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Different. Just Like Everyone Else?

I’ve had several conversations recently with colleagues and clients about how sellers differentiate.  Actually, the conversation was about how they don’t really differentiate.

I proposed an idea from my upcoming book:

If you differentiate using the same properties as your competitors, you aren’t differentiating as much as you think.  If you differentiate only in ways your competitors have dealt with before, you aren’t doing much better..

When one company’s sellers claim the same the same benefits that competitors do–they claim the same “differentiators”, which means no differentiators at all.   Only slightly better is when we sell on the same narrow set of differentiators that our competitors have learned to deal with and sell against.

One person agreed, then described what some of his clients had complained “three different business cards, one product”. That is, three companies trying to sell them their own versions of one product couldn’t tell one from the other, except by the logo on the box.  Yikes.

In my work on customer-perceived value, I make it clear that value only exists in a customer’s mind.  Any differentiation you have doesn’t turn into value until it “makes a safe landing” in a customer’s brain, and connects to a customer-desired outcome. It only turns into differentiated value — that changes a buying decision – when that value is offered by only one buying option.

I’ve learned that a single point of differentiation often drives value in multiple “landing points” throughout an organization (for example, lots of departments care that your product lasts longer, and for different reasons).

The conversations with colleagues and clients I mentioned earlier revolved around sellers trying to leverage only the most conventional and expected of these “landing points” in their selling strategies.   Here’s the problem: When every competitor uses their same consistent approach, everyone is selling in a phone booth.  This creates a horrible situation we all want to avoid: as customer-perceived differences diminish, the importance of price increases.

Concentric Rings of Value: There’s a Sucking Sound in the Center

I work with sales teams to find their way out of the phone booth. We talk about three categories of differentiation:

The obvious value everyone sells.  This is the “selling in the phone booth” value proposition.  It’s easy for customers to grasp and analyze because they’re well-trained in these value propositions.  Every seller from every competitor can easily invoke the same customer thought processes, and same or similar value propositions. These selling conversations are easy. The price of those easy customer conversations is that they are the same conversations every competitor has developed expertise in countering.

In complex selling, one often tries to find someone (more is better) in the buying organization who provides leverage into the group buying dynamic. A key question when building a selling strategy: who is your lever?  In the phone booth, who at the customer cares enough about your differences to become the lever?  When the perceived differences are small, nobody is motivated to be your lever. Nobody sees differentiation, and people start using price to decide.

That’s the middle of a bulls eye:  easy to sell, hard to differentiate.  I colored it red in the diagram to denote the hazard to selling in the phonebooth.

Unconventional, yet commonly found differentiation is the second ring:  a far better place to sell successfully. I have a tool, value networks (look for my upcoming book, or call me directly to discuss), which helps sellers identify all of the ways their product or service’s unique properties affect a customer’s business. Some will be conventional, and fit in the bullseye, but many of these uncover fresh selling approaches that address previously undisclosed value.

This is the money part of the target:  differentiators that produce compelling value for the customer – and which invite somebody in the buying ecosystem to become a decision lever. These value drivers are not only unconventional, but they trigger value predictably in many similar customers, so your salespeople can replicate successes efficiently.

Because the value of these differentiation impacts is relatively common, one of two selling skills required here is knowing to where to look:  to uncover value by following value predictions from the value network.  The second skill set required is selling the value of each impact.

Unconventional, but uncommon.  The same value network used to identify common unconventional value will sometimes predict value in a more unique corner of the customer, or in prospect companies with certain less-common characteristics.   Examples I’ve experienced: a company that is founder-owned (I had one value proposition that would only be appreciated if the business owner had a particular estate-planning issue).

These differentiators aren’t anything to build a business on, but when they turn up, sellers who uncover and recognize them are able to take advantage and use them to win opportunities .  They are just as leveragable as common/unconventional impacts when they are uncovered, but uncovering them takes some skill.  The critical skill required: how to look. Great customer interaction skills, combined with the thinking that goes into building value networks, are the foundational skill in uncovering.

