My clients probably get tired of hearing me talk about the virtues of differentiation. But it’s usually better to remove the competition by developing your difference than it is to take on the competition directly. Companies that do the latter are considered commodity providers and this is not a good position to occupy in the marketplace. Following are seven ideas to help you achieve effective differentiation.
- Focus on the one thing! Don’t be like one of those companies that aspire to be the best in quality, service, pricing, innovation and every other attribute. While this sounds good in theory, life doesn’t work that way. There is a well-known saying in the upper levels of the sailing community: “Will it make the boat go faster”? Just like these elite sailing teams, you need to pick your core value and concentrate your forces on being the best in that area – whatever your version happens to be of “making the boat go faster.” Or as Curly said to Mitch in the movie City Slickers: “One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean s***.”
- Give something away. On a recent trip to Gothenburg, Sweden, our tour guide gave everyone in the group a free shot of the local “fish vodka.” Since it was a free walking tour, the guide’s income comes only from the tips of satisfied tour participants. Kurt found a great way to create goodwill with his customers – not to mention loosening them up a bit!
- Provide convenience. For many of us, time is the most valuable commodity. Whatever you can do to deliver your products and services quickly and effortlessly will be appreciated and set you apart. It starts with a quality website that makes it easy for prospects and customers to find what they need without talking to someone. This removes frustration and saves your sales reps’ valuable time. One important tip: What your engineers find to be understandable is not the same as what your prospects find to be understandable. This needs to be validated.
- Be a niche marketer. In both the B2B and B2C worlds, unless your marketing budget is large, it most often pays to fine-tune your target audience. This will not only differentiate you, but usually provides for better profit margins and close rates. For example, an enterprise software company could have different flavors of its offerings for the retail, manufacturing and services industries. The key is to provide not only product/feature differences, but also to communicate the value proposition in a way that speaks to the specifics of a particular audience.
- Show trustworthiness. People not only want to know that they are getting value; they also want to understand that the risks of the purchase are worth the cost. They want to know that you company and staff are credible. Customer case studies, reviews, guarantees and third party recognition are especially helpful.
- Provide a hearty welcome. This idea isn’t for everyone, but a company called Parking Spot has a driver who gives her Denver International Airport long-term parking customers a hug when they get on her bus. Her enthusiasm is contagious after a weary day of traveling and not only does the company benefit, but customers (including me), give her larger tips. Whether in-person, over the phone, or via the Internet, figure out a way to “hug your customers” that differentiates you from the competition.
- Offer a new pricing strategy. As an example, Rolls Royce has begun offering their aircraft engines for free, but charging for power by the hour while offering full support of the product. This is not only a disruption of the B2B manufacturing industry, but also highly differentiating. Pricing strategy deserves its own blog post but suffice it to say – this can be a quick way to differentiate yourself, especially if your pricing model makes it easier and less risky for the prospect to purchase.
Whether you manufacture jet engines or drive an airport parking bus, the principles are the same. But when you do find your one thing – your unique way of hugging the customer – don’t simply try it and go on to something else. Company reputations aren’t built on a single transaction, but rather over a series of positive interactions. Persistence and patience will win the day.