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Summary: Strikingly Different Selling: 6 Vital Skills to Stand Out and Sell More by Dale Merrill, Scott Savage, Randy Illig, Jennifer Colosimo


If you think most B2B service offerings sell themselves the same way, you’re right – but you don’t have to join the herd. Dale Merrill, Scott Savage, Jennifer Colosimo and Randy Illig reviewed the online presentations of five leading B2B professional services firms. The websites looked the same. Even when the authors switched around the firms’ names and logos, nothing about the message changed. Such uniformity makes it tough for B2B salespeople to convince prospects they offer something distinctive. The authors explain how salespeople can distinguish themselves and their companies to stand apart from their look-alike rivals – and to sell their individual services.


  • Your B2B prospects want your sales message and service offerings to be “strikingly different.”
  • All sales activities, including proposals, must pass the “RDM” test: are they relevant, distinctive and memorable?
  • Your sales message must be important to your prospects.
  • Salespeople often think they’re doing great with prospects, but prospects disagree.
  • Providing relevant, distinctive and memorable sales activities takes six skills:
  • 1. Develop a “verbal billboard” that promotes your offerings.
  • 2. Create messages that excite and intrigue your prospects.
  • 3. Provide past success stories – “flashbacks” – and future success stories – “flashforwards.”
  • 4. Give prospects “Why us! differentiators” that distinguish your firm from its rivals.
  • 5. Uncover any gaps in the information you share with prospects.
  • 6. Fix those gaps to complete your “message house.”
  • Prepare a positive answer to one vital question: What makes you unique?

Book Summary: Strikingly Different Selling - 6 Vital Skills to Stand Out and Sell More


B2B prospects want everything associated with B2B salespeople and their firms to be “strikingly different.”

What do B2B prospects want from the salespeople who call on them? Comprehensive sales research indicates they want B2B salespeople to present distinctive proposals, sales messages, sales dialogues, and products or services. Your prospects want your proposal to be “strikingly different.”But many salespeople and their firms struggle to find meaningful ways to stand out from the crowd. Even when they offer great services, their messages remain strikingly average.

“The primary question today is: How can sellers stand out as different and better when the competition is at such a high level?”

Research sifting through more than 14,500 B2B prospects indicates that a scary 42% don’t notice any significant differences among B2B sellers. Many report that most sellers are the same – they’re all average.But B2B prospects don’t want average; they want special, exceptional and singular – positively above average.

All sales activities, including proposals, must pass the “RDM” test: are they relevant, distinctive and memorable?

How can your firm and your salespeople differentiate your proposals, sales message, client conversations and other sales activities? How can you become strikingly different? Meet these goals by making your sales materials relevant, distinctive and memorable – that’s the RDM formula.

“[Prospects] not only appreciate our willingness to solve an issue, but more importantly, our ability to do it together.”

Think of the RDM criteria as an equation: “relevant + distinct + memorable = strikingly different.” Here’s how these factors break down:

  • Relevant – Prioritize the information that means the most to your B2B prospect.
  • Distinct – Make sure your product or service is different and superior.
  • Memorable – Your offering should be “sticky,”– simple to share and hard to forget.

Your sales message must be important to your prospects.

Frame all pertinent sales issues through a prism that satisfies your prospects’ important interests, needs and expectations. Incorporate your prospects’ language, phrasing and special terms in your pitch.

As you focus on issues that are important to your prospect, make your message concise and compelling.

“The inability of salespeople to stand out is a pervasive issue with costly consequences.”

Establishing strikingly different sales activities will never be easy. Indeed, many salespeople struggle with trying to figure out how to explain their offerings’ distinct qualities. To solve that dilemma, answer three questions:

  1. How can I make my messages stand out? – Consider what the lack of a differentiated message means to your prospects. As a disappointed prospect might put it, your sales message is exactly like everyone else’s. Consider the prospect’s perspective as you identify what is new, original or special about your product or service in terms of how it serves them.
  2. How do I create messages that offer united narratives? – Your success stories must be coherent and must align with your offering and your prospect’s priorities. Tell illustrative stories that are easy to follow and to repeat, and that resonate with your listeners.
  3. What is the most compelling way to showcase sales messages and stories? – Sales stories need to satisfy both an intelligence quotient (IQ) and an emotional quotient (EQ). Smart sales stories show how your goods or services address your prospects’ important concerns and moving stories evoke your prospects’ emotions as they consider how your offering can solve their problems.

Salespeople often think they’re doing great with prospects, but prospects disagree.

In general, B2B salespeople may not be the best objective analysts and reliable interpreters of the vital sales situations and issues they confront every day.

Authors Dale Merrill, Scott Savage, Jennifer Colosimo and Randy Illig observed 1,700 different sales interaction scenarios involving 2,800 different sales professionals at every stage of the sales cycle. Most of the salespeople had superb training, solid experience and impressive résumés. In many cases, they were also their firms’ top performers.

