Blending Into The Sea Of Sameness: Your Differentiators Are Not Different | Episode 33

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Are your differentiators truly your differentiators? Or are you touting strengths that are really just tables stakes?

Listen to this episode of the podcast to hear what strategies can help set your company apart in an increasingly crowded marketplace. With more than 21,000 HR technology vendors, for example, the competition for a share of HR tech budget from prospects is formidable. This is the case across many tech industries.

Hear our discussion now about how to pop out of the sea of sameness and capture more awareness, trust and credibility with buyers.

[00:04] Introduction
[00:51] Weak differentiators in the HR tech industry
[02:09] Strengths that aren’t real differentiators
[07:21] Problems with weak differentiators
[10:35] How to determine if your differentiators are weak
[11:28] Collect statements from competitors’ websites
[12:29] Pressure test at industry trade shows
[16:21] Defining a unique point of view to stand out in the crowd
[20:08] Outro

Hey, everybody. It’s Jenni from GrowthMode Marketing. You’re listening to The Demand Gen Fix, the podcast where our team of GrowthModers and our guests discuss the ins and outs of demand generation and why we believe it’s the key to long term sustainable growth, especially in the HR tech industry.
Hello, welcome to The Demand Gen Fix podcast with GrowthMode Marketing. Today, our topic is going to be blending into the sea of sameness. Those strengths that you think might be your differentiators might just be strengths. Every company works to stand out in the crowd by positioning their company and their products as different and better than everybody else. But what happens when your technology doesn’t have a real meaningful differentiator in the eyes of the prospect?
We’re going to dig into this topic in this episode because it is a challenge that we see many companies facing as they try to rise above the noise and get the attention of buyers in the very crowded HR tech space and other crowded markets.
This is something that we actually see a lot. In fact, as a marketing agency. GrowthMode Marketing clients will come to us because they’re like, we need to stand out in the market. We need to work on message positioning. And I can tell you, as an organization that works on message positioning with companies, it can be a very frustrating process. And at the end of the day, when you get through it and they’re like, I don’t feel like we sound different than anyone else, the reality is because you’re not.
And I think that can be a hard pill to swallow for organizations because the big mistake is you are not actually different in the eyes of the buyer. You sound like everyone else and you blend in. We can dig into how this happens and why, you know, because I think sometimes companies think they have differentiators. And to your point Jenni, those aren’t differentiators, they’re strengths.
Right, and I think that the strengths are the things that you expect them to have, right?
People expect you to have good customer service. They expect you to have great people. They expect you to have software that saves them time and money. That’s why they’re looking for software in the first place and they’re looking for customer service. So you have to have that.
Absolutely, and when you’re talking about those things, this is not unique to your organization. And quite frankly, if any other vendor can and does say the same thing, that’s where you start to sound the same. Kind of going through examples of strengths that are not real differentiators. You kind of talked about them, Greg, but I think superior customer service, we hear this one all the time when we’re like, what makes you unique and different? They’re like our people.
Well, let me ask you, if your people quit, did you just lose your strengths and your differentiator? Are you saying there aren’t good people at other organizations? That question can be debated, but you have to kind of look at it and say, okay, if I’m a buyer, I expect you to have superior customer service that shouldn’t make you different from everybody else. I also think easy implementation process, robust platform integration capabilities, platform customizability, those are all things that we’ve seen companies lean on as their differentiators. And at the end of the day, again, these are table stakes. These are things that buyers expect.
So at best, those are strengths for your organization, but it doesn’t necessarily set you apart.
I think that especially in this day and age, and especially in the technology industry, those things are required. Not only expected, but required. Yeah, they are your strengths, but they should be, and they need to be. So you need to have something else that rises above and beyond just those things that everybody knows you have to have.
I was walking the floor at an HR trade show in the past year, and what stands out of my mind is I had a conversation, I was walking up to different booths and I was just like, tell me what makes you different? I’m listening to what all they were saying, and a lot of them sounded very much the same. So I had this conversation with this sales rep. I won’t name the company, but it was really interesting because she was like, our differentiator is our people.
I said, well, but they said that back there. Anybody can say that. She goes, but we really do have great people and better customer service. And I was like, how? She goes, well, we have proof points. Okay, tell me more. And she’s like, we have case studies. Well, every company has case studies. She’s like, but we have people who talk about how exceptional our service is. I’m like, again, everybody has case studies. Everybody can go talk to their customers that they have the very best relationships with and paint a really good story about it, right?
So at the end of the day, that’s not a differentiator, it’s a strength. And when you think like, no, we really do have better, fill in the blank, I would say ask, how do you frame it up to demonstrate that your strength truly is different? How is it different from the competitors? And can you prove it?
It’s like you also hear them say, we know that we’re better than our competitors in this area. Yeah, but like you said, how do you frame it up for the prospect so that it makes sense to them and is a differentiator?
And I get that there are organizations who will say, but we hear from our prospects that they’re currently working with competitor X and the service is terrible, and that’s why they’re looking so we know we are better. And I get that. There are certainly organizations out there that maybe are struggling to provide as good of customer service, but you also have to take that with a grain of salt, right?
