Is your company selling a commodity or a solution??

By Roger Bostdorff


If your answer to the question above is “commodity,” then perhaps you should consider the following case study: A local company wanted to grow their sales. However, they sold a product that could be purchased at big box stores and on the web. Competition was on every corner. Many new customers they talked with only focused on buying the lowest priced product.  Their dilemma was trying to create a strategy that allowed the company to grow its sales in a profitable manner while selling in what was perceived as a “commodity marketplace.” Like this company, how many times has your sales force told you that “our price is too high and/or our product/service is like everyone else’s”?

A short Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunity, Threat (SWOT) analysis was completed to understand how the company stood in the marketplace.  What was it, if anything, that could differentiate this company’s offering?  If the company’s offering is similar to what others are offering, then maybe the customer should make price the only buying criteria.

As the marketplace was studied and compared to what the local company had to offer, several unique items that differentiated its offering were identified.  It was not just selling a product but rather a solution.  One example: Most competitors that sold similar products did not provide repair service. Several other differentiators were found and quantified as well.

Then B2B Sales Boost and the client began doing Sales Strategy Reviews (WHAT IS THIS?) to focus on “solution selling,” not commodity selling. These reviews discussed the customer situation and what quantified benefit the customer was going to achieve by doing business with the client. What good things were going to occur if the customer did business with the client? Or, what bad things were going to occur if they did not? Can we quantify these benefits financially? These reviews can be done via the phone.  So, how does one accomplish this?

The company’s account representatives were asked to focus on their prospect’s current situation. In other words, the sales people responsible for gaining new customers needed to find out who the prospect was doing business with today. The local company needed to determine what the competitor was providing – in terms of the product/service, as well as the service provider.  They needed to understand what the prospect liked about their current provider. They also wanted to understand what the prospect would like to see their current provider do, that they currently were not doing. Questions like “What is it that their current provider could do to make the customer even happier?” and  “Is there anything the prospect dislikes in regards to the current provider?” were posed and evaluated.

By understanding the prospect’s current situation, the goal is to create a personalized approach to win that specific customer’s business. The local company started selling a solution, not just a product/service.  The local company does this by asking questions to determine what is important in the eyes of the prospect, rather than telling the customer what the local company is or what they do! Why talk about 32 things that you can do, if only 3 are important to a prospective customer?

The local company held strategy sessions with their account representatives to ensure they were approaching their prospects with the “Solution Sales” mentality. Old habits are hard to break. In the forecast reviews the local company continued to ask the question of their representatives, “Why should the prospect do business with us?” The account representatives were reminded to ask, “What do we need to do to earn your business?”  By being solution and customer-focused, the local company built a solution targeted on what that specific prospect thought was a priority. Their account reps did not assume what was important but rather asked, probed and quantified the priorities of the prospect.

In this industry, as with any industry today, price is important. However, if the only thing you have to offer is price then the next clown that comes in the door with a lower price will take your customer’s business from you. However, if you have created a solution along with a competitive price, you have higher odds of maintaining that customer long term.

Are you selling a solution or are you selling a commodity? Many sell like they are selling a commodity and lead with price. If you lead with price without understanding the priorities of your prospect, then you have nothing but price to discuss. Whereas, if you really think through and analyze your business proposition; YOUR VALUE ADD, you very well may have a solution.  This analysis will create an approach that builds loyalty, protecting your margin and most importantly provides significant value to your customer.

If someone asked you what makes your company’s value proposition unique, can you explain it?  If not, get ready to start dealing with price first, last and forever. However, forever may not be that long of a time.


Roger Bostdorff is the President of B2B Sales Boost. He spent over 30 years with IBM in sales and sales management and General Management.  B2B Sales Boost is a consulting company helping organizations improve their sales and overall business processes.  You can find more about B2B Sales Boost on the web at or calling 419-351-4347.  If you would like to receive the B2B Sales Boost Newsletter please send an email to