In our latest article we discussed what software developer companies typically use as differentiators (but shouldn’t). If you have not yet done so, it makes sense to read the post before this one. Also, if you want to fast forward - please, find the Differentiator Creator Workbook here - a collection of templates supporting you in building a Differentiator Deck.
What is a “Differentiator Deck”?
A Differentiator deck is a set of slides or information pages that sum up your specialties, experiences, and characteristics that truly set you apart from the competition. It’s a growing set of information. Some of it will stay in the deck for years, some information will change. Its most distinctive feature is that although the information is about you, it’s not built for you but for your prospective clients. This means the information needs to be transformed into an interesting relevant way.
I know you would want to start working on your differentiator deck right away, but first a few words on HOW you should be using it so that it will help your marketing efforts.
- Use what is relevant for the given project or customer. Companies tend to put everything, even the most unrelated into their reference deck and also into their differentiator slides.
- It’s about you, but it shouldn’t. The reason we have listed number 1, is that you are collecting information that is about you, but you have to turn it into information that is relevant to your prospect. This customization needs to happen for every proposal you send out. For every prospective customer, this deck must be customized. Some information will be removed, others will be highlighted.
- Always ask: how is this relevant to my prospect? If it’s not obvious to you, it will not be obvious to them either. So add some context-specific information. “Based on our conversation we have the understanding that your problem is XX and YY, which, in turn, is very similar to what we experienced at ZZ company on project WW”.
- Less is more. If it comes to details, less is more. So don’t overwhelm the other party with a similar set of information.
- If it’s numbers, make it bigger. If it’s engineering days, make it hours. If it’s millions of dollars, make it thousands of dollars. As a rule of thumb: if it’s years, keep it when you have more than 10 years of experience or a relationship with a client. If it’s less than 5 years, make it developer hours, or lines of code.
Other differentiating factors - during the sales process
- Speed. Reply quickly. Sounds simple, yet it works to react to actual attention. This helps build trust.
- To the point. A decision-maker doesn’t have time for your 20-page long email. It’s not rude to be focused, especially if you are aiming for US markets.
- Proper English. You don’t have to be perfect, but use a tool like Grammarly. It does not take more than 5-10 minutes and even with the free version, most of the annoying mistakes are corrected.
- Ask questions in the email or in the call, that move the conversation forward. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen emails that are long and in the end, I still had no clue what it was all about. Why did you write this email in the first place? What are you telling me or asking me?
- Answer the questions in the back and forth email exchange. Or during presentations. If you can’t answer, say that you can’t and when you will get back. If you don’t answer the questions, I don’t want to work with you. Or I get the impression that you are nodding when in fact you don’t understand the question at all, for example during a video call.
Ok, now let’s jump into the practical details on how to create the deck. The first step is to gather information. A lot of different, mostly customer-centric or customer-related information. This must be done prior to putting together the deck itself.
- Gather and understand information. In the downloadable workbook, you will find some sample questions. Modify it, or go with those, but gather as much information as possible. From multiple people involved in the project, and as many projects as possible. Make it part of your project delivery. Getting customer feedback is important and this step itself will elevate the perceived quality of your services.
- Change your contract to include the use of company names and logos on your website: the references. Every proposal should also include the small print that the prices listed are for projects where the company can use the references. In case the client is not willing to be a publicly listed reference, different prices will apply. You would be wondering how many companies are just manhandling subcontractors without a reason.
- Focus on stories. Stories are the easiest way to remember information. For you, for your clients, and for your prospects. So instead of just piling up hard data, add some flavor to it in the form of stories. Adding pictures to the story makes it even more credible. Most clients don’t mind being in the reference deck if it’s not public and just part of sales presentations of quotations.
- Share the customer feedback internally. If it’s good, it will elevate everyone. If it’s critical, everyone will try to get better the next time. Make this feedback loop transparent to your prospective clients. Great quality assurance is a differentiator in itself.
- Gather all the certificates. Personal or organizational, doesn’t matter. Pick everything, and make sure that you add a paragraph about the certification itself. What it means, why it’s important, and about the issuing body. Usually, that would mean one certificate/slide. Include links as well!
- Gather all your publications. No matter the quality, here it comes to name-dropping. Was your company featured in Hackernews? Gizmodo? Business Insider? On your country’s popular tech site? You are probably more experienced and knowledgeable than others. Why would these outlets otherwise turn to you? Referring to third parties makes your company exist: the general perception is that the more you are featured, the more of an authority you are.
- All the associations, meetups that you are part of, presented to or organized. Everyone will think that you know more than others and that you are well connected. Which is mostly true, but not always. The hidden psychological dynamics is that if you are on stage, you are somebody, people look up to you whereas, everyone else is pretty much on the same level. This shouldn’t be this way, and rarely are the ones presenting more exceptional than the audience, still, the general perception is differentiating between “on stage” and audience.
- Create summary slides. We call it name-dropping. Here quality AND quantity matter. The psychological trick is the following: if so many companies have trusted you, you can’t be bad. In some cultures, just the name of the references will build trust. The purpose of the summary slides is to have all the logos listed on one slide. You should create two summary slides: one for the certifications, and one for the client logos.
How to Use a Differentiator Deck Built Out of This Information
Based on the information you gather, you can create multiple sets of documents out of that. We have internal stories, a so-called trophy deck, where we list client projects and the most important sentence from their feedback.
It’s important to understand that the purpose of building such a deck is not to have something to spam your potential clients with. It must be tailored to your specific needs for each specific deal. Also, bear in mind that you shouldn’t use this as an opener. First, try to strike a conversation and based on the conversation customize the deck for that purpose.
Think of it as a software repository, where you have everything, but when you build software, you use only parts of the repository. Only the ones that are relevant for the given project. The same applies to sales. Do not overload the potential client with unnecessary information in advance, without knowing what they really need.
Make sure to keep all the decks updated and to collect the customer feedback into one folder. Logos approved by the clients, and reference letters approved by the clients should go in there as well.
Building the Differentiator Deck
Based on the information above and the client situation, you can start building your own decks, using your logo, brand identity, and your special voice. Talk to your marketing team or agency and provide them with the goals and information you want to see in the deck. Giving them a proper brief and enough information to work with helps most marketing teams, be it internal or external.
There is no strict order on how you should build your deck, what to put first, and what last. If you still need help or would like to see what one looks like, you can take a look at our Next Level Webinar with Philip Agnello.
You can build it by yourself, or download our Differentiator Deck Workbook!