It can be based on individual experiences within an organization. Sometimes they’re looking for something that the product doesn’t do today. There’s lots of different ways that people interpret customer support and how good the customer service is. And I think you’d be lying to yourself if you said you never had a customer that walked away from you telling someone else that they had a better experience or they had a bad experience when they worked with your organization.
Because things happen. You always want your customers to have an amazing experience, but sometimes there are things that are out of your control or missteps that do happen at any organization.
Right, It really comes down to personal experiences. And a certain customer might not get along with a certain rep and that’s something that might be out of your control and so those kinds of things. But then again, you might have really amazing people, like you said. And so you can count on people loving your customer service. But what happens when that person leaves or retires or takes another job? Then? Does that mean that your customer service is down the tubes? No, you need to have something else to back that up. It can’t be the thing that you rely on to be your differentiator.
So let’s talk about why weak differentiators are a problem.
Well, it’s a big market, right? There’s like 21,000 HR technology vendors out there. You’re competing against all of those, right. If you have a budget or your prospect has a budget for HR technology, it might not be specifically for what you’re selling, but you’re still competing with all those other people, all those other companies, because there are other HR products that they might need or may buy. So you got a huge market that you’re in and you need to really differentiate yourself from the other people or else you’re just sounding the same.
Yeah. And honestly, when you think about it, the HR tech industry, the decision makers at those companies, are called on by salespeople more than almost any other role in an organization, because there’s so much technology out there, and that person is just getting inundated with sales calls and emails and digital ads and everything else that’s coming in front of them. So if you’re not standing out, it’s going to be really tough to break through that wall.
Lots of competition in a market makes it challenging to truly stand out. And that’s where when you don’t have really strong differentiators, you need to kind of acknowledge that and look at, okay, how do we move forward and stand out in this sea of sameness? And this is a challenge not just in the HR tech industry. Reality is the same scenario plays out in many other industries too.
Right, it just seems that HR tech has, it feels like it’s a humongous market. You do see it everywhere, but this industry is pretty tough.
It is. There are a lot of companies, and it’s a continually growing and expanding industry with new technologies coming out every single month.
It’s hard for prospects because they’re overwhelmed. They’re seeing so much coming at them all the time, so they’re overwhelmed. It gets to the point where everybody does start to sound the same because this technology, honestly, is probably very similar. Then what do you do? You price shop. You select the vendor that’s most connected on a personal level because if nothing else stands out about your brand, then that’s where the prospects are going to start to look.
Right, and I always kind of use the analogy, like, imagine just 20 of your direct competitors are marketing to an individual HR tech buyer. Unless you truly have these differentiators that are meaningful and help you stand out from everyone else, it’s really easy to get lost in the crowd because you’re all helping tackle the same issues for a client. And so it’s important to understand, like, okay, if we don’t have differentiators, we need to take a different approach to this because it’s not that easy to just make up differentiators. Believe me, we know. We’ve worked with organizations that have really struggled with that because they didn’t have anything meaningful. And it’s like you can hire a marketing agency, but at the end of the day, they can’t make up those differentiators for you.
Right. Let’s talk about ways that we can determine whether or not your differentiators are weak and if they are just strengths, or if they actually are differentiators.
It’s sort of a fun project, actually, is start looking at your competitors’ websites and all their materials and basically make a spreadsheet, right? And collect statements from everything that they’re saying about themselves. And you don’t even necessarily need to put the competitor’s name there, but just start collecting all those things and then look at them and say, is what they’re saying different versus what I’m saying? And pretty much a lot of times everybody is saying the same kinds of things. Like, we did this for a client and some of the things that we came across was like, streamline your operations and drive performance, save time and money, help ensure compliance, and empower your employees to succeed.
Systems that empower staff to perform at their best, integrates with other technologies. None of those are differentiators, right? So if everybody can say that, then it’s not different. So you need to figure out how you can be different.
I think a great way to do that exercise is to pull these statements from different websites, but don’t put any company names on them. And then as you read through each of those statements, determine, do any of those statements apply to your company? Or do you use any of those type of statements in your own marketing material? And what you’ll find, whenever we do this exercise with a client, rarely do we find really strong differentiators coming out unless the product has that.
And so you’ve got to think about it from the buyer perspective. They’re going in and they’re reading those things and when everyone’s saying, we have superior customer service and exceptional integration skills and all those things are like, great, so does X, Y and Z. Now how do I choose which one I’m going to go with? And of course you want to stand out and you want to be the one that they’re going to go with. So you have to find a way to look at it differently.
Well like you brought up before, again, another way to judge what other people are doing is to walk a trade show floor. You know, you said you did that and you went up and asked people what their differentiator was. But even if you’re not asking the question, you can just see by their marketing materials, by their signage, even when products are different from each other, it feels like the messaging behind it is all the same.
And so these poor smaller companies, they just get lost in the crowd because the big ones have all this money to spend and so they’ve got all of this marketing and big huge trade show booths and who knows what else out there. And these little companies that might have the best product, they’re just getting lost.
