Sustainable competitive advantage?

Sometimes a company has a superior product as compared to all the other competitors. There is also the “killer product” scenario like the Xerox copier vs. the mimeo machine.

Unfortunately due to global competition and advanced manufacturing technologies, it is very difficult to sustain a competitive advantage by product alone. In today’s markets a competitor is likely come out with a product that is just as good or better than yours, in half the time you thought it is going to take – plus make it cheaper.

Now it is possible to differentiate by added value such as customer service. However, with a lot of work even added value can be replicated by the competition. In the end a common situation is – you’re in a market where the competition is equal, good enough or better than you if viewed strictly from a product and service perspective. Are there exceptions – of course, but there are a fair number of folks who now wish they had not consider themselves as one of those?

Obviously one does everything they can to develop superior products and service. They are key ingredients to the success story and most everyone devotes a lot of time, money and effort to achieving superiority in those areas.

There is, however, a third ingredient to achieving success to which a lot companies pay less attention – developing a superior sales team. Not a good sales team – but a superior sales team. There is little doubt that a superior sales team cannot only sell a competitive advantage; they can be a competitive advantage. It is not just a matter of what they sell but how they sell.

A great case in point is Xerox. While they had a superior product on the market they also devoted substantial resources to developing a world-class sales team. In most every market you can identify one or two companies which have done what it takes to develop a superior sales team and everybody knows who they are. In most cases they are ease to spot because they are the market leaders.

If you were tasked with developing a superior sales team what are some rules for the journey? Well, three that make the short list are:

  • Recognize the pivotal job. The front-line sales manager is the pivotal job for developing a superior sales team. It is not a matter of having two or three great sales managers. Greatness needs to be a characteristic of your entire front-line sales management team. It is a difference that matters and one for which the lack of is hard to compensate.
  • Get sales training in the game. No matter the selection process or the sales coaching efforts, building and sustaining a superior sales team requires a substantive sales training effort. The dynamics in most markets are such that customers are constantly changing what they buy, how they but and what they are willing to pay for it. Sales training needs to help the sales team to adjust and adapt their sales skills to the new sales challenges and call points.
  • Address the marketing-sales chasm. No sales team will ever be superior if they have to go it alone – they need help. One of the most effective sources of help is marketing. Unfortunately for many companies marketing and sales have been like two converging trains in the night – they just pass each other. That requires correcting – building a superior sales train requires superior support from marketing.

So the short answer to the question is – probably not. It is unlikely in today’s markets you can sustain a competitive by product alone. Great support and services are required … and a superior sales team.

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