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START TO TELL YOUR STORY: The 6th Step to Mastering the Lost Art of Differentiation

Dr. Howard Gardner's quote

(PART 6 OF 6.5)


Author’s note: IndustRetail blog is exploring the Six-and-a-half Steps to Mastering the Lost Art of Differentiation. The first article examined the first step—identifying your key targets. The last article explored making sure your points of differentiation are meaningful. This is the sixth article in the series; and it details how to start to tell your story.


Where do 800-pound gorillas look for bananas?

Wherever they want.

Unfortunately, your company is probably more like a spider monkey than an 800-pound gorilla. But don’t worry. The gorillas can’t eat all the bananas in the jungle. There are still plenty left for the taking. You just have to outsmart the gorillas.

If you’ve been following this series, you now know the points of differentiation that your key targets value (and will pay for). If not, fear not–and click here! In Step 6 of our series, Six-and-a-half Steps to Mastering The Lost Art of Differentiation, it’s time to tell a riveting story.

As an independent industrial distributor, you’re comfortable with establishing client relationships and servicing those accounts. In fact, you’ve probably built a great sales team and a culture that values selling highly. But how about marketing?

Yeah, thought so. Let’s face it, most distributors have as much interest in marketing as they do bee keeping. 

And that’s reasonable–but it could be costly. We tend to avoid areas outside of our comfort zones; independent distributors are hardly immune from this phenomenon. And marketing is typically well outside of the comfort zone of most independent distributors.

You may have even given it a few tries, but telling your story has proven to be substantially more difficult than selling industrial products. But what if I told you that creating a differentiating narrative and reinforcing it at every point of contact will lead to more sales?

As much as I hate to invoke the “G-Word” here, Grainger is currently the superpower in the industrial distribution market. Chances are, they’re your biggest competitor. If not them, it’s MSC or Motion Industries or another national player. They have tremendous size and resources. They’re 800-pound gorillas and your company is probably more like a spider monkey.

While 800-pound gorillas are strong, they’re not exactly as nimble as spider monkeys. And that’s why spider monkeys eat the bananas that gorillas could never reach.

(Okay, in all transparency, I have no earthly idea if gorillas or spider monkeys eat bananas. And, frankly, I’m not of the mind to Google it–and I don’t think you are, either. So let’s both just roll with the analogy.)

If getting bananas were only about brute strength, spider monkeys would starve. But there are so many banana trees in the jungle, there’s plenty for everyone. The question is, have you figured out which bananas you want and how to get to them?

Okay, the gorilla/monkey/banana analogy is breaking down–and, frankly, wearing thin. So here’s the point–you’ve got to be different than Grainger to beat Grainger. You’re not going to out-Grainger Grainger. But, you can still beat them.

The key is positioning your business in a way that reinforces your strengths and values–strengths and values Grainger does not have. And, chances are, it’s personalized service and/or product expertise. Grainger simply can’t compete there. So your job is to find customers that value those attributes–and then let them know that you have them. And keep telling them that story at every touchpoint.

By the way, even though they’re dramatically different than the other major national distributors, the same thing goes for Amazon. MDM offers some advice on how to compete with the distribution giant in today’s day-and-age. We agree with them.

You might not have the money and resources that Amazon, Grainger and other top bananas possess, but you do have great relationships with your current clients and the ability to build more and stronger relationships with new customers. Grainger has the muscle. However, Grainger might not offer a direct line to a highly trained sales team with tons of product and application expertise–but you probably do. On top of that, consider offering personalized services based on a particular client’s size, potential, needs and other qualitative differences. With Grainger’s number of clients, they most likely cannot do this.

But it’s more than just doing that stuff. You’ve got to give yourself credit in the marketplace. You’ve got to tell your story of differentiation. In other words, beat on your chest a little bit!

And drive it home at every touch point. Every single place your customers can come in contact with your business should tell your story.


  • Logo

  • Tagline

  • Website

  • E-mails

  • Fliers

  • Promotions

  • Social media posts

  • Brochures

  • Sell Sheets

  • Signage & displays

  • Videos

  • Advertising

  • Promotional products

  • Company trucks

  • On-hold messaging

  • Even your invoices and business cards!

Every touch point is an opportunity to reinforce your unique value proposition–and to meaningfully differentiate your business!

Sure, it’s a jungle out there. But think of this as your map through it. By effectively differentiating your business, you put yourself on the path to increased sales and profits. But don’t monkey around–commit to differentiating your business through effective marketing today!

PS: If you’re having trouble gathering bananas, or you don’t know where in the jungle to look, let us help you tell your story. Taking bananas from 800 pound gorillas is our pleasure. We prefer working with the spider monkeys. 


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