“The differences between options make the biggest impact when it comes to decision-making, where it’s not good enough just to be different.”

After their observations, the authors interviewed the salespeople, asked how they came across to their prospects and got answers like these:

  • It was a solid meeting. We hit a few speed bumps, but we managed to make progress.
  • The appointment was positive. The Q&A session was productive, and we reached a solid agreement about specific market issues. The prospective client appears interested, and we anticipate follow-up conversations.
  • They accept our approach to solving their problem, our execution plan and our competitive differentiation. We’re in the right spot to close this deal.

The authors and their colleagues then interviewed many of the prospects who met with these salespeople. More than 70% of the prospects reacted negatively to these star salespeople. Often, they found the meetings wasted their time and said that if the sales meetings had been real – not practice scenarios – they would not have asked the salespeople to return.

In many interactions between sales professionals and prospects, the salespeople think they’re doing great, while the prospects think the salespeople missed the mark. In more bad news, the authors agreed with the prospects’ negative evaluations. They, too, reached the conclusion that the average B2B salesperson can do a better job of interacting with prospects.

Providing relevant, distinctive and memorable sales activities takes six skills:

Clearly, many B2B salespeople would benefit from a refresher course in how to deal more effectively with prospects. Start with basics, the RDM criteria. Making your sales messaging relevant, distinctive and memorable takes six special sales skills.

“Average win rates [are]…a dismal 17% for deals above $100,000 across multiple industries globally.”

The first four skills enable you to make a connection and establish prospects’ engagement by introducing enticing ideas and a clear picture of an improved future outcome due to your offering. Your goal is to construct a strikingly different “message house” that incorporates all the elements of your sales presentation.

To communicate the ideal sales messages, your message house must look like, feel like and develop into a message home for your customer. RDM is the foundation of your message house. The roof is your primary message. The structural beams of your message house are “supporting messages.” And your message house has only potential value – not actual value – until the client feels ownership of it as well. True value occurs when you and your prospective clients validate and co-create your message houses together. An effective message should be entirely about your prospects’ business problems and how you will solve them. To reach that point:

1. Develop a “verbal billboard” that promotes your offerings.

Your verbal billboard is your basic message to B2B prospects. Make it strong and compelling to gain their attention. Powerfully address their true concerns.

“Go from the stress and frustration of closing the books in six weeks to the relief and satisfaction of closing them in five days – a strikingly-different headline for a verbal billboard directed at a farming cooperative”

Your verbal billboard, whether oral or in writing, must be clear, concise and easy to understand. Construct it as a main headline with three supporting points. Focus on the prospects’ primary interests and desired outcomes. To make it memorable, structure it as a conversation, not a fact list.

2. Create messages that excite and intrigue your prospects.

Hollywood film producers spend millions to make their movies. They hire hundreds of professionals, including screenwriters, cinematographers, grips, choreographers and additional specialists. However, the success or failure of their expensive movie often depends on how the public reacts to their short trailer, the teaser for the film.

“Your organization’s success in the marketplace depends largely on the first few minutes you interact with clients.”

You want your sales message to hook prospects like a movie trailer hooks a theater audience. You want your sales message to be so exciting that prospects will feel compelled to set up meetings and solicit your formal sales proposal.

3. Provide past success stories – “flashbacks” – and future success stories – “flashforwards.”

Prospects often ask salespeople about their former results with a particular sales or product. To answer this question, your sales message need to include flashbacks – success stories from your experiences. These stories should demonstrate how your offerings greatly aided current and former customers.

“By sharing past outcomes, we build the [prospects’]… confidence that we can replicate a similar approach and success for them, even when they may have different goals and targets.”

Your sales message should include promising pictures of the future your client’s firm will enjoy thanks to your product. These stories depict a positive outcome by demonstrating specifically how your products or services will help clients succeed.

4. Give prospects “Why us!” differentiators that distinguish your firm from its rivals.

Your sales messaging should feature many Why us! Differentiators. These elements of your message distinguish your company from your competition. You must explain how these distinguishing traits will prove valuable to your B2B prospects.

“Clients make decisions based on differences, not similarities. So your differences must stand out.”

To show why and how you’re different, explain why your distinctive traits matter to the prospect. Refer to points of comparison between you and your rivals, briefly describe how your product or service will make things better for your prospects, and detail how your differences will enable them to achieve improved results.

5. Uncover any gaps in the information you share with prospects.

The fifth and sixth skills are not formal parts of your message house. They are steps that enable you to form a partnership with your prospects to create messages together. These steps help you demonstrate that you understand the clients’ primary concerns. Then your message house truly becomes your prospects’ message house.

“Often, just one main differentiator…will be enough to stand out as different and better.”

The fifth skill is being able to rely on prospects’ feedback and to understand their situation, so you can uncover any message gaps or discrepancies.These gaps will include problems clients suffer that your product can solve. Focus your conversations with prospects on their problems and objectives.