Just like in the second ring, selling the value of each impact is the companion behavior set needed to capitalize.

Value and Differentiation Myths.

We often mistakenly think that macro business school and economic laws apply to our specific selling situations. They don’t.

  • People only decide on price – the way we were taught they do in econ class – when they think all options are identical. Sameness actually happens a lot less frequently than sellers allow it to.  The job of the sales professional is to increase differences and de-commoditize.
  • When a market is “mature”, all players don’t really regress into sameness. Some compete on operational efficiency, some become product leaders, some focus on certain market segments. Some look to grow via acquisition, some decide to milk the business for profits. Some want to replace themselves with new technologies, others forge a path to their own destruction. The only common buying thread among each of these types of companies is the value impacts at the center of the bullseye/in the selling phone book.  Each customer makes each decision differently.

Actionable Tools
The points I’ve made today are useless to you if you can’t turn them into action for yourself or your sellers.  The ideas above are sound, but making them come alive in your sales culture might take more than one blog post.

As I was developing tools for sales organizations and writing my book, I was very sensitive to  the seeming paradox of selling unconventional value..predictably. I needed to offer my clients ways to turn unconventional value selling into a repeatable, “operationalizable” system:  with a common language, a flexible framework that fits any business, easy to implement tools, plus sustainment and coaching, for managers and sellers alike.  If you can’t implement it, I shouldn’t even be talking about it.

Please comment below with your reactions to this article.  If you would like to know more, please feel free to contact me at mark@boundyconsulting.com.

To your success!

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7 Attention Saving Strategies to Manage Email Distractions

Could you accelerate daily productivity with tips to manage email distractions? According to a report by McKinsey, 28% of a person’s workday is spent checking email.  Sound familiar? That’s over one quarter of your entire business day is allocated just to manage emails. It’s a wonder any of us get anything done. Studies show that 26% of employees admit email is their number one distraction, and I believe that.

Here’s what I’d like you to remember – emails are requests from other people who want YOUR time and ATTENTION to accomplish THEIR objectives. While it is, of course, a necessary form of communication – YOU get to set the terms of how it is used, putting YOU in control of your time. Your time is far too valuable to let others determine how you spend it. So, what’s a person to do?

Here are seven of my favorite strategies to manage email distraction:

  1. Invest 15 minutes.This is something I’m passionate about. I love breaking things down into manageable bits. Manage email in 15-minute increments. Set the timer on your iPhone, play a game and answer as many as you can. Then move onto a more strategic activity.
  2. Put a limit on it.According to a University of British Columbia study, to manage email distractions means limiting your reading of email to three times per day reduces stress and distractions by 47%, boosting productivity and focus. That’s huge!
  3. Unplug from the unwanted. Millions of people use me, which is a fabulous tool that allows you to unsubscribe from email subscriptions that are filling up your inbox. If you’re not reading them, skip that distraction, save yourself valuable time and just unsubscribe.
  4. Block it out. Freedomis a cool distraction management tool that I use on my Mac and iPhone to block social media sites and email. It’s kind of the internet version of a do not disturb sign and it’s ideal for creating focused, uninterrupted time when you’re looking to increase productivity. More than 450,000 people use this app across multiple electronics.
  5. Create short cutsText Expander is one of my fave apps on my Mac. It is so simple. By allowing you to load short cuts for regularly used responses, words, and templates, it can save an ah-mazing amount of time. If you find that you respond to emails with similar information on a regular basis, this app might be one of your new faves as well!
  6. Bounce them back.If you use Gmail, this one might be the answer you’ve looked for. Boomerang for Gmail is a great service to manage emails by allowing you to bounce emails back to you when you want to answer them and write emails and schedule delivery for another time. Helps to keep that inbox overwhelm at bay.
  7. To-Do list it.I haven’t tried it yet, but for fans of to-do lists, the Taskforce app sounds like a solution. It lets you transform your emails into tasks and comes with an automatic filtering feature.