When I was walking around the last trade show I was at and asking them about their differentiators, at times I would stand there and look at their booth for a while, and then they’d start asking me questions. And I’m like, tell me what you do, because it’s not clear from your booth, which is very pretty, but doesn’t have a lot of context to it. What you guys solve for? And I think that’s a big marketing myth right there. That’s probably a whole nother conversation, right, about how to stand out at a trade show specifically and to make sure people know what you do even if they’re just passing by.
But yeah, I think, when you walk a trade show floor at an HR industry event like the HR Technology Conference or the Shuram Conference, you’ll start to see, like yeah, a lot of these companies really focus on kind of the same things as key points of their messaging.
So what’s a company to do?
Let’s dissect why this happens. Because nobody sets out saying, I don’t want to sound any different than anyone else, right. And in fact, some of our audience may be listening to this and the horror is starting to sink in. Like, oh my gosh, we’ve been saying our people are our differentiator and our integrations and all those different things.
I think sometimes companies just don’t know how to identify the right differentiator right. Like, they don’t necessarily just understand how to even approach that. We’ve seen, also, sometimes there really isn’t much of a differentiator right. The product they’re selling or reselling isn’t really different from what their competitors have. So it’s hard to say that it’s better or different when it’s basically the same.
I think you’re in a better position if we don’t know how to identify the right differentiators. But you actually do have differentiators, then it’s a message positioning exercise and that’s where it makes sense to work with an agency to really flesh that out. Many times though, the reality is the products or the services don’t have any significant differentiation from the competitive solutions. And we have these conversations with our clients all the time. So we know kind of how those conversations go, where they start out and they start naming things and we’ll poke holes in it and we’ll be like, that’s not a differentiator. Hey, let me show you what we just pulled up from all these different websites. And sometimes they’ll kind of get to the conclusion as we’re having that conversation, they’re like, you’re right. If we’re really honest, there’s not significant enough differentiation from competitive solutions. In fact, we’re kind of weak in this point and this point. That’s okay.
I mean, that is the reality of the market. I think, sometimes, it’s a very crowded market. It makes it challenging to be different in a meaningful way. And if you are the marketing person, you can’t necessarily go and fix the product differentiation piece. There’s usually going to be a product development team and product marketers and all these people who are working on that. All you can do is give them the feedback and say, here’s what we’re hearing in the market, here’s how we don’t look different from others.
I’m trying to figure out how to position this. Hopefully they can go and work on finding ways to make the product different and really stand out. But if you’re listening to this and you’re like, crap, we really aren’t different, how do we fix that? We have some thoughts on that. You might not be able to create product differentiators overnight because that often involves product strategy. But that’s why honestly, we developed our framework for a unique point of view because we see it so often where companies don’t have differentiators they can stand on that are meaningful enough.
And so you’ve got to take a different angle to it because you can’t change that overnight.
Yeah, you need to create an opinion or some ideas that challenge the status quo, right, and use those to help get people thinking about your company. The things that your company is saying makes them go, hmmm, they understand me or they understand the market in a way differently than other people do. So maybe your product isn’t that much different, but maybe the way you think about it and address things is different and that’s what gets people interested and start to follow you and think about starting conversation.
Yeah, it’s really about mapping out pain points that support the thinking and tying it back to your solution. And as you’re doing that although this topic isn’t about ideal customer profiles, you really need to have an ideal customer profile defined and really nailed down, because that is one way to help stand out in the crowd is now I’m going to go create this unique point of view, which isn’t necessarily about my product, but it’s really about you’ve got these pains and painting that picture around the pains that you got.
You can create that message to be very slanted towards your ideal customer profile. It’s going to give you a way to stand out in that crowd. Because, again, if I’ve got 20 vendors reaching out to me and they all sound the same, but you have one vendor that’s talking about my industry, my organization structure, my specific type of company that I am and the challenges that we have, and positioning those pains, understanding my pains, might be slightly different than this company over here.
Now you’ve got my attention. And it’s about building trust and credibility in the market. Because quite frankly, if you can build that brand awareness and follow it with that credibility and that trust, what happens is when it comes time to buy, if a prospect is actually in market, they start to be more forgiving of the things that maybe aren’t in your arsenal of your technology today. Because they trust you and they like you and they want to work with you. Because they’re like, this company gets me. They understand as an employer who is in the healthcare space and is a hospital that has 500 or less beds, that these are the unique problems that we have around managing our workforce and nobody else has that type of specialization.
Overall, as much as every company wants to be truly different and better than anyone else in the industry, that’s not always the case. The first step, if that is the case for you, is to recognize it and tackle it head on by defining your unique point of view that’s targeted to that ideal customer profile. And at GrowthMode Marketing, we are happy to help you do that. So just reach on out to us and we will get you started in the right direction.
Thanks for joining us on The Demand Gen Fix, a podcast for HR tech marketers brought to you by GrowthMode Marketing. We sure hope you enjoyed it. Don’t forget to subscribe for more perspectives on demand generation and B2B marketing strategies. Plus, give us a like, tell your friends. We’ll see you next time.

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