Selling a Commodity? The Difference is You!

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As a sales professional you sell what you are given to sell.  When the company that you are representing is selling a commodity, or something near to a commodity, you have to put forth some extra effort to land the business.

While there are a lot of products out there that “sell themselves”, you may have a product that is as inauspicious as salt.  I am going to talk a little about some ways to get the “edge” in the sales process.


Salt Might be Just Salt, but ‘You’ are Different!

The majority of products do have features that provide benefits that others do not necessarily have.  Commodity products are literally indistinguishable from their peer products.  Know how different your product is, if the customer views your products as “the same” as your competitors, the customer’s perception is the new reality.  Here is some good information that you can use to help

  • The Package – The package is anything you and your company do that gives the product additional or differential value.  Items like delivery time, credit terms, refund policy, and other additions are important.
  • The Professional Edge – You, in partnership with your organization can be the edge.  What makes you the best sales professional out there?  Can you define it? Responsiveness, innovative, intuitive, or are you an expert, product or industry as described in Black Sales Journal’s Your Customer Needs an Expert – December 2010
  • The Pricing – If this variable is equal or close to the other products, it does not detract from the rest of the items.
  • The Perceived Value – The sum of the above three items in the eyes of the customer.  This is how the customer believes that they can benefit from the coupling of your product, packaging, pricing, and the professional that is standing behind those three items.

So the simple equation looks like this:


The Package

This one is simpler than you think.  Keep in mind that since it is under your nose, you might not have studied it much.  Now is the time to take account.

A carpet store knows that most of the carpeting that they are selling comes from the same mills as their competitors are using.  Price is a differentiator, but when it comes to this product, the slight differences in price for buying in volume do not transfer well to the customer.

The answer is the packaging that includes:

  • Same day or next day delivery
  • Sunday Installation
  • Employing your installers (more accountable, more responsible)
  • More favorable credit terms
  • Disposal of your current carpet and pad

None of these things are beyond duplication, yet when some are offered they can make the difference in the sales by appearing more amenable or customer centric.  Think about the advantages that your organization has over your competitors, and focus your sales pitch on them.

The Professional – YOU!

This is the most visible difference out there, if you believe in yourself and give it your all.  Being responsive, giving excellent follow-up before the sale, and being an expert (industry or product) can be solid differentiators.   Know how to use them to your advantage.

It is not enough that you can brag about your experience; can you give references as to you and your company’s work?  Can you drop names of those that have benefited from your ingenuity and judgment?  When you get those compliments, you must file them and be ready to call upon them.

By being the ultimate professional, the Black sales professional can make all of the difference in the world.  Knowing how to smoothly go from appointment to commitment to the close is invaluable.

The Pricing

In a true commodity situation, your price is most likely going to be very nearly the same as your competitors.  Pricing factors should affect all products equally.

When pricing is not equal, it is usually based on a variety of factors. There is no doubt that distribution as well as the actual sales professional has an effect on price, but even more on value and service.

Perceived Value – The Customer’s View

The customer is looking for some difference, and in the absence of something relevant will consider it a commodity product.  This is not good because then there is an inertia that will keep them with their current vendor.

The sales professional has a responsibility to catalog the differences, and find the ones that apply to the buyer.  The buyer’s perception of those differences is the key.  Know your buyers and know your packaging.

In this example you are selling galvanized screws in 20 pound boxes.  Your product is so much of a commodity that your box even looks like your competitor’s products.  You, as a sales executive, cannot change anything on the product, or the box they come in, yet you can intervene to get them better the credit terms, insure delivery by tomorrow, or something else of value based on your knowledge of the customer’s situation.  The concession regarding credit or delivery is a packaging issue, yet the listening to understand that extensions of more credit or rapid delivery were ultra-important comes from being an engaged professional.  The net result is that the customer’s perception will be that your package, you and your company, have more value.

Try the exercise of taking inventory of you and your company’s advantages down to the smallest of differences.  Be exhaustive in your review.  You will note that even when the product is a commodity, there is still something to sell.  Last but not least, remember the real difference maker, you the sales professional!

Let us know what you think. You can reach me at

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