To Sell Anything You Need to Know What Makes You Unique

Posted on Jun 20, 2013 | 30 comments

To Sell Anything You Need to Know What Makes You Unique

In my first enterprise software company we developed a methodology for sales that we called PUCCKA, which I wrote about previously.

uniqueHaving a good sales methodology can help you ensure your company runs more disciplined campaigns and focuses scarce resources on your best opportunities.

The first post covered the topic of “P” or pain. Simply, this is identifying a customer need which has economic value to them if they can solve it.

I call the P the first rule of sales or “Why Buy Anything?” and if you can’t persuade enough potential customers they have some pain that needs fixing you probably should stick to your day job.

And a reminder, prospects that don’t have pain related to what you do are no longer prospects! Qualifying leads is incredibly important to any successful company.

This post is about the “U” or Unique Selling Proposition, which in industry terms is often called a USP.

It the second rule of sales, “Why Buy Me?”

Over the past 15 years I’ve worked with many software companies and a very common experience is teams who have a hard time articulating what is truly “unique” about them.

The reason for this is that the executives who founded the company have so much tacit knowledge of how to position their product relative to the competition that they can easily win campaigns when they’re involved.

This obviously doesn’t scale once the founder can’t be in every sales meeting.

So I often work with teams to get them to codify the key things they do well that the competition does not. Teams usually start with terminology that is very insular and less relevant to customers.

That’s OK for the first pass but you need to then move on to defining your USPs in simpler terminology that can be understood (and importantly remembered!) by your customers.

I call this George Bush vs. Al Gore. One seemed to know more, the other seemed to communicate better. I went into details in this post. Short (non partisan) answer: communicate like Bush.

It’s equally useful to know what your weaknesses are against your key competitors and honestly capturing those. You’ll need it so that you can work on “objection handling” when prospects naturally bring up these areas.

The other worthwhile exercise is to write down what your competitors uses as its USPs – even ones that you don’t think are really valuable to customers. Knowing how your competitors position their USPs against you is a very important part of winning.

So now you’ve got your key USPs written down and you’ve worked them into slide format to get them across to your prospects. You’re ready to test drive your new deck.

In the first half of your meeting you get the customer talking about his or her pain points (which I covered in the first post) by showing them references and then asking whether they find they have similar issues as your other clients in their sector.

Now is the time to discuss your solution. You want to be able to demonstrate your product and the best way I call, “A day in the life of …” where you show the demo as though you’re a user with a problem that needs to be solved. Ideally it will be close to the problems that your prospect is trying to solve.

If you need demo tips I’ve covered that before.

Way too many sales reps demo products by showing features, which seldom resonates with users who are thinking, “OK, that’s cool. But how would I use it?”

You should never do this. You always need to demo the product in a “story” which by the way is now best practice in how product teams build their products. They call them “user stories.”

After a short demo it is worth pointing out some of important things your prospect is going to want to consider when making a purchasing decision in this product area. This is when your key USPs need to come out strongest.

If you do this well then when they take the inevitable meeting with your competition they will ask about these USP areas instinctively. And your competitors will bonk their head on the table because they’re tired of hearing that they can’t do A, B and C.

If you ever approach a prospect and hear them asking about features that seem unimportant to you but your competitors always emphasize, you’ll know they got to them first. While frustrating, this happens frequently so be prepared for your messages to overcome your competitors USPs.

And of course you also need your outbound marketing campaigns to emphasize your USPs so that prospects are already asking about them before the sales reps even start their meeting.

By the point you’re demoing and emphasizing USPs you may have had 1 to 2 meetings with your prospect. They may have met you at a conference, attended a web conference or somehow else interacted with your company’s marketing department.

So what’s next?

If you have gotten the customer to acknowledge a “pain” and they are aware and believe that your can uniquely solve that pain you’re a long way down the sales funnel.

They understand why they need to buy something. They have a hunch they should buy you.

And this is where 80% of sales stall.


Because although in theory they’d like to buy your product they don’t have any reason to buy NOW.

In order to buy now, now, now they need a “compelling event.”

Sometimes there is a disaster like an oil spill or a security breach at a company that forces a company or companies to all have budget to spend instantly on a problem.

But that instant product / market fit is rare.

So you need a business case to persuade customers that they should buy now. If they can quantify the amount of gain from using your product or the loss from not using it then you’ve got a burning platform from which to sell now.

