Is Your Unique Selling Proposition Actually Unique?

Experts from marketing, sales and CX weigh in on how to craft the best USP.
Written by Brian Nordli
April 21, 2021Updated: April 22, 2021

What makes your company unique? Answering that question is trickier than it seems.

While every entrepreneur may think their software is revolutionary, the differences among most competing SaaS products today are miniscule. Instead, defining your company’s edge requires understanding your internal mission, conducting extensive customer research and running a lot of tests, said Alicia Gaba, SVP of marketing for InterVision Systems.

Nailing it can guide a company’s growth and success for years to come, while missing the mark can make a promising platform fade into the pack. This is what’s at stake when a company develops its unique selling proposition, a short statement encapsulating why a customer should choose your product over a competitor’s. (Think Avis’ “We’re number two. We try harder.”)

“You’re not going to survive if you don’t have differentiation,” Gaba said.

What Is a Unique Selling Proposition?

A unique selling proposition is a short, memorable statement encapsulating why a customer should choose your product over a competitor’s. It should reflect and influence the company’s sales, marketing and product strategies. A popular example is the car rental company Avis’ USP: “We’re number two. We try harder.”

But crafting a unique selling proposition (USP) isn’t just a marketing exercise. A well-executed USP is a rallying cry that shapes a company’s sales strategy, customer experience and product development. There’s a science and art to developing a statement that resonates both with customers and within the company.

We gathered the perspectives of a marketer, a VP of revenue enablement and a managing director of customer experience to dig into how to design and roll out an effective USP.

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Alicia Gaba, SVP of Marketing, InterVision Systems

Marketing often plays a hands-on role in crafting the company’s unique selling proposition. But it’s not an isolated project. Whenever Gaba has been tasked with building one, she tries to gather perspectives from three fundamental figures:

  • The customers
  • The customer-facing teams (sales, sales enablement, customer success, etc.)
  • Department leaders

Her goal is to understand why customers choose her company over others and then craft the messaging that matches that reason.

 

Survey Your Customers and Look for Common Themes

You have to go through a process of deep discovery, almost like a brand study. From there, you can start to pull apart the themes and look for how these things relate to each other. What doesn’t relate? What are the most popular themes that are coming up? And what can we truly own?

At a previous company, we went through a process of documenting the themes, as well what we do that we don’t think the competition is doing. And we started validating that with external people. Our customers told us they had a lot more confidence in what we did in the data recovery space, and they used terms like assurance. So, we re-articulated our USP around the fact that we deliver more confidence and assurance in this solution set than our competitors do.

 

Own the ‘How’

This is hard, but one easy first step is to look at your competitors’ messaging. Do we sound like a “me, too?” If you’re in a similar space, it can be hard because you ultimately do some of the same things. That’s where the “how” becomes more important, and making sure we own that statement more than they can own that statement.

This is also where “customers lost” data becomes important. Do you have prospects who didn’t choose you and instead chose the competition because of something like your USP? If they’re going to someone else because they do that thing you put in your USP better than you do, then you have a big problem.

 

Company Buy-In Is Key to a Long-Lasting USP

The only constant is change, but you do want it to have a decent shelf life. So you’ve got to be thinking about what could change in the market that could make your USP irrelevant over time. You always have to pressure test your USP based on that.

They’ve anchored their unique selling proposition around the fact that they have visibility into things that we want as salespeople and marketers.”

But if you’ve done the homework, and everybody is nodding their head and saying, “Yes, this is what makes us unique,” and there’s buy-in at the executive level, it should drive your product roadmap and refinement. Because if you have said: “This is our North Star. We’re winning based on this, and we’re going to continue to build on it as our differentiation,” then the organization has rallied around it. Because a USP is not just a sales and marketing thing — it’s a company thing.

 

Incorporate Sales in the USP Conversation

The sales team has to buy into the unique selling proposition. If they’re bought in on it, it’ll naturally become part of their conversations. You start to qualify around it, and your talk track anchors around it. You don’t have to use the exact phrasing, but the sales rep has to own the USP in their talk track, and it has to be part of their qualification process. If what makes you unique doesn’t matter to the prospect, then a deal probably isn’t going to happen.

 

Gaba’s Favorite USP

6sense: “Know everything so you can do anything.”

The thing that stood out is that [6sense] 100-percent owned the USP throughout the entire marketing and sales process. They’ve anchored their unique selling proposition around the fact that they have visibility into things that we want as salespeople and marketers, and their competition does not. And it shows up in the questions they asked me to ask their competitors.

You can absolutely tell that it’s part of their product roadmap, and it’s embedded in everything that they do from a go-to-market standpoint.

 

John Moore, VP of Revenue Enablement, Bigtincan

Sales enablement isn’t always involved in building the USP, but they do play an important role in the roll out. At the sales enablement software firm Bigtincan, Moore does provide input on the messaging, but his main focus is making sure the messaging across all customer-facing teams is unified.

 

Define Why the Company Exists and Who It Serves

For me it always comes down to the “why.” I’m not a marketer, so I’m not going to define the USP from a marketing perspective, but to me, the USP is, “Why do we exist as a business?” And then, “Who do we serve?” For Bigtincan it’s “helping every customer-facing person become a trusted advisor.”

 

Create a Project Plan to Roll Out the USP to the Sales Team

With anything, you want to put together a project plan and figure out what you’re trying to achieve as a result of rolling out that change. If it’s a USP, it’s about making sure the sales team can effectively deliver it with confidence.

