Stop Selling Product

Salespeople that sell products can get all wrapped up in believing that because their product is the very best that they have only to sell its superiority over its competitors to win. They believe that because their product is so clearly the best, it will make the sale for them.

The biggest problem with this line of thinking is that their product doesn’t solve their prospective client’s problem:

Your client’s problem is not that they don’t have your product.

Your Client’s Real Problem

Think about your offering. Is the problem that your clients struggle with that they don’t have your product? Couldn’t they easily buy something like your product from someone else?

There are problems with selling product, even when you sell what is clearly the very best product. The biggest of these is that by focusing on selling the product itself, you can disconnect the product from your client’s business objectives. This is why you see so many salespeople that sell a superior product lose to salespeople that sell an inferior product.

The salespeople with an inferior product win because they shift the decision to something more important than the produce itself. Salespeople with an inferior product tie the value they create to business objectives, values, and to a better overall offering.

They simply outsell their competitors who believe they will win with product superiority alone.

Different In a Way That Makes a Difference

Differentiation means selling the differences that make a difference. You make a difference for your clients by helping them achieve their goals and their business outcomes.

You have to be the difference that makes a difference.

If you have product superiority and you are part of the difference that makes a difference, that’s all the better. But you don’t have to have product superiority to win.

A Review of the Levels of Value Creation

The lowest level of value you can create in business-to-business sales is to sell product. It’s not enough. Selling product alone is a long slow death march to being commoditized.

You can sell exceptional service and you can create a relationship with your brand. This is up a level from simply selling product, but it still isn’t enough for business-to-business salespeople and sales organizations.

The next level up is to produce measurable, meaningful business outcomes. This is where most of us in business try to live (some more successfully than others). Most of the time, this is enough. It’s always enough when you are competing against someone that sells something less.

The highest level of value creation is impervious to attacks by product superiority alone. Divorced from a real strategic partnership, the best product won’t even get your dream client’s attention.

+ Product Superiority

This doesn’t mean you can’t have—and sell—product superiority. You just have to sell that and something more. By itself, it isn’t enough.

You have to couple your superior product with a superior salesperson (namely, you) if you want to win and retain your dream clients.


Does product superiority always ensure that you will win?

Why do salespeople and sales organizations with product superiority lose to competitors with inferior products?

How much does the salesperson matter in the outcome of an opportunity?

What do you really sell? If you sell a product, is it really the produce you sell, or is it something else?

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  • Brian Vickery

    This message never gets old for me (and believe me, I need the steady reminder): Your client’s problem is not that they don’t have your product.

    When I first started out having to do my own selling (I come from the technical world), I was frustrated that clients didn’t immediately select us. We were better and we were less expensive…what’s not to like? What they didn’t like is that I spent too much of my time “selling up” how much better and less expensive we were vs taking the time to ask them what their problems were in the first place!

    I mature with age ;). I would say it has taken years, but I am much more conversational now. I ask more questions, and I don’t automatically try to fit a “its worked a thousand times before” solution into the client’s problem.

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      I can’t begin to describe to you how bad I was when I was young and had just begun selling. This is pre-laptop and PowerPoint. I would read–verbatim–an 84 page proposal my company provided. I believed every word. Fortunately, I had a sales manager save me from myself. I was a better salesperson when I didn’t have product superiority because I had to listen.

      Your point that we tend to view our client’s problems through our solutions is an important one, too. It causes all kinds of problems. 


  • Anonymous Sales Rep

    I hear what you’re saying, and I think we all agree that it’s vitally important to go deep and wide in an account and sell the business outcomes to your clients, not the product itself.

    But . . 

    I think it needs to be said that if you’re going up against a competitor with a superior product (admitting that each customer has their own version of a superior product; there’s no absolutes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure) and both of you are effective at selling business outcomes, you’re very unlikely to get the sale.

    It will just be easier for your competitor to connect the dots between the product, the benefits and how those benefits align with the customers strategic goals if their product is truly a better fit. I get this is not what we want to hear, but the reason I say this is because I sometimes think that as salespeople we like to think we can completely control our results, but sometimes, we just can’t.  We need to hold ourselves accountable, yes; but we also need to let ourselves off the hook sometimes.  If it just took sales acumen to win deals there would be no such thing as product development.  The whole company is involved in winning deals, not just the sales reps.

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      I think you are overestimating your competitors with product superiority. Your competitors have a top 20% of their salesforce, and then they have the 80% that make the top 20% possible. 

      HR Chally’s research shows that the salesperson’s competence is the single largest factor in winning a deal at 39%, followed by best offering at 28%. Sales acumen alone isn’t enough, but coupled with business acumen, some passion, etc., I believe you can still win. 

  • Pea

    No product superiority does not mean an automatic win. We see this every day. Just look at the entertainment industry where Simon Cowell’s hard sell of ‘living the dream’ plus a sad story set to the backdrop of a rousing emotional song is creating successful ‘artists’ every 6 months or so. (I don’t know if you are familiar with his shows). Amongst the hype and rolling, endless PR surrounding the new found artists, the percentage of actual superior musical artistry on offer is minimal…but it’s what his public want. Vicarious access to ‘the dream’.

    The sales person of course is vital to make the difference because a good one knows that you are selling solutions, satisfaction and answers not cold products.

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      How does Simon Cowell end up in the comments on my blog, Pea? I am familiar with his work, but fortunately, I watch only one hour of television a week, so I don’t see his shows. He is a terrific salesperson, no doubt. He does sell a dream, too, doesn’t he. 


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