How Not to Turn Your Product into a Commodity

I was working in the office one afternoon when two salespeople from an office supply company walked in. After they introduced themselves, they wasted no time noticing the laser printer on my desk. One quickly stated, “I see you have the Brother 2170. I can save you money on your toner.” With a saddened look and tone, I asked, “Why do you have to be like that?”

They looked puzzled and one asked, “Like what?” I responded by saying, “You come into my office and insult me.” With a bemused look on his face he said, “I didn’t insult you. I just said I could save you money on your toner. You want to save money, right?” That statement only made it worse.

I shared my interpretation of what I, the prospect, heard. I explained, “You are telling me that I made a bad purchasing decision and wasted my hard earned money by overpaying on my toner, and that I don’t know how to shop for office supplies. You made me feel even worse by saying you only wanted to save me money, as if I was not capable of doing that on my own.” The salesperson assumed that I make purchases based only upon price, and that I am not smart enough to make purchasing decisions on the best value, part of which might be price. Coming in and pitching his products on the lowest price means he is admitting that I should shop only on price, and therefore, he loses the business he just won when the next salesperson walks in making the same statement. His holding position is based solely on price and is the foundation that is destined to be gone and requires constant maintenance. I said, “It sounds like you are encouraging me to buy on the lowest price, so if someone else walks in right after you, I should buy from them, because they are selling at a lower price than you. Am I right?”

He said, “No, because we have better service.” “Better service than whom?” I asked. “Than the competition,” he said. Remember, he does not know the competition, only his side of the story. He is betting against himself. How does he know that I get my toner from a customer of mine, or a family member, or someone close to me? And for that, he insulted me, and will not get my business, and if he gets my business on price, he could lose it at any time.

“But that’s not what you led with when you walked in. Do you see the problem with your sales proposition? You are turning your products into commodities, not me, the prospect.” I said.

Too often sales people rush in with money saving options when that is not what the prospect is looking for in making a decision. Do not assume that you know what the prospect wants until you ask them, and until you learn the impact it will have on them. Ask them questions – they are the answers. Only when you have the whole story is someone ready for your story. Most decisions are not about price, it is just the excuse that someone uses to justify a position when it looks like that will drive away the need to make a real decision.

Remember, always protect your prospect’s dignity. Never tell them or even imply that they made a mistake with their previous decision. This includes the equipment, the price, the company, the terms, the market or timing within of the company’s growth. If you show respect, you will, in turn, get respect. You have so much more to deliver than price can measure.

Bottom line: It is difficult to a make a sale without understanding the buying motives, budget, and decision making process. It is the salespersons job to find and uncover them before making a presentation.


  1. Scott- What a great reminder to not insult the prospect by putting down his or her choices.

  2. Great article. I’ve had many of the same sales people come into my office with that exact pitch… Understand your prospect before you open your trap and spew drivel all over his office! Thanks for the kick in the pants Scott!

  3. Great article, Scott! So I’m curious – if that salesman was, indeed, wanting to sell you toner, what would be the best approach that would appeal to you? Give us that story, too!

  4. Great point. This is reinforced by Oren Klaff in “Pittch Anything”. He suggests that you start by creating desire in a non-threatening way. He says money does not sell, but emotion does.

  5. Scott,
    Very good points. If one is selling on price alone there are others that can sell it cheaper. It’s best to find the buyers wants and needs by asking questions.
    Wayne Wise

  6. Alex Dabelstein says

    Great post Scott. One of your best and most thought provoking.

  7. Phil Berbig says

    Excellent point and a great story! Thank you for sharing that one.


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