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If the CEO doesn’t know the differentiator, how can the salespeople?

Posted on Categories BrandonomicsTags

When companies aren't differentiated, it's not a sales problem; it's a CEO problem. Steve Brody, group chair of Vistage International, an organization of CEOs, shares his insights into where differentiation starts.

Robin: Hello and welcome to this edition of Brandonomics, and inside look at top brands and their marketing strategies. I’m Robin Tooms, VP of Strategy at Savage Brands, and my guest today is Steve Brody. Steve is a former Senior VP of Marketing at Coca Cola and currently President at Naviond US. So Steve, welcome to Brandonomics.

Steve: Thank you, glad to be here.

Robin: Amongst many things, you’re also currently a chair at Vistage International. And what’s interesting about that is it affords you the opportunities to see what a lot of companies face in terms of their brand and marketing challenges. One thing in particular that B-to-B companies struggle with is this idea of differentiation. So I’m curious what your experience has shown you about how companies are dealing with that issue, and kind of how do you see that happening with them.

Steve: Well, actually, they don’t deal with it very well, is the answer. And what I mean by that is, our members in Vistage and my members of my groups are mostly companies in the B-to-B space; they’re selling to another commercial or industrial company. And so they really don’t have a good sense of how to be different. And where that comes from is, whether it’s a product or service, they look at themselves and their industry often — they’ll use words like, we’re in a commodity category. And when they say that, it’s really like raising a red flag in front of a bull to me — to an old marketing person – because it just indicates that they don’t understand their focus on how they are different from their competitors.

Robin: So how do you guide them to start that process? Like, how would they start to determine where they’re actually different, or maybe some of the areas where they’re not?

Steve: Well one way — and the discussion with the CEO is where it all starts – an area that I love probing: most of them have outside salespeople, and depending on the size of the company that may be anywhere from three to six outside salespeople. And I love the opportunity to talk to those people individually – not together as a group – but ask them the question: what words or phrases do they use in describing their product or service to a prospect? And the interesting thing you’ll hear most of the time, maybe 4 out of the 6 people that I talk to are going to tell me something different, and that’s a very clear indicator that they don’t have a clear direction on what is the one thing that makes them different. So it’s actually a CEO problem, not a problem with the salespeople, in that a clear message has not been uniformly communicated.

Robin: Well thank you, I love that advice of first off kind of getting the data from the people that are closest to the customer, but also identifying what the root cause might actually be, so I appreciate you sharing. This has been another edition of Brandonomics, an inside look at top brands and their marketing strategies.



Vistage International is a peer-to-peer executive coaching organization, providing CEOs, business owners and executives of small to mid-size companies leadership training and business coaching to help them grow their companies. Founded in 1957, Vistage has more than 18,000 CEO members in 16 countries.

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