Tag Archives: Competition Proof

Customer Success is Your Success

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Bill Gates is reputed to have said, “When your customer buys from the competition, you lose twice: you don’t get the money and they do.” That’s so true! It diminishes your ability to be successful and increases their ability to dominate the market.

The market votes with money. Customer favorites grow their market share, those that don’t deliver the goods fail. Any organization that leads their market is the temporary winner. The business race is run every day and the finish line moves every day. The rules of the game change at the whim of consumers, at the behest of the news, and on the activity of competitors. Customer priorities can shift in a second leaving once vaunted products gasping for breath.

For example, Conde Nast recently chose to close down a foodie institution, Gourmet Magazine, after nearly 70 years of publication. In the face of growing popularity of celebrity chefs and Food Network, the grand dame of the gourmand couldn’t keep up, with advertising revenues at half of where they were a year before.

Just because you’ve been successful is no longer any shred of guarantee that you’ll remain successful because customers keep changing the definition of success. The point is that your customers each have a definition of success. For some it’s just making it to retirement without any hassles or mess. To others, it’s growing their career (what ever that means in today’s world). To others, it’s just making a paycheck until they win the lottery. To some, it’s doing what they’re passionate about, whether at home, at work, or at play.

When you help your customer be successful, no matter how they define it, you have become successful as an organization, for now. When you track how they measure success, and keep making them successful, you have become CompetitionProof.

Caring Creates CompetitionProof Customers

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No doubt, you’ve recently been served by someone that obviously didn’t care: they didn’t care about their job, about their product, certainly not about you. How likely are you to select a different vendor next time?

A caring attitude and behavior seems to be way less common today, yet is a critical component of creating a CompetitionProof environment. It’s really easy to demonstrate caring. Here are a few examples: When you are working with a customer, give them your full attention. That means not checking your watch, answering the phone, multitasking, or being distracted by other activities.

Act as if the customer you’re with is the only customer you have and see what happens to your sales. Take a few seconds to see what else your customer needs from you. Surprisingly, sales people say, “Anything else?” which tends to cut off the conversation. Instead say, “What more can I do for you,” which opens to further discussion.

Remember, if you customer has to go to another vendor to get what they need, you’re highly vulnerable to competitive attack. Set up your environment to let customers know that you care. Does your screen saver say, “I’d rather be golfing?” That’s a not so subtle indicator that they may not have your complete attention.

When you show your customers that you care about them, you create a CompetitionProof impression.

Today’s post was inspired by a great conversation with colleague, Tim Richardson (http://timrichardson.com/), as he was driving to South Dakota to speak for the governor. Tim’s forthcoming book is about the impact that a caring culture has on business success.

Make Your Price a Reason to Buy

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Most sales people in most deals are faced by price objections. Of course it’s going to happen; it’s the buyer’s fiduciary duty to ask for a better price. After all, if they don’t ask, they’ll never get a better deal.

On the other hand, it’s the sales professional’s duty to keep as much margin as possible and make the sale. Yet keep in mind, if it was only about price, we would buy and sell everything on eBay.

So get used to defending your price and begin to make your price a reason for your customer to buy from you.

Here’s how:

1) Never, ever offer a discount without the buyer asking for one. Most sales people who do so think that they’re making a pre-emptive strike on a discount request. All they’re doing is needlessly giving away margin. Sales managers: retrain or release these people.

2) When a customer asks for a deal, reply, “Why are you asking for a lower price? Would you like for me to not include something that you have in mind?”

3) If the customer says, “Your price is too high,” you must find out what they mean. “Too high? What are you comparing us to?” You have no idea how to adjust the deal unless you know what “too high” means. Are you two cents too high? Two million too high? Are they comparing apples with apple pie?

4) If they continue to press for a price cut, offer, “May I explain why we charge what we do?” Then list all of the value propositions that they have found desirable. Say, “If this isn’t what you want or need, let’s talk about a smaller solution that would cost less.”

Remember that discount discussions are a taught negotiating behavior.So use that as a cue to resume value discussions and you’ll find that you’ll be CompetitionProof.

CompetitionProof and Social Media

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CompetitionProof means creating relationships that can’t be attacked by competitors. And the tighter the emotional connections with your customers, the more difficult it will be for a competitor to get in.

The good news is that it’s easier than ever to create emotional connections with social media. We can share personal  information that in the past we wouldn’t have time, nor the inclination, to disclose.

For example, one of my audience members who friended me on FaceBook has become a voracious cook (like me) posting  recipes and bakes cookies for her clients (what a great idea!). I would have never known this without social media. I feel  connected and it only takes a few seconds to maintain that connection.

The same goes for companies that I do business with that I watch on FaceBook. I’m much more likely to buy from them because I’ve developed an affinity and loyalty through our social interaction. It’s probably true for you.

