Selling 101

What's Your USP?

When you market your product, you must not only appeal to the customer (and to each type of customer separately), but you must distinguish yourself from the competition. In fact, most products that compete directly against each other share many of the same benefits. No brand of ice cream tastes "unpleasant." No infrared spectrometer talks about its "inaccuracy." All the products in a given category are likely to make a large number of similar benefits claims. So why would a customer choose one over another? There can be many reasons, of course, especially convenience (it's right in front of them). But often it's the USP, the unique selling proposition. It's the compelling benefit that one else is like me!

What's unique about your product? What makes it stand out from the competition? What gives the customer a good and irresistible reason to select your product rather than those other fine products? If you're making ice cream, you can't base your whole appeal to the customer by simply saying "it tastes better"--unless you have some credible objective documentation that this is so. Perhaps you can claim your ingredients are uniquely fresh, or that the ice cream is handmade in some particular way, which makes it taste "better" or at least different than other ice creams. Look at Ben & Jerry's: They don't just market their ice cream; they market the structure of the company itself and its commitment to making charitable donations. This helps give them a unique profile in a crowded market.

Many companies base their selling pitch on what's unique about them. For years, Ivory Soap based all its advertising on its claim of being 99 44/ 100 percent pure it floats! Domino's and its two-for-the-price-of-one pizzas. The unique Volkswagen look, which, thinking small again, has returned.

Once you've established your product's range of benefits and distinguished it from the competition, can you sum all this up in one phrase or brief sentence? Such as "When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight," "Nothing runs like a Deere," "Better living through chemistry" or "Legendary engineering"?

If you can, then you are ready to take your case to the public. It's time to persuade them to buy.

Selling to the Public: The Four Pillars of Marketing
An old marketing adage says that nothing happens until someone buys something--in short, sales drive every aspect of business. In every company, the salespeople are the front-line troops. In the rough-and-tumble of the marketplace, the slickest manufacturing processes, the shrewdest marketing, the brightest corporate reputations won't make the sale without the face-to-face (at least usually) meeting of seller and buyer.

This is personal selling, and it's the most important and direct aspect of the marketing process, but it is not the only way you appeal to the public and persuade them to buy. While marketing in the large sense involves every aspect of your company, the sales side of marketing is made up primarily of these four aspects:

  • Personal selling is face-to-face salesmanship, when you have the prospect in front of you. It includes retail sales, much professional service selling and a healthy percentage of business-to-business sales.
  • Advertising is paying for media space or time in which to sell your product at a distance.
  • Promotion is a short-term activity, directed at either the distributor or the purchaser, to boost sales for a limited time through special pricing or other offers. Of course, you hope the short-term increase also leads to an incremental gain. It can include advertising and personal selling.
  • Public relations is the unpaid (but, alas, not cost-free) marketing effort you undertake to expose your product to potential customers and other interested parties through the press, trade media and special media-related events.

Personal selling, advertising and most promotion efforts are direct activities: In a straightforward manner, you're saying "Buy me!" Public relations is the soft sell, in which you take a visible role in the community and increase the public's general awareness of you.

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