You need a haircut, so you search online for a nearby salon. Three come up. They’re all roughly the same distance away, offer the same services, and have the same Yelp rating. The only difference? One of them is moderately cheaper. Chances are that’s the salon you’re going to choose.
That’s the danger of product commoditization. If your prospect has recognized a business pain and is actively looking for a solution, you need to show them why your product or service is unique. Failing to do so means you’ll lose their business to a lower-cost competitor.
Despite the importance of differentiation, identifying what distinguishes your offering from the other options out there can be difficult. Use these 13 ideas as inspiration.
A small team can be a big advantage. Employees tend to be more passionate about their mission and product -- after all, they have more ownership, autonomy, and noticeable impact than those working alongside hundreds or thousands of other people. This passion usually translates to a better customer experience.
Small organizations are more nimble as well. If you notice a market trend or opportunity, you can pivot quickly. Your clients will get access to products before their competition. As an added benefit, you can incorporate customer feedback at a fast clip.
Large organizations have more resources than small ones, whether it’s money, manpower, or expertise. If a client has a big request or wants to tackle an ambitious project, a bigger business can usually get it done.
In addition, sizeable companies usually have more offerings. A small organization might provide two or three niche services, while a big one may provide clients with more than 20.
Finally, big businesses benefit from economy of sale. They’re usually making bulk purchases -- and the discounts they receive from their suppliers lead to lower prices for their customers.
Medium-sized companies enjoy the advantages of both their bigger and smaller peers. They tend to be large enough to support clients with a wide variety of needs and challenges, yet they’re not so big those clients feel like cogs in a machine.
Because medium-sized companies tend to have less red tape and legacy processes, they’re also fairly quick to respond to change and implement new ideas.
New companies are usually hyper-innovative or progressive. Many began when their founders saw a need that wasn’t being met, so they may be defining or revolutionizing entire product categories.
Because these organizations haven’t been around long, they’re not afflicted with “not invented here” syndrome. Employees are happy to experiment. This open-mindedness generates even more creativity and innovation.
A company with a long history is highly appealing to many customers. After all, it clearly offers high-quality products if it’s survived for a long time. Furthermore, older organizations typically boast in-house expertise. Clients will derive enormous benefit from this knowledge, whether that’s directly (in the form of suggestions and guidance) or indirectly (in superior offerings).
Do you serve a niche need or industry? That’s a huge boon to your prospective clients. Unlike a company with a broader focus, your entire business is to understand their business -- their model, their market, and the desires and challenges that come along with it.
Specialization also means your prospects have a shortened education stage. They won’t need to spend valuable time teaching you about their product type and specific challenges, since you’ll know these details from experience.
Most customers’ needs evolve constantly. Their business strategy or priorities change, new leadership is brought in, the market shifts, they have a good quarter, they have a bad quarter, relevant legislation passes, or their competitor makes a new move -- and any of these changes could require adjustments in the way they work with external vendors.
Because your company is proficient in many areas -- rather than highly skilled in one or two -- you’re well-prepared to serve clients in any of these situations.
While technology has made it easier to work with people remotely, the home field advantage still exists. Customers usually like knowing your office is close by; not only are you more responsive during emergencies (especially if you’re in the same time zone), but you typically have a better understanding of their geographic advantages and disadvantages.
In addition, you have the opportunity to meet clients in person. Highlight any client events you host, including workshops, holiday parties, customer success sessions, training programs, and so forth.
It’s often a competitive advantage to have multiple offices and/or employees working remotely from several places.
First, it’s proof your organization has been successful enough -- and has seen enough demand -- to expand.
Second, if your customers have multiple offices themselves, it tells them you’re capable of handling associated challenges. Suppose they’re hiring 50 new employees for their new Montreal office. You opened an office in Canada three years ago, so you can give them advice on acquiring visas, recruiting local citizens, publicizing the launch, and more.
1) Culture and mission
Some companies distinguish themselves by their unique cultures and guiding philosophies. For example, Patagonia is well-known for its commitment to the environment.
Restaurant chain Sweetgreen aims to promote community by supporting local farmers and educating children on healthy eating, fitness, and sustainability.
A prospect may base her entire buying decision on the fact she appreciates your principles or mission. She knows she’ll be supporting a good cause with her purchase -- and she’s also likelier to trust your company if she shares your values.
The buyer’s social media profiles often hold clues to their values. For example, if your prospect frequently tweets articles about corporate transparency, your own company’s emphasis on transparency will resonate strongly with her. If her LinkedIn summary references her work with Girls Who Code, she’ll be drawn to your business’s commitment to hire female engineers.
While these details can make a big impact, don’t spend too long on them. Ultimately, the buyer cares about how your product can improve her life. Use your values at the top of the call to build rapport, like so:
“I noticed you’re a proponent of corporate transparency. Me too. In fact, Silverstream is extremely transparent -- every employee’s salary, work performance, and goals are public.”
Once you’ve created common ground, segue into the agenda.
2) Customer support
Does your company go above and beyond to make customers happy? That’s a compelling reason to buy for many prospects, as it gives them a sense of security and comfort.
They know you’ll act quickly and competently to resolve problems when they come up -- assuming you haven’t taken proactive measures to prevent those issues in the first place.
3) Thought leadership
Your company needs to stand out, and so do your customers’. If your organization is consistently at the forefront of your space, you can pass on breakthrough insights and next-level strategies to your clients. In other words, your competitive advantage becomes their competitive advantage.
Put yourself in your prospect’s shoes. You’re trying to choose between four products that, frankly, seem pretty similar. All of the vendors can point to equivalent results and offer the same customer resources. However, one company is known for being the last word on any industry topic. Its white papers, blog posts, and reports are frequently shared among the professionals in the space, and its events are attended by clients and non-clients alike.
You’re going to opt for that company over the other three because you trust its name far more.
To harness the power of thought leadership, use one, some, or all of these strategies:
Executive public speaking
Hosting industry events or conferences
Collaborating with universities, governmental institutions, or other public bodies
Experimenting with new techniques, strategies, or processes
4) Potential partners
Most products don’t exist in a vacuum. A prospect who needs your offering probably needs several others as well. Offering connections to other vendors will make you enormously valuable and differentiate you from the salespeople who can only provide their product.The typical buyer is extremely grateful for your help in putting together a comprehensive solution.
Once you’ve honed in on the factors making you different, your message will be far more compelling. Say goodbye to competing on price.
Originally published Dec 16, 2016 7:30:00 AM, updated August 30 2017