Sales: exploiting the Blue Ocean strategy.

Sales: exploiting the Blue Ocean strategy. 1024 585 Bruno Sireyjol

The Blue Ocean strategy is not just for strategists. It provides a powerful framework for sales professionals to rethink their entire sales approach, from qualification to value creation.

In the competitive landscape of sales, where companies vie for market share and customers’ attention, finding ways to stand out can be challenging. In crowded “red oceans”, mature markets where competition is fierce, traditional sales strategies too often involve competing head-to-head.

New entrants may sometimes disrupt the market boundaries and enjoy an overwhelming advantage through outstanding features and functions that provide both a cost and value edge. As a result, incumbent players with legacy offers are left with little to compete on. Sales eagles may still stand out from the pack. Most reps, however, will struggle. Most reps, however, will struggle.

The Blue Ocean strategy, coined by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne in their groundbreaking book, focuses on creating new markets and making the competition irrelevant. Rather than competing in existing market spaces (red oceans) where competition is bloody, businesses should seek to create new market space (blue oceans) where competition becomes irrelevant.

What does this have to do with sales? Isn’t it up to leadership and marketing to influence or reshape strategy? Not quite. Sales professionals can apply the principles of the Blue Ocean strategy. The aim is not to find ways of unlocking new markets, but rather to leverage the approach to redefine what makes them unique and review their sales strategies. That’s how we do it for our customers.


Design your value curve


The first step is to get an exhaustive view of the market competitive factors. This is the same approach used to define the strategy canvas for a market The goal is to cover the entire value chain from the very first customer touch point to customer value realization.

Start with your flagship product. Involve everyone likely to interact with your customers: lead generation, pre-sales, customer success or implementation. Brainstorm on the competitive factors that make you and your competitors different. Regroup factors by relevant categories: it may be product, service and delivery or the various stages of your customers’ buying cycle.

No recent in-depth surveys or customer reviews available? Perhaps you haven’t even made the Voice of Your Customer a strategic initiative yet? That’s all right. Rely on your opportunities Win/Loss analysis and on the collective horsepower and wisdom to score the value you and your competitors deliver to buyers on a scale from 1 to 10 for each competitive factor.

You get your value curve: a graphic representation depicting how you and your competitors are respectively doing against the competitive factors valued by customers. You may offer more than one product and tap several verticals: replicate the approach by product and industries. We never said strategy was a walk in the park.


Apply the 4 action framework:


If you are a legacy vendor, your value curve may not look good on the features and functions. Luckily enough, winning in sales does not consist only in offering the best product. Fortunately, in the world of sales, winning isn’t just about offering the best product. Being aware of your weaknesses will enable you to better acknowledge them and better handle objections when interacting with your customers.

Hopefully, your strategy canvas will point out distinct factors that are unique to you and where you should absolutely focus or activate to highlight what makes you different. This is the aim of the 4 actions framework.

In pure strategy, the 4 actions framework is used to define :

  1. • Which factors should be eliminated: these are the factors that are taken for granted but too much valued by customers or not that valuable.
  2. • Which factors should be reduced below the industry’s standard: these are factors – product features or services- over designed in the race to beat the competition.
  3. • Which factors should be raised above the industry’s standard: these are the compromises your industry forces customers to make.
  4. What factors need to be created that the industry has never offered: these are the new sources of value for your future buyers.

In strategy, the goal is to build, well, a compelling strategy and uncover underserved or overlooked markets. Therefore, eliminating and creating are critical to drive innovation. In sales, the goal is not to redefine the entire value chain to deliver a unique and compelling offering. This is rather to focus on reducing and raising respectively unfavorable and favorable factors.

Provided the competitive factors you decide to activate are real and unique, you may find immediately actionable items to move away from head-to-head competition. For more ambitious sales organizations, the goal will be to redefine completely the problem the market focuses on. In a nutshell, shaping a differentiated value vision or reframing the problem solved and the way to solve it. This is the cornerstone of the Challenger Sales methodology.


Leverage the approach:


Now you have selected what you should raise or reduce to emphasize your strengths, minimize your weaknesses or reshape the buyers’ vision, what is next? To answer this question, we need to bear in mind that the blue ocean strategy is defined by 3 criteria:

  • An absolute focus on competitive factors.
  • An obvious divergence of your value curve from that of your rivals.
  • A compelling tagline.

In sales, the first point relates to hard qualification. It means that you must adopt new qualification standards that allow you to test the alignment of prospects existing buying criteria with your new unique selling points and get them fingerprinted throughout the buying cycle. It implies not playing by the rules and engaging with power early to check if customer buying vision aligns – or can be reengineered – with your competitive factors. Customers’ adherence to your sales strategies will tell if you are now playing to win, instead of just being busy pursuing opportunities where you are the underdog.

The second point is common sense. Your value curve must be distinct from that of your competitors. If not, it’s up to you to create distinct, unique… and real value drivers and solution enablers. Piece of cake! You are in sales, and leveraging the blue ocean strategy principles is not about identifying new product features that may be delivered by R&D in 2 years. Providing a unique sales experience may be what makes you different. Look however into the strategy canvas of your products portfolio : bundling distinct offers may pull you out of the convenience trap.

The third point covers the following elements of your perfect sales toolbox: business promise, value proposition and elevator pitch. These are various versions of what you do, why you do it, how you do it differently and what unique value you bring to customers. Ideally, distinct versions should be crafted according to reps’ industries and personas. These elements enable sales reps to clearly articulate the unique benefits of their offer and how they address the pain points of their audience. They should therefore reflect customers’ answers to simple qualifying questions such as “Why anything, why you, and why now”.


In red oceans, competition often revolves around existing, accepted purchasing criteria. Sales professionals can’t afford to wait for leadership, marketing or R&D to redefine the boundaries of hyper-competitive markets. By taking advantage of the principles of the Blue Ocean strategy, sales professionals won’t create Blue Oceans.

However, they can change the game by focusing exclusively on what makes you different or reshaping the buying criteria altogether based on unique selling points overlooked or undervalued by customers. This can include simply enriching the sales experience, simplifying the purchasing process or increasing service quality.

Looking for creative ways to improve your sales efficiency?

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