Being a leader in today’s world means challenging the way you work, communicate, interact, and manage your time and talent. When you recognize how very valuable your hours are, you start to get protective of them. Fortunately, there are brilliant people out there creating new dynamic tools every day that can help us effectively streamline our workdays, so that we reclaim that mismanaged time and invest it making memorable moments by paying ATTENTION to the important people in our lives.  When you do? You will have more impact and influence at work, at home, and in your community. That’s a win-win-win for everyone!

If your emails have merely become a means in which to communicate to others, it’s time to make them a way you can genuinely connect. When your emails are elevated to be more personal, personable, connected and sincere, others will not only want to read them, they’ll enjoy doing so.

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Collaboration for the Cybersecurity Team

When you think about collaboration what comes to mind? Have you ever given much thought to the importance of collaboration for your cybersecurity team, or how collaboration creates high performance teams? If you haven’t given much thought to the topic of collaboration that’s OK you are going to explore the importance of collaboration today.

Collaboration is the fourth pillar in the EPICC model for high performance teams and is incredibly important for your security team. If you have tuned in to the entire series on EPICC High Performance Teams you are on pillar four. If you are just joining us now you can catch up on the series and read about Engagement, Productivity, and Integrity; the first three pillars for a high performance team.

Since no single person on a security team can stay current on all the technologies, know all the current vulnerabilities, be versed on all the most recent hacks, or know all the possible solutions; collaboration is key to your security teams ultimate success. Collaboration is where engagement, productivity, and integrity come together and your security team spends time working together to come up with innovative new ideas.

Ideas build upon ideas when a group gets together to collaborate. New ideas, solutions, and innovation that no single person can come up with alone are born during collaboration

One of the biggest and often missing pieces of collaboration is discussing progress, what’s working and what’s not working? When a team knows where the project is they can collaborate on ideas to move it forward or maybe even change direction. This is how you remove the number of fires that need to be put out at the last minute and you reduce stress and cost. When something is not working, it quickly becomes the topic of conversation, but what about discussing what is working? That is often a missed, but critical conversation.

When things are running smoothly most people don’t stop to discuss why, but it is essential to recognize why things are working so you can do more of it. Plus, what is working for one person may not be obvious to their peers, so this is an opportunity to teach each other and refine their skills.

Of course I’m not saying you ignore the conversation on what’s not working, that is critical to course correction and you can’t always prevent or find all roadblocks ahead of time. But as soon as something starts to go south the conversation must include what’s not working. But remember, it can’t be about laying blame or pointing fingers, it’s about discussion, collaboration, and then cooperation and integrity to change things around.

The more your team collaborates the more they can identify the possible roadblocks ahead of time. This means you don’t have a group of firefighters running around always trying to put out the fire, you have a group of park rangers who are able to stop the fire before it ever ignites because only you can prevent forest fires.

The great part is collaboration can happen with or without you, the leader, as long as you set the tone, the expectations, and the example. If someone comes to you with a problem you can ask, “Did you work with the team to find a solution yet?” That could be the first step before involving you unless it is critical and needs escalation.

Remember you never know where the best idea will come from. You want to make sure that everyone on the team has a voice and that they know they can share ideas regardless of how crazy it may sound. That is because you built the team community around integrity, everyone should know that there are no bad ideas and that no one is ever ridiculed or judged.

For your next team meeting start a new conversation on the topic of collaboration, why it’s important, what it should look like, and how to accomplish it. Empower your team to work together, communicate openly, and share ideas. Build on the ideas of community and watch your team thrive.

If you have questions or comments about this article or the series you can reach out to me at sharon@c-suiteresults.com to discuss this topic, security teams, or security strategy. If you enjoy podcasts you can listen to C-Suite Success Radio to tap into the wisdom of other successful business people who know the path you’re traveling.

