Continuing on the theme of differentiation, here I explore three other important aspects that you may wish to consider when driving forward your differentiation approach.
- The Social Sales-scape
The rise and rise of the social web has been a key factor to the need for businesses to truly examine how they differentiate themselves. Digital technologies and social networks have dramatically changed the roles of buyers and sellers, their cycles and how they interact. The features and benefits of a product or service can be quickly and easily debunked as not necessarily unique to one’s business in what is now an open access market. Indeed for many products and services the provision of comparator information has become a business in its own right. This undermines the possibility of selling within these parameters, making price one of the only discernible differentiators.
In today’s fast evolving buyers’ market, true differentiation needs to be found in new places. You need to get beneath the skin of your brand’s essence to connect with what truly makes your business different. This often comes down to sales; it can be how you run your business and your sales strategy, how you approach and sell to prospects, how well you equip your people to take your business forward and how you manage client relationship strategies. These all need to be structured and systemic as frequently they are what will set you apart from the crowd.
Getting these strategies right is critical for businesses of all sizes. Businesses tend to invest too much time, resource and creativity in creating brand or product or service differentiation, despite a simpler, more elegant strategy that focuses on the organic, systemic way a business sells often being more beneficial.
Indeed, product or service differentiation cannot really be achieved at the point of sale and seeking to do this can in fact make you appear more salesey and less attractive. It requires a trust and understanding of you and your product that a buyer will not have (nor can they until they have worked with you, which in turn, requires them to buy)
- We’re all grown-ups here
When it comes to differentiation, it’s essential to treat your customers like adults, and build the expectation that you should be treated like an adult.
This sounds odd but an adult-to-adult relationship is critical to building engagement and trust. This is what will strengthen your position in the buyer-seller framework. We talk a lot about communication being at the heart of our relationships. What we forget is that, when it comes to differentiation, it’s about what you do, not what you say and I see businesses failing to recognise this time and time again. Delivering on your promise – at all times, without fail, that’s what drives customer trust, customer commitment and customer loyalty. That’s differentiation.
Your customer has a role to play in this too. Let your customers know what’s expected of them in the process. A classic example here is when companies in the services industry pitch for new business. Very often, the pitch process becomes an extended programme of free consulting with no real return. By having the guts to draw the line under the process, making the rules of engagement clear with your prospect, you are setting yourself apart with buyers who have expectations of the norm. You are also saving your business a lot of time and money. In this way, the buyer and seller start to treat each other with equal business stature – as adults. Changing your behaviour and attitude by holding your nerve against pressure from buyers to devalue your business will be critical next year.
- Holding your nerve
Economic uncertainty makes this a tough environment for businesses and the temptation is all too great to compete on price. We all know that in the longer-term, this isn’t sustainable for businesses looking to grow.
Businesses need to have the guts, the courage, to remain true to themselves. Understanding their competitors, understanding their customers and understanding their own place in the market will help them map out their differentiation strategy. Communicate this right across your business to ensure your customers get a consistent, cohesive message. Creating a sense of ownership around your business’ authentic point of differentiation is critically important.