6. Fix those gaps to complete your message house.

The sixth skill is fixing any message gaps you discover by applying the fifth skill. Once you do, you can complete your message. These gaps – which your prospects will see and identify – are challenges they must confront that your products or service can help eliminate.

“Finding the gaps means understanding the client’s business problem and desired results and refining, adapting and co-creating the message house to be spot-on with what the [prospect] needs.”

The only way to discover messaging gaps is person to person conversation, not a one-way monologue. Listen carefully to discover the gaps your prospects see and to figure out how to close them. You must clearly be operating on your prospects’ behalf and for their benefit. You’ll need both humility and confidence. Achieving a high-end, open-ended dialogue with prospects doesn’t happen by itself. You must be an adept conversationalist to launch open-ended dialogue. The best way to build your conversational skills or persuasive ability is to engage in spirited conversations with those around you. To become a great B2B sales professional, you must learn to be a relaxed, adept conversationalist.

Prepare a positive answer to one vital question: What makes you unique?

As you put your message-house elements – “billboards, movie trailers, flashbacks…flashforwards, and ‘why us!’ differentiators” – to work, make them integral to your interactions with prospects. Continuously validate the messages you co-create with your prospects. Present your message to your prospects by framing issues the way that they frame them. The primary purpose of your unique sales actions is to answer prospects positively when they ask, “How are you different?” Your answer often means the difference between a profitable sale and a dead end. As you deliver your sales message, you’re setting the stage so that when your prospects confer with their colleagues, they will discuss your compelling sales-success stories, not your competitors’ stories. And it’s through the re-telling of your stories that B2B sales eventually get made.

About the Authors

Dale Merrill is a global managing director at FranklinCovey. Jennifer Colosimo is the president of FranklinCovey’s Enterprise Division. Randy Illig is a sales performance expert at FranklinCovey, and Scott Savage is a consultant and public speaker on sales, leadership and negotiation.


“Strikingly Different Selling: 6 Vital Skills to Stand Out and Sell More” is a comprehensive guidebook written by Dale Merrill, Scott Savage, Randy Illig, and Jennifer Colosimo. The book aims to equip sales professionals with essential skills and strategies to differentiate themselves in a competitive market and achieve greater success in sales.

The authors begin by emphasizing the importance of standing out in a crowded marketplace. They argue that traditional sales techniques are no longer sufficient in today’s rapidly evolving business landscape. Instead, they propose a fresh approach that focuses on building authentic relationships, understanding customer needs, and delivering unique value propositions.

One of the book’s strengths lies in its structured format and clear organization. The authors divide the content into six vital skills, each dedicated to a specific aspect of selling. This approach allows readers to navigate the book easily and focus on areas they may want to improve. The skills covered include:

  • Differentiation: The authors emphasize the significance of distinguishing oneself from competitors. They provide practical techniques for identifying unique selling points and crafting compelling value propositions that resonate with customers.
  • Emotional Connection: Building strong emotional connections with customers is crucial for successful selling. The book offers insights into understanding customer emotions, active listening, and effective communication, enabling sales professionals to forge deeper connections.
  • Insight Selling: In this section, the authors delve into the power of providing valuable insights to customers. They guide readers on how to leverage industry knowledge, data, and trends to position themselves as trusted advisors and problem solvers.
  • Collaborative Negotiation: Negotiation skills are vital for closing deals effectively. The authors share strategies for collaborative negotiation, focusing on win-win outcomes and fostering long-term relationships with customers.
  • Competitor Differentiation: To outperform competitors, sales professionals must understand competitor offerings and effectively articulate their unique advantages. The book provides frameworks for conducting competitive analyses and positioning oneself favorably in the market.
  • Continuous Improvement: The final skill discussed in the book is the commitment to continuous learning and growth. The authors stress the importance of self-reflection, seeking feedback, and adapting to changing market dynamics.

Throughout the book, the authors support their insights and recommendations with real-life examples, case studies, and practical exercises. This combination of theory and application enhances the book’s value, allowing readers to apply the concepts directly to their sales endeavors.

“Strikingly Different Selling” is highly relevant to sales professionals in various industries. The authors’ expertise and experience shine through, providing a credible foundation for their advice. The writing style is engaging, making the book accessible and enjoyable to read.

However, one potential limitation of the book is its focus primarily on the individual salesperson. While it offers valuable guidance on personal sales skills, it may benefit from further exploration of team dynamics, sales management strategies, and leveraging organizational resources.

In conclusion, “Strikingly Different Selling: 6 Vital Skills to Stand Out and Sell More” is a valuable resource for sales professionals seeking to enhance their performance in today’s competitive business environment. It offers practical techniques, actionable insights, and a structured framework to help salespeople differentiate themselves, build strong relationships, and achieve greater sales success. By incorporating the principles outlined in this book, sales professionals can elevate their selling approach and drive meaningful results.

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