Editor's note: This article first appeared on Mark Suster's blog Both Sides of the Table.

In my first enterprise software company we developed a methodology for sales that we called PUCCKA, which I wrote about previously

Having a good sales methodology can help you ensure your company runs more disciplined campaigns and focuses scarce resources on your best opportunities.

The first post covered the topic of “P” or pain. Simply, this is identifying a customer need which has economic value to them if they can solve it.

I call the P the first rule of sales or “Why Buy Anything?” and if you can’t persuade enough potential customers they have some pain that needs fixing you probably should stick to your day job.

And a reminder, prospects that don’t have pain related to what you do are no longer prospects! Qualifying leads is incredibly important to any successful company.

This post is about the “U” or Unique Selling Proposition, which in industry terms is often called a USP.

It is the second rule of sales, “Why Buy Me?”

Over the past 15 years I’ve worked with many software companies and a very common experience is teams who have a hard time articulating what is truly “unique” about them.

The reason for this is that the executives who founded the company have so much tacit knowledge of how to position their product relative to the competition that they can easily win campaigns when they’re involved.

This obviously doesn’t scale once the founder can’t be in every sales meeting.

So I often work with teams to get them to codify the key things they do well that the competition does not. Teams usually start with terminology that is very insular and less relevant to customers.

That’s OK for the first pass but you need to then move on to defining your USPs in simpler terminology that can be understood (and importantly remembered!) by your customers.

I call this George Bush vs. Al Gore. One seemed to know more, the other seemed to communicate better. I went into details in this post. Short (non partisan) answer: communicate like Bush.

It’s equally useful to know what your weaknesses are against your key competitors and honestly capturing those. You’ll need it so that you can work on “objection handling” when prospects naturally bring up these areas.

The other worthwhile exercise is to write down what your competitors uses as its USPs - even ones that you don’t think are really valuable to customers. Knowing how your competitors position their USPs against you is a very important part of winning.

So now you’ve got your key USPs written down and you’ve worked them into slide format to get them across to your prospects. You’re ready to test drive your new deck.

In the first half of your meeting you get the customer talking about his or her pain points (which I covered in the first post) by showing them references and then asking whether they find they have similar issues as your other clients in their sector.

Now is the time to discuss your solution. You want to be able to demonstrate your product and the best way I call, “A day in the life of …” where you show the demo as though you’re a user with a problem that needs to be solved. Ideally it will be close to the problems that your prospect is trying to solve.

Way too many sales reps demo products by showing features, which seldom resonates with users who are thinking, “OK, that’s cool. But how would I use it?”

You should never do this. You always need to demo the product in a “story” which by the way is now best practice in how product teams build their products. They call them “user stories.”

After a short demo it is worth pointing out some of important things your prospect is going to want to consider when making a purchasing decision in this product area. This is when your key USPs need to come out strongest.

If you do this well then when they take the inevitable meeting with your competition they will ask about these USP areas instinctively. And your competitors will bonk their head on the table because they’re tired of hearing that they can’t do A, B and C.

If you ever approach a prospect and hear them asking about features that seem unimportant to you but your competitors always emphasize, you’ll know they got to them first. While frustrating, this happens frequently so be prepared for your messages to overcome your competitors USPs.

And of course you also need your outbound marketing campaigns to emphasize your USPs so that prospects are already asking about them before the sales reps even start their meeting.

By the point you’re demoing and emphasizing USPs you may have had 1 to 2 meetings with your prospect. They may have met you at a conference, attended a web conference or somehow else interacted with your company’s marketing department.

So what’s next?

If you have gotten the customer to acknowledge a “pain” and they are aware and believe that your can uniquely solve that pain you’re a long way down the sales funnel.

They understand why they need to buy something. They have a hunch they should buy you.

And this is where 80% of sales stall.


Because although in theory they’d like to buy your product they don’t have any reason to buy NOW.

In order to buy now, now, now they need a “compelling event.”

Sometimes there is a disaster like an oil spill or a security breach at a company that forces a company or companies to all have budget to spend instantly on a problem.

But that instant product / market fit is rare.

So you need a business case to persuade customers that they should buy now. If they can quantify the amount of gain from using your product or the loss from not using it then you’ve got a burning platform from which to sell now.

It’s called ROI (return-on-investment) selling.

And that “compelling event” is the subject of my next post.