I get many emails from people who are selling products that always were or have recently become commodities.  Most salespeople, when faced with a commodity sale, try to provide reasons for a prospect to buy from them instead of the competition.  This strategy further identifies them as a commodity seller.  Others attempt to further devalue their offering by quoting what they hope will be the lowest price.  Neither option is an effective short or long-term strategy for this challenge.

Here is an excerpt from Baseline Selling – How to Become a Sales Superstar by Using What You Already Know about the Game of Baseball.

Prospect Needs What You Have
The prospect must need what you sell. Salespeople often confuse a prospect’s actual need with a perceived need—what the salesperson thinks the prospect needs. Let’s look at some various needs and differentiate them with some examples of what a salesperson might say to herself while trying to qualify a prospect:

• Premise: Hey, we sell those things and they buy those things! Conclusion: They must need them.

• Premise: Hey, we sell those things and they don’t have those things. Conclusion: They need those things!

• Premise: Wow, they have a problem. Conclusion: We can help.

Only one of these examples, the third, represents a truly profitable situation for the salesperson. In fact, example three represents your best hope for higher margins, a long-term contract, and an end to bidding for every order. Why? Even though the premises in the first two examples may be true, the conclusions aren’t necessarily true. In the first example, a business may be buying things they don’t actually need, for a variety of reasons. For example, most of us confuse “use” with “need.” I use paper clips, pens, paper, and staplers. I don’t actually need them and wouldn’t have a serious problem if I didn’t have them. So in many cases, the act of buying does not always indicate a need. In the second example, just because a business doesn’t have certain things doesn’t necessarily mean it needs them. For example, a small professional services firm probably won’t need a fleet management system.
If you sell a commodity, you might think that the third example doesn’t apply to you. After all, you sell things, not solutions. But as we saw in the previous chapter, re-imagining your commodity as a solution to your prospect’s problem is the key to successful selling. How do you do this?
Try asking buyers of commodities questions I call “commodity busters.” Commodity-busters are designed to get your prospect to share a problem you might be able to solve. In this way, you will advance from being a supplier of commodities to a problem solver. This is a great way to start building a long-term relationship with your prospect, who will, in time, become a satisfied customer, a source of referrals, and an advocate for your business. Here are some examples of commodity-busters:

• “Why did you agree to meet with me this time given that previously you weren’t interested?”

• “Has something changed since the last time we spoke?”

• “Our prices have been an obstacle for doing business together in the past, so why were you interested in speaking with me now?”

• “What happened to your relationship with XYZ Company?”

• “Working with me might require you to make some changes in your process. Will that be an obstacle?

• “We probably won’t go about this the same way as XYZ Company. Are you OK with that?”

• Before we talk about ordering x446 widgets, is it OK if I evaluate whether that’s even the best choice for your application?

Read Baseline Selling for more…