It’s called ROI (return-on-investment) selling.

And that “compelling event” is the subject of my next post.

  • Hany Pham

    Hi Mark, great post yet again. In a competitive bid environment, I’ve found it very effective to become what the great Brian Tracy refers to as the ‘trusted advisor’. This involves getting in early and ‘helping’ the customer frame the terms of the tender/RFP (which usually ends up being in line with the salesperson’s own – or at least their company’s – strengths and USPs!) Anyway, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not easy to become relevant to the customer before they need you, and could be a big waste of time if the deal doesn’t come off. In my view though, it is worth the investment as it usually leads to higher quality business. Your thoughts on this?

  • William Mougayar

    I would add that the USP is often a set, not just one thing. Each individual thing may not be unique to you, but the combination is unique and that’s what you want to put forward, especially if you know that none of your competitors have that.

    So you need to communicate to the prospect that they need this particular set of features that only YOU uniquely possess.

  • PODIUM Ventures

    Great post, Mark. I really like how you relate everything back to the consumer — it can be easy for new businesses (as well as old!) to get “over-excited” about their product offering and assume it has value to the consumer. Regular re-evaluation of your strengths and the competition’s strengths is necessary in a market where users can convert at the drop of a hat. USPs don’t just need to be “unique”; they also need to be timely!

  • LaVonne Reimer

    William, I always learn from your comments! Do you find it’s still important to wrap up the set in a defining concept? I ask only because I sometimes think my former lawyer self predisposes me to come up with bullets and sub-bullets and thereby miss a simple summary.

  • William Mougayar

    If I understand your question properly, the answer is NO.

    They need to be distinct bullets/features/points, because each one is a weapon and a shot, but all of them together act like a canon. So, they do have a synergistic effect, but it’s a compounding one.

    By making sure you’re telling customers that this set is unique to you, you’re putting your competition on the defensive without naming them or saying anything bad about them.

  • Fabien Soudiere

    Mark, in your experience, I m sure this works great at early fundraising too?

    To clarify, I am not liking pitch decks with complex and industry specific terms. Zo, would it be a turn off to investors to avoid industry specific terms or (a lot of times they dont exactly know these terms) does it make them feel like you are smarter?

  • kumarjit sarkar

    Great post Mark!! “I call the P the first rule of sales or “Why Buy Anything?” and if you
    can’t persuade enough potential customers they have some pain that needs
    fixing you probably should stick to your day job.” This is the most basic yet most important and crucial point to strategies on. Once you have answere to this question you will surely be back from your sales call with a smiling face.

  • Bonnie Ravina

    Mark, terrific!
    In addition to evaluating competitors to craft the USP(s), I’d suggest looking at the buyer’s influencers. Knowing what Gartner, Deloitte, key bloggers, etc. say about the issues you address helps put those “insular” strengths of “why you” into the broader market/business context. This way, you not only position yourself against competitors, you also position WITH the “advisors” your buyer relies on.

  • Guest

    Why me as a founder? Well because I invented a system and a rating scale for consumer products that’s different from 5-stars, FB likes, vote up-down and sentiment buttons that are pervasive, not granular enough and don’t help us decide why we should buy that product.

    Senseus is more intelligent that what went before and can be played with here:


  • Cookie Marenco

    Bingo! Another great post. Really helpful. To your point, once the founder leaves the room, if the rest of the team doesn’t have the USP guide you’re sunk! I’ve been a living example of bad USP behavior. Spank me now!

    Our products have always been unique and command a price double (or more) the norm for our industry. I’ve never had a problem selling them, but I lacked putting together the USPs for others to sell as well. Oh, spank me again!

    Thanks for the advice. I was sending out the troops with guns and no bullets! :) My bad. Products have no voice to tell the story and say ‘why me’ . For the next growth phase, I’m stocking up on USPs! :)

  • Elizabeth Golluscio

    Mark, as always the devil’s in the details:

    “So now you’ve got your key USPs written down and you’ve worked them into
    slide format to get them across to your prospects. You’re ready to test
    drive your new deck.”

    UGH…. No savvy story-teller-type-marketer was involved in creating this “deck”, the sales reps are customizing them with prospects, perhaps off message, etc.

