What makes your business different and better than the competition?
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Customers are drowning in choices. Thousands of products and services compete for our attention – and our budgets – every day.
Businesses will go to the ends of the earth to make their brand more ‘human’ but – and this is especially true in B2B – marketers all too often fail to see their customers as real living, breathing people.
Instead, they act as though customers are rational machines who make decisions with meticulous cost-benefit analysis and execute every task with flawless logic. Nothing could be further from the truth.
While some customers do more research than others, there’s still a lot of gut-feel that goes into a B2B purchase: Have I heard of these guys? Do I have a good impression of them? Has anyone I know used them (and do I trust their opinion)?
Is there anything that makes them better than the competition? Am I going to lose my job if I make the wrong decision?
So, what does it take to stand out in the minds of the real people? Answering these 10 questions should help:
1. Who are we and what do we do?
This is not the time to go off on one about how you’re a highly innovative provider resetting the global paradigm of an hours-based economy when what you really sell is a cloud-based diary. Drop the jargon and think about it in terms that anyone could understand.
Talk to people, not wisened purchasers for a “re-engineered cloud-based security for a mobile age”.
2. What market are we in?
This question can open up new opportunities or alert you to new threats. You’re in a race to prove value.
While you might think of yourself as in the financial services software market, what if you’re really in the market of making your customers more agile or more resistant to uncertainty or more cost-efficient? This can both differentiate you from competitors, and help you tell a more compelling story.
3. What do we sell?
Beware meaningless blather about ‘solutions’. You could easily and accurately say you sell a solution or platform but so does everyone else. But among the 1,001 things your product can do, it might be better than most doing one, specific thing that has real value to a customer.
Perhaps you’re thinking: “Our product doesn’t have a unique benefit.” Well, it probably has more distinctiveness than you realise, it’s just a matter of digging deep enough and not resorting to the ‘me-too’ features everyone else has.
Even if what you make is pretty much the same as everyone else, you can still create differentiation in terms of how you do business.
4. What does success look like?
Too many businesses get stuck on tactical activities and fail to devote time and effort to the bigger picture.
Instead, ask these questions: What will we see when we succeed in creating a powerful, differentiated brand? What will happen in the market, in the business and in the minds of our customers and prospects? How will we measure this success? What will we see in pure revenue terms? When?
Once we have a clear picture of success, we can judge all activity on how likely it is to get us closer to our end goals and prioritise what we do accordingly.
5. Who are our buyers and what do they want?
There is a tendency to focus on the C-suite but, in reality, not many sales are driven by those at the very top. They may have the final say in those deals, but no more than that.
You can split buyers by type: decision makers (who can say yes or no), economic buyers (the money), influencers (with specialist knowledge or vested interest) and end users. Identifying who you need to win over – and their specific agenda and priorities – will really help.
6. What’s our value proposition?
One of the biggest errors I see in the race to demonstrate value is to push what we desperately want our customers to value instead of finding out what they actually value. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to formalise a value proposition for everyone. Try this format from Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm:
For <TARGET MARKET> who want to <KEY CUSTOMER OBJECTIVE>, we are <CORE DESCRIPTION> that enables customers to <KEY CUSTOMER VALUE>.
For my business I end up with: For ambitious B2B marketers who want to drive qualified leads and accelerate the sales pipeline, Considered is a content-led demand generation agency that enables them to deliver greater results, faster.
7. What are the biggest problems we help solve for your customers?
A common mistake is to think customers care about your business. They don’t. They only care about theirs. So, to earn their interest, put together a list of at least three important and urgent things you can help them fix.
This could be removing cost from their supply chain operations or securing their assets against cyber threats – as long as it’s something with real-world value.
8. Who or what is the competition?
Even if you’re first to market there is always competition. You need a clear understanding of where they fit into your customers’ thinking.
Try reverse engineering a value proposition to each major competitor. Then reduce it to a simple sentence or claim. Now reduce it to a word that best sums it up.
This will show you the broad territories each is trying to dominate. You can then decide whether you can deposition them out of that territory or find a more differentiated area to compete within.
9. How are we different and better?
Chances are, you won’t be better in every way. However, you have to be better in some of the ways that count for customers. You have to create a story that makes you memorable. If you’re already the big fish, small improvements may be enough.
The smaller you are, the more significant and important the differences have to be to counteract the sheer presence and brand inertia of your rivals.
10. What barriers do we need to overcome?
Obstacles can be external, such as a negative perception of a previous product, or internal, such as misalignment between departments. Some will be complete blockers that need to be overcome before anything else can happen.
Others will be points of friction that slow progress. Once we’re clear on what we need to overcome, we can make plans to make sure these barriers don’t become insurmountable.