Competitive Differentiation – Uniques, Semi-Uniques and Me Too’s
Normally when we think of the unique attributes of what we sell, we are looking for something that establishes meaningful competitive differentiation. We do it, they don’t, it matters. Selling is so much better when you can hang your hat on real competitive differentiation. If I have it, the competitors don’t and it matters to the buyer, that’s the perfect selling storm.
However, the selling world rarely works that way. Buyers rarely believe in UNIQUE that way. This is a story of a competitive differentiator and how it turned a niche player into a leader.
So to level set, here are my definitions. These are the real world:
- UNIQUE – We do it, they don’t, it matters.
- SEMI-UNIQUE – We both do it, but there’s a meaningful differentiation in our capability.
- ME-TOO – We both do it and there’s no meaningful differentiation.
Realistically, the vast majority of value that sellers deliver are SEMI-UNIQUE and ME-TOO.
So here’s the story, it’s a great one. In the early 1980’s, the DBMS market was dominated by IBM, Cullinet, and Cincom, each with several thousand customers. ADR acquired an upstart technology branded Datacom, with about 200 customers. In addition to shoring up the Datacom’s “industrial strength”, we needed a differentiator to get us into opportunities. To change the rules of the game. If not, we’d be the 4th (or 5th) horse in a 2 or 3 horse race.
Otherwise known as irrelevant.
There was a technology “religious” war brewing around Relational DBMS, 4th Generation languages, end-user tools and other technological capabilities, a mind-numbing panoply (or quagmire) of technologies. But one of the biggest issues for database projects was you had to re-write your applications to get the benefits of the DBMS and wonderful new tools. Business executives wanted capabilities immediately, not in a year or 2 (or 3 or 4). So the great minds behind Datacom (see below!) built a disruptive technology call “VSAM Transparency”.
VSAM-T enabled organizations to move data for existing applications into Datacom/DB and then run those application programs unchanged. Indeed, the programs often ran faster!!!
In a matter of a couple months, a company could be using super-advanced tools and meeting business needs. While there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth from some database purists, VSAM-T was a game-changer, a pure UNIQUE differentiator for a couple of years.
And it helped put Datacom/DB on the map. In just a couple years, ADR caught up with IBM and Cullinet, and was a player in virtually every DBMS evaluation.
And for us sales reps, VSAM-T gave us a PROVOCATIVE, CHALLENGING, HYPOTHESIS capability to align to what business execs wanted, and to be this guy:
UNIQUES matter when you can find them, but SEMI-UNIQUE is more realistic, and has the same or similar impact. In a couple of years, IBM and Cullinet had VSAM-Transparency capabilities, and tried to make it a ME-TOO conversation. Before Lee Corso used the phrase, ADR responded with “not so fast my friend” and continued to build on the differentiated capabilities of our VSAM-T versus the competitors.
The key point: find UNIQUE or SEMI-UNIQUE competitive differentiators and tie them to value and outcomes for your customers. If you want to speak the language of business (it’s the only language that matters) that means converting them into – dollars, time and quality. When you do, you can go from not even being in the game, to the leader of the pack.
Click here for another success story about the quantified $$$ value of competitive differentiation and how it impacts renewals and upsell with existing customers.These are some of the incredible professionals who gave us Datacom and VSAM-T. If there’s a software hall of fame, they should be in it:
Chuck Orrin Kevin Joe Lynn
McCoy Stevens Shuma Not Pictured
Rest in Peace