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Research Shows: Leadership = Warmth + Competence

When I think about building my image as a trustworthy leader, I tend to think about strengthening qualities and providing services that will proactively draw people in. That’s why I was particularly surprised by a recent study that took a markedly different approach.

At its core was the need to demonstrate two specific qualities that indirectly indicate that you simply won’t hurt others. While that may seem obvious, it was actually much more subtle: the idea was that at the heart of all relationships, both professional and personal, are two factors: whether you are “competent,” and whether you are “warm”. “Warmth” is important because it implies a lack of intentional threat. And “competence” balances warmth because it indicates that you won’t accidentally cause someone harm either. The combination of both allows people to trust in someone’s potential as a leader. It’s an interestingly defense-oriented approach to the perception of leadership.

But it’s more than whether or not you are warm and competent: the other half of the equation is whether other people believe that you have both of these qualities. This is where the ability to speak like a leader comes in.

What does warmth sound like? What about competence? We tend to think of warmth in terms of feelings and behaviors, and competence in terms of skills, but based on the above explanation of what warmth and competence represent, the way you communicate your intentions and executions will drastically influence your credibility on both fronts.

Let’s look at a few factors to consider for each of these areas, to ensure that your communication style allows your warmth and competence to shine through.

Word choice

Of course your message needs to be factually accurate and true, but it goes beyond that. When you explain something, do you give more jargon-laden detail than the listener wants, needs or can understand? Does it seem like you are avoiding answering certain questions or omitting other details? These habits can undermine the perception of warmth because it seems like you don’t really understand or trust me, and if you don’t trust me, why would I trust you? Alternatively, if you use lots of fillers like um, you know, I mean, or sort of, it seems like you lack confidence in what you’re saying, which erodes the perception of competence.

Using relatable anecdotes and clear organization, on the other hand, make it much easier for the listener to understand your meaning. This transparency allows them to let down their guard, and see you as a more trustworthy leader.


Once you know what you want to say, the way the words roll – or stumble – off the tongue, will either help propel the listener along with you, or make them hit the brakes. Do you speak at a volume that is easy for everyone to hear, and at a speed that is easy to follow? Does your inflection highlight important words, indicating your personal interest in the topic and adding vocal interest for the listener? If so, all of these practices will reinforce your image of warmth and competence because it shows you are considering and prioritizing the needs of the audience. Mumbling, rushing, and monotonous, run-on sentences will all have the opposite effect.

Facial expressions

Tying it all up, your physical communication is, ironically, the strongest of the three communication modes when it comes to your appearance of competence, warmth and overall credibility. No matter how much expertise you demonstrate in your content, and how strong or clear your voice is, facial expressions such as occasional eye-rolling, unintentional frowning when concentrating, eye contact (or lack thereof), or chewing on your lip can signal your deeper, underlying negative feelings about what you are saying, from arrogance and contempt to insecurity. Remember to smile when appropriate, make eye contact with everyone without staring them down, and keep a neutral listening face in order to reassure the audience of the sincerity of your intentions.

Regardless of the seniority of your position, bearing these points in mind will help you reinforce the impression of being both warm and competent, and come across as a natural leader worth following.


Do you have other questions or feedback about effective leadership communication? If so, contact me at laura@vocalimpactproductions.com or click here to schedule a 20-minute focus call to discuss it with me personally!


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The Evolution and Growth of PR

Without the official label, Public Relations has dated back to the late 1800’s when people would strategically place stories in the media through smaller channels such as weekly newspapers to promote an event or occurrence. Although not the modern use of PR we know today, it had the same basics that we hope to accomplish: using interpersonal communication, literature, public events and art to persuade other individuals to believe in our client’s services and/or programs. But since the invention of the internet, PR has changed dramatically. The acceleration in technological advancements, rapid media development and other related elements have allowed PR to evolve tremendously just in the last decade. PR practitioners were faxing pitches, today they’re tweeting pitches and emailing virtual press kits. In order to look ahead, we need to look back.

Here is an awesome infographic from Inkhouse that shows how things have changed, and what will always remain.