The Thing About Differentiation, Brand and Culture (and Why Sales Leaders Should Care)

Sales Differentiation, Brand and Culture are inextricably linked.  If you’re a B2B Sales Leader in 2018, this is a fact that you should care about very much. Why? Because harnessing the energy of these three forces could be the lasting advantage you’re really looking for and you may be the person in your organization who is best positioned to make that happen.

What Do Amorphous Corporate Exercises Like Brand and Culture Have to Do with Sales?

It’s a great question that can be answered with a simple belief: any feature or function your organization can build or buy can be replicated by your competition over time. That part is common knowledge and well-documented (e.g. Simon Sinek, etc.). But differentiation—the real and lasting kind—is obtained by how and why you do what you (again, Sinek, etc.). All B2Bs that plan on long-term success will eventually operate in early majority or late majority markets, which place a premium on what they can expect from their suppliers.


What is often left out of the conversation is the application to most B2B environments, where field teams focus on differentiation (out-positioning the competition in a direct sales environment), corporate marketers own the brand (defining and amplifying the expected sensory perceptions of interaction with your organization) and HR works to shape culture (the expected behavior that drive the organization). In an ideal world, the three would be tuned to harmony.


Unfortunately, as B2B organizations grow bigger, and put more resources behind sales differentiation, branding, and culture, the three grow further and further apart. The result is a comedy of contradictions: management platitudes, disguised as values, that are aren’t reinforced by executive behavior; commitments to innovation undercut by slashing R&D budgets halfway through every quarter; and brand photography of smiling employees who are afraid they’ll land on a RIF list if they don’t agree to participate.

What to Do About It

  1. Be a voice for change. In most organizations—and especially in B2B organizations—Sales leaders are among the most powerful in the C-suite. Certainly, more so than the CMO and CHRO. Take the time to understand how a more powerful brand and culture can help your organization win in the long run and help to champion these efforts. Then, use your position of strength to help bring to light organizational behaviors that are in conflict.
  2. Champion customer centricity. IDEO’s Tom Kelley said it best: “If you’re not in the jungle, you’re not going to know the tiger.” Most marketing organizations are degrees removed from the customers. As a result, too many corporate branding efforts are based on customer surveys, consulting firm decks, analyst research and maybe (maybe) a handful of customer interviews. Putting Marketing and HR people directly in customer environments will help empty promises feel emptier and create a better balance of aspiration vs reality.
  3. Break down barriers to collaboration. When Marketing and Sales don’t work together, it is most often because 1) Marketing hasn’t demonstrated the value and doesn’t fully understand the day-to-day responsibilities of Sales (e.g. spend as much time selling as possible) and 2) Sales sets an unrealistically high bar and simply waits for Marketing to do all the work. Be the first one to give, but with a clear set of achievable expectations.

In a world full of business transformation, taking a lead role in driving lasting differentiation throughout an organization can create insurmountable advantages, leverage more of the organization’s resources in the Sales process (the original intent), and lead to a set of organizational behavior that most competitors will never replicate.