Ive been in sales too long (14 years to be exact). I have sold unique outside of the box products, and Plain Jane commodity products. Selling that which is unique is always the best and most profitable option, but more often than not we all get stuck selling a commodity for a paycheck. Ive seen companies I worked for come and go, I have seen product categories I sold come and go, as well as seen companies I have sold to come and go. The basic underlying factor that I personally saw, which left an impression on me was the selling of commodities. Commodities as a whole have become more of a product category geared to online stores so that is what I am going to address.
In selling commodities your biggest points of differentiation are in who you know at the organization you are trying to sell to, what new features you may have that your competitor doesnt, how well you can build rapport with a cold customer for a transactional sale, and what your price point is. The thing you have most control over which most people forget about is the experience your potential customer has with you, your product, and/or company. When all else fails experience and interaction win the day on getting someone to purchase a commodity from you.
We live in a click and view world. Most selling is done online now with commodity products, with more enterprise level products and services still being taken direct by professional sales people. Unless you are selling a major enterprise product, human interaction with your brand and products are being done online where the human condition is largely eliminated.
Where does that leave us?
Your website is a major, if not sole profit point for your company in many occasions. There are thousands of websites within your industry and thousands outside of your industry all fighting for market and mindshare. The good news is many of the thousands of sites you are competing with do a horrible job with product merchandising, site navigation, coherent marketing schemes, site speed, have bad site visuals that are dated or just plain ugly, likely have an awkward eCommerce experience as a whole, no personalization, and very low consumer functionality or IQ.
Online Commodity Experience
At this point you have probably figured out, creating a buyer centric experience is your key differentiator with the slew of competitors you are up against daily. If someone for example, wants to buy a screwdriver and some screws from your site you have once chance to shine to get them to come back to buy hammers and paint next time around. You have a necessity to make the site experience enjoyable and centered on your buyer. Their experience should, when possible be personalized, especially if they are a repeat buyer or buying group from a corporation(s) you currently do business with.
Corporate Commodity Buyers
Corporate buyers whether as individuals or groups will likely need a customized merchandising experience, with specific product catalogs, or products. This leads us down the road to microsites. The microsite experience should be an extension of your standard eCommerce store, with a focus on a uniquely engineered experience for whomever is buying based on prior shopping behaviors. You should be able to segment product, payment, and employee groups to optimize the buying experience. Your site should navigationally adept and aesthetically pleasing (not like a 14 year old put it together). Bottom line people should want to come back to your site at some point. You need to provide a substantial reason from them to do so. This leads to the possibility of having to have the re-platforming conversation with your executive management and IT staff to accommodate these upgrades.
As a whole many online sellers seem to be fine with their clunky, chewed up sites because they are making some money. That mentality leads to turning away opportunities in droves. If you are selling commodities that can be acquired in a thousand other places, you have to create an experience that makes people want to return. The failure to enhance the user experience especially if you are selling commodities will create a futile selling and growth environment, which in turn will facilitate the potential demise of your business. Of course, if your commodity business fails you will have more sales professionals in the future continue the time honored tradition of writing the same blog posts on commodities. Wouldnt you like to see that trend end, at least in your case?