    Great tools are out there now (e.g. Storydesk) to make sure “decks” (now an iPad app) are consistent, compelling, interactive, *tracking* what the listener likes, etc.

    so marketing+sales gets smarter as a team on messaging the P and U.

  • Patrick Matos

    Another great post, Mark. This PUCCKA series is really useful. Do you have any specific advice when it comes to 2-sided marketplaces? What should the focus be on: “users” or “customers”? For instance, my startup ( is “the most convenient way for parents to find child care or preschool that fits their family’s specific needs.” It’s free for parents but we’ll monetize by charging daycare providers. Since I’m really “selling” to daycares, I typically focus on the USPs for them. At the same time, daycares won’t sign-up if they don’t think we’ll have lots of parents visiting our site, so I try to indicate why parents will use us as opposed to our competitors (i.e. describe USPs for users.) Do you have any specific advice in these situations, so the message remains clear and concise? Thanks!

  • msuster

    Agree 100%. That’s exactly what I was alluding to – when your competitors get there first then you hear the client using their USPs as “must haves” and then you know you’re already in the back seat. Better to be driving.

  • msuster

    Yes, I hope it didn’t come across that a USP was one thing. It’s a set of things for sure.

  • msuster

    much of our industry starts with product over customer. often a mistake

  • msuster

    yes, works in fund raising, which is a sale

  • msuster

    great, great point

  • msuster
  • msuster

    Well since the devil is in the details … I never suggested sales people create their own decks. Of course in a great organization marketing takes the USPs and builds a deck with a compelling storyline. No argument here.

    I don’t know Storydesk. Thanks for the tip. I will check it out.

  • msuster

    2-sided marketplaces are notoriously hard. I like getting supply on board first but hard when you don’t have demand. no easy solution. when selling suppliers make it low cost or free initially until you have enough to market to consumers to gain traction.

  • William Mougayar

    Great! Was just clarifying. Thanks.

  • Bonnie Ravina

    Thanks, Mark…like getting an apple from the teacher ;). This post totally resonated with me – I do an exercise for positioning I call “The Four Questions.” (And yes, it can be an insider reference, since it sparked with “Why is this night (company/product) different from all the other nights (companies/products)?)

    At the core, it all comes down to:
    1. What’s the business need?
    2. What problems do you solve (and for whom)?
    3. Why you?
    4. Why now?

    So simple, yet can be surprisingly difficult to answer these questions, especially when you start from the inside out.

  • Hany Pham

    Hi guys, great discussion! You’ve inspired me to write a blog post about developing a personal USP – that is, how to relate and combine the set of individual elements in your life to sell yourself. Thanks!

  • Cookie Marenco

    thanks, Mark!

  • pointsnfigures

    At that point, you need to use jujitsu selling skills. use your competitors strengths against them and plant some seeds of doubt. You won’t win the day at that moment, but it can prepare the customer for the next time.

  • Moh’d I.Shαwαbkeh

    Okay now. I know most of you won’t agree with me and i’ll probably get the worst feedback ever but hey this is what I think. What I truly understood from this post and many others in this context, is that if you have nothing to do at home then come up with an idea, any idea, and focus all your energy on manipulating the customers feelings and mentalities to pursue them to buy your thing. Is this where our civilization is going? Why don’t you just think of something that is truly unique, never been implemented before and 100% address a common problem. These tricks and solutions provided here are only targeted to help weak or repetitive ideas that don’t sell for their originality. Bring on the hands-down vote now.

  • alexpak1

    That’s awesome that you did a couple posts on communicating like Bush. It’s great validation of my team’s way of thinking. Among my co-founders and I, we’ve used WWDS (What Would Dubya Say) as our internal mantra whenever we find ourselves getting too technical or obscure in our messaging.

  • Loic Moisand

    I disagree with that, I think enterprise software startups should actually have one single USP (UNIQUE selling proposition) that really set them apart. There is nothing worse than a sales pitch with tons of USPs. I’m a big fan of low-profile and focused sales methods.

  • Sean Hull

    This dance is more art than science to be sure. There is the risk of putting in the time, and the prospect goes with another option, or decides not to spend at all. As a services firm, I’ve also had to dance the dance of discussing solutions without giving away solutions. I’ve had prospects call around to consultants just to get solution advice, and then do it themselves.

  • Sampson Greenovich

    I know what makes unique table lamps unique. Is that enough?