So ask your clients to join you on LinkedIn, follow you via Twitter, watch your tech tutorials on YouTube, read your articles on Digg, check your blog, and even like you on Facebook. Sure, not everyone will oblige. Yet social network sites are visited by more than 80% of the U.S.!

I recommend that you use LinkedIn for professional clients, FaceBook for friends, FaceBook fan pages for clients, Digg, YouTube, your blog (I’m loving Posterous), and Twitter for the general population. Of course, interlink and cross post because people use them in various ways.

Make sure that your post has at least two of the following attributes for your target audience: entertaining, educational, emotional, and evocative.

Check FaceBook daily (be careful, some people become addicted). Make a post to LinkedIn three times a week. Tweet several times a day. Write an article or blog post a week. Total time required; about 90 minutes a week.

I do this waiting in line, filling five minutes before a meeting, and so forth, using my iPhone. I do sit down to write this blog, though.

And before you know it you’ll have many fans and followers, every one of them making you more and more CompetitionProof.

P.S. Never post after cocktails. Even though you can delete a post, you can never completely recall it from cyberspace because the search engines grab it almost immediately.

How To Win a Competitive Bid Discussion

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I’m hearing this question around the globe; regardless of what type of hardware or software being sold, and regardless of what region. The reality is that every vendor is very competitive, looking for any edge, and slashing prices. You are very familiar with your product, you know the pros and cons, you are familiar with the price point discussion, so what are you missing?

Become an Industry Expert

To be a successful, not only do you need to be extremely familiar with your offering, you also need to be just as, if not more familiar with the products that your competitors are enthusiastically promoting.

One of my favorite stories about competitive advantage happened to a colleague who was riding with the top sales pro for an industrial chemical company. The sales rep was on the phone to a prospect.

“Why are we so much more expensive? Do you have our competitor’s catalog there? Great! Look at page 50, lower left corner. See, they sell it in 20 pound cans. We sell it in 30 pound cans. Yes, that explains the difference. Yes, I can have that at your plant tomorrow.”

My colleague was aghast. “You’ve memorized your competitor’s catalog? What are you, Rain Man?”

“I spend a lot of time on the road, and instead of watching TV at night; I review my competitor’s literature. It doesn’t take much time and I can win most deals with what I learn, so it’s worth it.”

Take it Up a Level

You need to take the conversation beyond the competitive spec sheet (which counts to a lower-level employee) and position your technology as the way to meet their business objectives (which counts at the decision-making level). If you discuss your solution from a technical perspective with executives you are going to miss the opportunity.

You’ll always win when you create a clear differentiator between your solution and other offerings; from a non-technical, business perspective, and make it easy for executives to say ‘yes’ to your offer.

You might be thinking; yeah, but I only sell to the I.T. professional in the datacenter; I don’t have access to the other executives. This is true only if you’re selling small ticket products. Every proposal above a certain amount will go to the executive committee for review. If the I.T. professional brings your proposal to the executive committee; they’re already sold. All they need to do is sell their bosses and they rely on your proposal to do just that.

In reality, you are selling to the executive committee regardless of your point of contact within your customers’ organization. So intentionally craft your message to make it easy for the strategic thinkers within your customers’ organization to agree to your offer. Make sure that your written proposal is a business-based solution as opposed to a technical-based solution. Illustrate how your technology is the perfect ‘fit’, meeting the organization’s business objectives.

And when you do that, you’ll close way more deals regardless of the technology you are selling; bringing you one step closer to becoming truly CompetitionProof.

Creating Loyalty Means CompetitionProof

Most companies believe that customer satisfaction is the key to competitive success. Satisfied customers are ripe for picking by a company that knows how to be CompetitionProof.

The reality is that customer satisfaction is the price of admission to the market. Satisfaction simply means that customers will pay for what they’ve already ordered or won’t return what they’ve bought. But satisfaction doesn’t guarantee that they’d buy that product of service again nor even if they’d do business with that company again.

For example, I’m sure that you’ve had a recent meal at a restaurant where the food was acceptable and the service was passable. You were satisfied; you paid your bill and left a standard-size tip. But, do you have any plans to return to that restaurant in the immediate future? If not, your satisfaction has no value to that restaurant owner.

Now, think about your favorite restaurant. Would you say that the dining experience is satisfactory? Or would you use other words? Perhaps you might say delightful, amazing, or extraordinary. Do you have plans to return, perhaps to celebrate a special occasion or enjoy some extra money that came your way?

Becoming CompetitionProof means going beyond satisfaction to creating customer delight. And it’s really not that difficult to delight your customer. It just means thinking about doing the unexpected, like taking responsibility for a great customer experience.

For example, I recently ordered an old book on-line. I paid for the transaction but the book never arrived. I contacted the bookseller, and here’s the note that I received back from the book seller:

I am sorry. I don’t know what could’ve happened to your book. It was mailed out on the 21st, so something must have happened between here and there.