If we’re not involved with the messaging, we have to sit down with those who were and really seek to understand it.”

If we’re not involved with the messaging, we have to sit down with those who were and really seek to understand it. Because it’s not simply 10 or 20 words, it’s all the subtlety that went into building it. You chose the words “trusted adviser,” why did you choose that over “confident seller” or something else? You’ll discover that phrase is going to be really relevant to all of the materials that you put out.

 

Create a One-Pager on the USP for the Sales Team

At the very least, you need to create a one-pager or a simple card that spells out what the USP is, why it matters and how it impacts the audience you’re talking to. If you do that, you’re on the right track. You could even take case studies and other things that have been created in the past and explain how those still fit. Help people draw those relationships between what you’re saying today and what you’ve done in the past. That way people can see that it’s not that much different than what they’ve been talking about.

 

Don’t Just Train Reps on the USP, Coach Them

You build the training around your USP, the messaging and the “why,” but I think too many teams invest too much time in the actual training. If you look at how people learn, they tend to truly incorporate a skill through practice and repetition. So you do a basic training session to reinforce the topic and give people a chance to ask questions. Then you translate it into coaching.

It’s a collaboration. Sales, customer success and anybody talking to a customer has real input about what’s resonating with the customers and prospects out there.”

If you have an inside sales team, the best thing to do is sit down with a rep and go through their calls for the day and strategize based on the USP: “How are you going to leverage that in your discovery or the initial sales conversation?” Maybe you record their calls and give feedback after the fact, or you sit there with them side by side and give immediate feedback on how they could improve.

 

Test Your New USP Strategy With Top Sellers

It’s a collaboration. Sales, customer success and anybody talking to a customer has real input about what’s resonating with the customers and prospects out there. In my experience, you build this USP with a bunch of smart people in your ivory tower, and then you give it to your top sellers and customer-facing people. They’ll have trusted customers and partners who will be honest and call us on our bullshit when it’s appropriate. They’ll tell you if that messaging feels right and makes them want to do business with you.

 

Ben Labay, Managing Director CX, Speero

As the managing director at Speero, Labay and his team work with companies to test the customer experience on their websites. For his clients, the USP isn’t just a sentence defining the company, it’s the messaging and imagery that build up to it.

 

Be Wary of Growth Diluting Your USP

What happens is you start a company because you realize a gap, and that gap defines the USP. As you grow and you apply what you’ve done to more and more audiences, that’s where things get sloppy. So, as you get to mid-market and to enterprise, you’re introducing more products and features, and you lose that power of focus. You can dilute your USP.

 

Define Who Your Customer Is (and Isn’t)

There’s a tip-of-the-spear exercise around defining the purpose of what you’re doing. What’s your vision? This is the job of the CEO. Who do you want to be a hero to? And let’s not get distracted by trying to be a hero to everyone. Let’s define who we’re not a hero to. That’s a good question, and people don’t ask it enough.

So you need to do some customer research around the messaging and language. Then you need to make sure the entire organization from marketing to customer success to product are using the same language with regards to who we’re a hero to and how we’re different. What’s our internal brand? The internal point of view needs to come first. The more aligned the company is on the internal brand, the stronger your ability to affect the brand.

 

Make Agency Identity a Weekly Agenda Item

It takes a long time to figure out the internal brand and get the team aligned behind it. Every week, I have an agenda item for an agency identity topic: Who are we and who are we not? If we can get the whole team to know what we do and what we don’t do, it creates a latticework in everyone’s head of what the priority is in every decision.

It takes a long time to figure out the internal brand and get the team aligned behind it.”

I recently sent a survey to our whole team asking how they describe what our agency does to their mom or best friend. I got answers ranging from, “We do conversion rate optimization,” to, “We optimize any metric,” to, “We do innovations with data.” It was all over the place. So we had a conversation acknowledging that fact and getting more aligned. It was maybe 30 minutes of time, but it’s incredibly useful if you stack those conversations.

 

Create Messaging That Resonates With Your Buyer Personas

The first part is defining your USP. That’s the product-market fit, that’s the gap you want to fill, that’s the customer interviews and the CEO listening to customers and hearing their problems and pivoting accordingly.

Companies are good at knowing they need to change the USP, and they do change it, but it’s not always the right thing.”

But on the website and optimization side, messaging is really important. If you’re in the restaurant industry, instead of labeling your products like “POS systems” and “financial management,” you write “back-of-house” and “front-of-house” management. That language is more relevant to the way your customers work and the way they make decisions.

 

Updating Your USP and Messaging Isn’t Always a Good Idea

As you continue to do product development, you’ve got to update [the USP] because you’re bringing in new features and new products. But I find that companies constantly update it, and they’ll constantly dilute themselves. There’s a constant political battle for homepage sliders and what they do; everyone wants a piece of it. Companies are good at knowing they need to change the USP, and they do change it, but it’s not always the right thing. That’s where the trip up happens.

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Labay’s Favorite USP

Native: “Deodorant that isn’t a chemistry experiment.”

Two or three years ago, I worked with Native deodorant. The CEO had one of the best USPs I’d seen. There are a lot of natural, “good-for-you” deodorant products out there these days, but four or five years ago, not so much. So its homepage said, “Deodorant that isn’t a chemistry experiment.”

This is a jobs-to-be-done approach. Do I hire a $12 stick deodorant to stay fresh and clean? No. I can hire other deodorants. But I hire Native to not have my body be a chemistry experiment. It’s very end-user focused, outcome focused. It’s very powerful.

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