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

Who is the Smartest Person in the Room?

I have worked with countless sales professionals.  Monetary success and recognition are mainstays for the best sales professionals, but even those who are not at the top of their game enjoy some of the special spoils of the position.   The next meeting, survey the room and give it some thought….knowing the benefits of the job, even though it is hard work, who is the “smartest person in the room?”


If you were to do a little research you would find something fascinating about people and positions within your organization.  You would find that the successful sales executive usually out-earns most positions that are not considered upper management.

Let me explain it in different way.  When I was a sales manager, I expected that my successful professionals should make more than I made, and the best did so handily.  General managers, vice-presidents, even some Sr. Vice Presidents and up are at a disadvantage when it comes to the total compensation package, but there are good reasons for it.

So why do so many people believe that all the brains in an organization are in the engineering departments, finance department, and general management?  Well, because so many people don’t know the rigors of professional selling and the strategies and intelligence and skills needed to be accomplished at the role.

No Logarithms Needed

Think about the sheer brainpower needed to calculate the thrust to get out of earth orbit for a space vehicle with monstrous dimensions.  If you consider the brainpower necessary to design the new generation of space vehicles you would be correct in that it takes a ‘rocket’ scientist.  Now the big question:  Could they sell it?

Have you ever considered that those skills are literally worthless when they are used to try to convince a buyer that he or she should change widget manufacturers and do business with your organization?  You don’t need sophisticated mathematical formulae or extreme logarithms to make that happen, you need the ability to:

  • Create trusting and confident relationships
  • Apply sales techniques to influence buying decisions
  • Anticipate and answer the customer questions
  • Present effectively and with aplomb

Many people have trouble putting a value on these, but a sales manager and General manager know that this individual makes their job easier.  It is obvious that we all have our calling in life, and the role of a sales professional, as I have said before is to “convince someone to do something that they would ordinarily not do.”  Frankly, not everyone can do it.  It is an art, with some technical aspects behind it.

It’s Not For Everybody

Not everyone can play this role as it requires an individual who can:

  • Work with all types of people
  • Analyze and anticipate buyers needs and desires
  • Withstand rejection
  • Counter objections effectively

The best of these individuals are compensated highly for their skills and the uncertainty of the job to the degree that their annual income, which may include salary and bonus or otherwise are enviable.   Sure it is hard work, but so many know it is their ‘ticket out’ and have provided for their family in ways that draws jealousy from people in the other functions or departments.

I have seen sales compensation amounts in sales departments well over the $1M mark, and currently know a sales professional in financial services who 5 years ago, when the getting was good cleared over $1.2M.  Now, that is rarified air, and there are many who make more than those high numbers.  I am talking about b2b sales in these examples, and I am not talking about extreme or exotic products.

Machines Will Never Take Over

The occupation of professional sales is not unique, but it does stand out.  It might be one of those occupations that will not be taken over by computers or outsourcing.  The reason is simple, customer intimacy!  The sales professional does a lot of things, but the most importantly from the standpoint of the customer, they create the confidence that the customer needs to make the switch and stay put.

Even when we are talking about a commodity, the sales professional and the value that they bring can make the competitive difference (See Black Sales Journal 2/24-Selling a Commodity – The Difference is You).

The sale professional recognizes customer lifetime value (from the sales standpoint see Black Sales Journal 2/16 – All Customers Are not Created Equal) and seeks to extend the relationship as long as possible.

When the machines can create and nurture relationships we will be in trouble, but I don’t see that happening soon.

The Smartest Person In the Room

So the smartest guy in the room might not be the engineer, the architect, the computer designer, or the aerospace scientist, it might be the person who operates closest to the person that pays the bills.  We know that as the customer.  We can’t do without them, and they need to be nurtured and fed.

This sales professional role is best done by someone who comes in with the skills that we probably take for granted.  We will call them advanced sales skills.

So the smartest guy in the room may well be the Ultimate Sales Professional (Black Sales Journal – The Ultimate Sales Professional I, II, and III).  Read this and let me know what you think.

We will ‘just ask him not to wear a cape to the sales presentations.  So when the meeting happens, who is the smartest guy in the room?

Your comments are welcome. Reach me at