We will refund your card for the total amount (which was $7.27). We no longer have your card info, so you will need to send it in a couple of separate emails, or if you prefer we can send you a check.

If you prefer the check please send your address in the email.

Again, we apologise for this inconvenience.

Thank you. Susan and Chip

Wow! They totally took responsibility where most resellers would have said, “Tough, not my problem.”

I responded: Thanks for checking on it. The mail does get lost sometimes. Perhaps it will show up sometime soon. I’m not worried about $7.27.

So I’m going to decline your kind refund offer.

Best regards, Mark S.A. Smith

I don’t mind taking the hit when I didn’t ask for insurance. I’m willing to take responsibility, too. But they being people who know the value of a customer over a transaction they responded with:

Thank you. You’re very kind, however we don’t feel you should have to pay for something that you did not receive. We have found another copy of this book online and we are having it drop shipped to you.

Thank you. Susan and Chip

And the reordered book showed up in the mail the next week.

So if you ever need to find an old book, I heartily recommend Givens Books of Salem, Virginia, http://www.biblio.com/bookstores/chip53.html

And that’s a great way to create loyalty and become CompetitionProof!

Find CompetitionProof Examples All Around

One of the best ways to learn about CompetitionProof principles is to find them in your life. When someone you buy from does something that makes you less likely to do business with their competitor, you’ve just experienced CompetitionProof in action.

For example, I was in Louisville, Kentucky last week (delivering a speech) and I stayed at the East Side Marriott. It’s an older hotel, enduring maybe 25 years of public abuse, so it’s not a stunner–nothing to write home about.

But, when I arrived in my room after dinner, on the desk was a nice note from the hotel manager, signed in ink (I did the “spit test”–you know, rub a bit of saliva on the signature to see if it smears, meaning it’s signed by a person, not a printer).

Along with the note was a key chain of a leaping horse. Nice! This simple, and cheap, gesture went a long way to turning a mediocre experience into something memorable.

And that’s CompetitionProof in action!

What have you experienced that’s CompetitionProof?

Avoiding CompetitionProof Goofs

I’m astounded at how companies squander the opportunity to delight a customer and cement the relationship, creating a CompetitionProof situation. The problem comes from well-meaning managers who create policy that destroys customer relationships at the cost of a single transaction.

For example, Thursday I was in Houston with HP working on content for the next event tour. At the end of the day, my host took me to a new upscale restaurant called Martinis and More. They’re newly opened and have been hustling for business in a competitive market.

As I was digging into my Cobb salad (wonderful, by the way), a well-dressed executive approached the bar: “Can I still order a happy hour drink?”

The bartender replied, “I don’t think so. It’s up to the computer. “Why would ANY manager want a computer to drive the relationships that they have with customers?

Do you want a transaction or a repeat customer?

CompetitionProof strategies don’t work if all you want is a single transaction–like a door-to-door magazine salesperson. But if you’re business thrives on repeat customers, then consider this CompetitionProof concept: the customer is more important than the transaction.

If a repeat customer is more important than a single transaction, then the staff must have options to delight the customer, creating the unshakable relationship that makes you CompetitionProof. Imagine if the bartender had the flexibility to say, “Although happy hour’s over, I think that I can get you one more round because I’d like for you to be a regular!” What do you think would happen to that executive’s opinion of the restaurant?

A secret of becoming CompetitionProof is to make sure that your customer treatment doesn’t go unnoticed. 

Building up favors with customers brings them back.

By the bartender adding the last phrase, he’s banking the favor and creating the CompetitionProof relationship with the customer that means they’ll be back. This tactic can be used intentionally.

What if the management allowed bartenders to override the computer and grant happy hour prices for about 10 minutes after the official end? What do you think would happen to customer relationships during that time? How can you do this with your business?

Perhaps you can offer sale prices to a customer for a day or two after the sale ends. Maybe you can extend a special offer a day or two before it becomes available to other customers. (Nordstrom has sold me more shoes this way: “This other shoe that you like goes on sale next week. I can send it to you then at the sale price. I’ll even cover shipping. Would that be okay?”)

Back to the story… the good news is that the gentlemen got his drinks at happy hour prices–apparently the bartender’s watch was fast.

The bad news is that the establishment missed an opportunity to create a CompetitionProof experience. And that’s a CompetitionProof Goof!

CompetitionProof is About Passion…

CompetitionProof is about your passion for the business and transferring that passion to your customers–you must love what you do and who you sell to. Are you doing what you want to be doing for the next ten years? If not, find something that you can get excited about.

Choose customers who need what you do, value what you do, and are willing to pay you well for what you do. If your customers don’t meet all three of those criteria, then they aren’t good customers, and you can’t create a CompetitionProof relationship.

Figure out who you can serve well–at a good profit–that you’ll want to serve for a long time. You can count on customers fleeing from your business if they sense that you don’t want their business.

Choose customers who you want to do business with for the next ten years and then create a plan to do business with them for the next decade.