importance, go test this with sales leaders (first-line managers are best), your head of product, your CMO, your head of support, your CEO.

Step 7: Road-Test Differentiators

Once you’ve got agreement that these are your differentiators, road test them in the marketplace. 

  1. add them to a sales slide deck and pitch it to a prospect yourself 
  1. whip up a landing page, put a little traffic spend against it, ask SDRs to tell you about those conversations.

Step 8: Train Sales

After incorporating what you’ve learned from the road test, train sales on it. Get invited to small team meetings to share, discuss, and enable.

Positioning is never done, but a differentiator exercise can help you improve your impact quickly to help you hit your pipeline and sales goals.

Happy Friday!

The Front Porch
Moss Beach, California

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