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How can a business-to-business salesperson avoid being treated as a commodity vendor, having trouble standing out from the crowd and competing on price?

After all, the ability to research on the web has made selling value still more difficult.

For the most obvious example, a car-buying prospect today walks into a dealership with extensive data about which cars are best reviewed and what the true pricing is, based on internet research.

I recently read a book that gives a structured, intuitive plan for differentiating oneself from your competition. “Sales Differentiation: 19 Powerful Strategies to Win More Deals at the Prices You Want,” by Lee Salz, a Twin Cities-based consultant and author, starts with the question: “Who owns sales differentiation?” — in other words, who is responsible for making clear to the prospect why your product deserves their attention and the higher margins you desire?

The obvious answer is the marketing function, but Salz maintains it is critical that salespeople take control of differentiation if they wish to avoid being treated as a commodity vendor who will be forced to compete on price.

What are some of the key elements of a sales differentiation strategy? Here are several key examples from Salz:

1. Salespeople will often claim their product or service is unique. In point of fact, it almost never is.

Any established market will have numerous quality vendors in it. Much more powerful is to analyze your offerings and show how you are different from the competition — a more substantive, though subtle claim.

2. Buyers will pay more for differentiated solutions that they perceive to offer meaningful value. It is rare for people to buy the truly lowest-priced item.

The winner will have found a way to align its solution with the buyer’s mental framework of value.

3. Much of what you sell probably can’t be changed. However, if you take a step back from the core, you can differentiate what you sell in a way that matters to decision influencers.

I found “Sales Differentiation” to be a powerful and intuitive guide and plan to use the principles in this book in my own recruiting practice.

Isaac Cheifetz, a Twin Cities executive recruiter, can be reached through