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Sales Solutions
What's Your USP? vol 3, issue #4
April, 2005

"Why should I buy from you?"

This is the one question all prospects ask. Sometimes they'll come right out and ask it of you. More often, though, they won't. But they will ask it to themselves. "Why should I buy from this guy/this gal?"

There are many factors prospects consider when contemplating a major purchase. If your prospect regards your offering as clearly superior in regard to those factors that are important to him, you will win the business easily. Unfortunately, that's the exception rather than the rule. In many cases, your offering will be pretty much the same as those of your competitors. So much so that you often find it difficult to differentiate yourself. Well, if you find it difficult to differentiate, imagine how difficult it must be for your prospect to do so! Particularly one who's only in the market for your product or service on an infrequent basis (e.g. once every three years). For these cases, you need something you can hang your hat on - something that, if the prospect can't readily see the advantages of doing business with you - you can rely on.

That something is your USP - your Unique Selling Proposition.

A USP is that aspect of your offering (where the offering is the entire bundle of benefits you provide - the product, the service, the reputation of the vendor - even the salesperson) that your organization has (or that you have) determined is so unique, so special, so superior, that your competitors can't match it. Something that you're sure will trump the competition in most cases. Think of it as your ace in the hole - to be used strategically - when and if you need it.

How do you know what your USP is?

If you're fortunate to have a Marketing department that goes out and asks people what they think is unique about your offering, they've probably already communicated your USP to you - and to your market. If not, do what a Marketing department would do: ask the people who know best - your customers. They'll tell you why they selected your offering, and not those of the other guys. If you ask enough customers, you should begin to pick up a theme - a preponderance of a certain reason. That's your USP.

I once worked for a company that delivered real-time market data to Wall Street traders. You know those stock tickers you see scrolling at the bottom of CNBC, or on the outside of those buildings in Times Square? That's a part of what we sold - only you got your information via a live high-speed feed to your computer. Now, on a market share basis, we controlled a whopping 2% of the overall market. However, on the derivatives desks, our share was over 30%. Why? Because for traders in that market, a two-second advantage in speed of delivery is extremely valuable. And our system - and only our system - gave them that advantage. For us, speed was our Unique Selling Proposition. When I was invited in to demo my product to one of these prospects, all I had to do was put one of my units in, side by side with theirs, sit back, and watch it do its thing. For this type of prospect, the system practically sold itself.

On the other hand, when I was selling the same system to the other side of the Street - the "buy side" - for whom speed is not as critical, I needed a different USP. In fact, I needed a different USP for different kinds of buy side firms. This sale, as you can imagine, was infinitely more difficult, as it required probing to uncover needs, and crafting a solution to meet those needs. In other words, real selling skills! The kind of sale in which most of us - myself included - most often find ourselves.

This example also illustrates why you can't always come barreling out of the gate waving your USP. While in the first example, you pretty much could expect your USP to carry the day, leading with it in the second example would clearly have been a grave mistake. Unless you're 95% sure that your USP will be accepted by the prospect as very important and very valuable, you're better off taking a consultative approach, asking questions to find out just what is important to your prospect. If that just so happens to coincide with your USP - in my first example, speed - by all means go for it! But if the prospect looks like anything less than your ideal, don't assume your USP will be valued highly by him. Because if it's not, you're setting yourself up for an uphill battle by bringing it up and trying to convince him to make it important. Hold back on your USP, using it - if needed - at the appropriate time in the sales cycle.


Take a few moments to think about what makes your offering unique. How will you weave it into your presentation, and when? Envision a situation in which a prospect looks indecisive. Practice drawing out the concern he's having: "Why should I buy from you?" Then pull out your USP, check to see that he agrees it's what he wants, and ask for the order. Practice this enough times and you'll be able - in real selling situations - to confidently tell your prospects why they should buy from you.

Good Selling!

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