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How To Outsell Your Competition Instead Of Yourself

By Sean Berg, Shift4 Payments

Key Trends In Field Service

There are many ways to sell technology to business owners. Resting on your laurels of being a 30-year industry veteran and focusing on product features is not as effective as it used to be. While that approach helped many VARs and MSPs sell cloud-based software, hardware, or services in the past, the impact is fading as competition increases. The selling approaches of struggling resellers and service providers versus successful ones in today’s market are notably different.

Breaking the “Product-Features” Mentality

It is common for VARs and MSPs to develop a “product-features” mentality. When someone sets out to sell any new product, you do your homework. You would normally learn everything you can about the product, including its specific features, how it compares to competing products, and the technology space in which it will be used. You become an expert and, as a result, you may become hyper-focused on the product’s capabilities. The problem sets in when those features become the core of your sales arsenal.

Consider this example: A VAR offers a POS system to a restaurant owner after listing off features the restaurant “needs.” The system can automatically notify the kitchen if a menu item is to be served as a different course than the default (e.g., serve the dinner salad as an appetizer, or the mozzarella sticks as an entrée). It can also let expediters know what food goes to which seat and where the female customer is sitting at the table so they know whom to serve first.

To the VAR, these are all critical features the restaurant owner absolutely needs in a POS system. They know these features inside and out and can show even the least experienced server how to use them with ease. However, the restaurant owner may not have called these features “needs” when the VAR first walked in the door.

As it turns out, before the VAR showed up, the restaurant had successfully performed those tasks using nothing more than pen and paper. So, if the restaurant owner actually “needed” all those product features, how did it survive without the POS system in the past? And, if this product only offers basic needs previously performed with pen and paper, why would this business owner not find a less expensive option?

Such a scenario is all too common today. The VAR or MSP walks in the door with a powerful product, packed full of value, and hits the business owner with a laundry list of product features they “need.” By the end of the meeting, that once powerful product becomes just another solution meeting the business owner’s bare minimum needs. The customer then perceives the product’s added value as being any feature over and above that minimum set. So, when the restaurant asks for a feature that’s not available in the product, the VAR has already outsold themselves. It’s tough to deliver the value-add, even though you have already touted a massive list of valuable features in your product.

Another problem arises when the expert reseller or MSP pivots the sales meeting from focusing on product features to a feature-by-feature comparison with other competitive products. The VAR or MSP essentially sets up competition for itself where there should not have been one. They may cite, from recent experience, that the order process on a competitor’s product requires too many steps. If this statement is true today, and the VAR can recite pros and cons of each product, then they may be considered an expert, a POS guru in today’s industry. 

However, with products constantly being updated, any head-to-head product comparison will be short-lived. When the competing product’s speed inevitably improves, the “expert” VAR or MSP essentially ends up losing credibility with the customer.

Understanding the Customer’s Needs

Customers do not necessarily care about the long list of features and product comparisons today’s resellers and service providers have available. They may care even less about how much knowledge a VAR or MSP has accumulated over their lifetime. What they do care about making more money — and they are looking to you to show them how. The good news is VARs and MSPs can do just that by learning to outsell the competition rather than themselves. It begins with breaking free from the product-features mentality and, instead, actively listening to the business owner.

When the reseller/service provider meets the business owner, the first thing they should do is ask the owner about their needs. That means throwing product and industry knowledge out the window in favor of allowing the business owner to provide an education. VARs and MSPs need to learn what the business owner does, how they operate, what tasks they perform on a daily basis, and what they are looking for in a solution. They also need to understand where the business owner is hoping to make their process more efficient or where they want to become more productive. Once you thoroughly identify the business owner’s needs, the next step is to explain how you can assist the owner with their needs.

Selling Success

VARs and MSPs must first align themselves with the success of the business. They must truly believe that helping a business owner succeed is what leads to VAR/MSP success. Instead of worrying about what business needs which feature, the VAR/MSP simply should identify the areas where they can help the business owner make more money. By analyzing the business in its current state and asking the business owner about their needs, the reseller or service provider can start asking all the right questions. Can you make the business owner’s work process more efficient or faster? Can you cut the business owner’s costs or reduce labor? Is your product or service substantially less costly than other solutions to implement and maintain over its life?

Once the VAR/MSP has specifically identified how its products or services can make the business owner more money and conveyed that information, the final step is selling them on what makes the product stand out from the competition — its real value.

The Key to Unlocking Your Potential

Since every competing product on the market will continually be updated, the only real way to establish value to the business owner is for the VAR/MSP to outline the value its company can add over and above that of the product itself.

That value is the VAR/MSP partner — the rapport you create with the business owner and the service you provide. With experience and expert knowledge, the reseller/service provider is best equipped to educate the business owner on how to use a product’s features to its fullest advantage to make more money.

Think of it this way: Take a POS system out of a restaurant and consider what changes in how the business operates. The answer is not much. The business owner still needs to process purchase orders, write down ingredients to order, compare vendors’ prices, and negotiate prices with vendors. They then have to acquire the ingredients, ensure they have the recipes and staff in place to make them, and the servers available to take orders, communicate with the kitchen, and deliver the prepared food. All of these things must happen, and whether or not a POS system is used, the tasks remain the same.

What that same POS system could do is increase the business’s efficiency by making processes run faster with less labor. The improved communication the POS system brings between the kitchen and the servers means more customers can be served, and that results in more money for the business owner.

It does not matter which POS system is used. They may have different interfaces, take different steps, and outperform each other in certain areas, but they are all designed to provide efficiency and cost savings. The true value to the business owner is not in the product itself. It is in the difference between one partner teaching a business owner how to use each of a product’s features to gain efficiency versus one who walks in and simply lists a product’s features.


There are undoubtedly many routes to business success. For VARs and MSPs approaching sales with a street vendor mentality, just going out and selling based on product features, the road is sure to be long and hard. To achieve true business success, the mind-set on how to sell must change. Rather than feature-by-feature comparisons with competing products, partners need to align themselves with the success of their customers. They have to determine the customer’s needs and then use their expertise and knowledge to educate them on how to use a product or service to achieve specific business goals. Once VARs and MSPs realize they are the real differentiator for their products, they can finally stop outselling themselves and start outselling the competition.

About The Author

Sean Berg has spent the last decade seeking knowledge from highly successful industry experts and sharing this understanding for community betterment. His technology career began as a networking and software consultant for businesses prior to joining Harbortouch (2010). In Harbortouch's early years, Mr. Berg managed the support and operations teams. These positions provided perspective into the technical challenges business owners face. However, these roles did not offer an outlet for understanding the industry's sales community. Sensing this disconnect, Mr. Berg sought feedback from several sales offices on how to better optimize their experience. He found a community that was hungry to learn and happy to reciprocate with their knowledge and experience. Over the years, this led to his current role as Shift4 Payments' Director of Education where he is able to share his experiences with thousands of sales partners, technicians, and staff.

About Us

Shift4 Payments is the leader in secure payment processing solutions, powering the top point-of-sale and software providers across numerous verticals including Food & Beverage, Hospitality, Lodging, Gaming, Retail and e-Commerce. This includes the company’s Harbortouch, Restaurant Manager, POSitouch, and Future POS brands as well as over 300 additional software integrations in virtually every industry. With eight offices across the US and Europe, 7,000 sales partners and three state-of-the-art data centers, the company securely processes over 1 billion transactions annually for nearly 200,000 businesses, representing over $100 billion in payments each year. For additional information, visit www.shift4.com.