Unless you are in an extremely niche industry, or have a 100% unique offer, the chances are that there will be other people out there who do what you do and do it well.
So part of communicating your value, and ensuring that prospective clients pick you, rather than your competition, is to be able to articulate your differentiators.
Think of it this way; if someone said to you, “Give me the three reasons we should do business with you”, do you have the answer ready to go? I’ve found it amazing how many business owners, sales people and executives stumble over what should ideally be on the tip of their tongues at all times. So do you actually know what makes you different, and can you clearly articulate your ‘three good reasons’?
Our differentiators are the things that are unique to us, or rare in the market – in other words the things that set us apart from your competition. They are the reasons our clients choose to work with us and not someone else. In marketing speak, they are our unique selling proposition, or USP.
They are essential in every form of business communication – from the impromptu verbal conversation to written collateral such as websites and brochures, and the formal proposal response. The first thing I do before helping a client with a proposal response is to run a ‘Win themes’ workshop to draw out the differentiators so that they can be referenced throughout the written answers).
When we’re defining our differentiators, it’s essential to consider all aspects – our experience, our business model, our people, our processes.
Differentiators may be a combination of skills or attributes – think technical guru with great people skills; an accountancy practice with strong social inclusion values; a manufacturing organisation with great environmental credentials. They may be a unique methodology, process or approach.
Defining our ‘three reasons why’ can be very difficult. We tend to underestimate our own value, our own skills. We often assume that what we know is common knowledge or common sense and that ‘surely everyone can do that?’
It can be difficult to see ourselves as others see us – it’s very similar to trying to write our own CV or LinkedIn profile. We’re too close to see clearly.
One very useful technique for understanding your strengths is to ask existing clients. Most happy clients are willing to provide input, and if you structure the questions well, you will get some valuable insights. You don’t need to ask them to spend much time – you should be able to ask everything you need to know in seven or fewer questions.
Clients are often more forthcoming if the questions were not asked directly by you, so consider asking a third party to conduct the interviews and record the answers. You can ask the third party to anonymise the information to make your clients feel even more comfortable with the process.
I’ve been on both sides of this process and truly believe in its value.
I conducted a series of customer interviews for one of my clients, in which the respondents were extremely open and generally very complimentary. The interesting thing about the response was that around 80% confirmed what my client had thought were their strengths and around 20% actually identified strengths they didn’t realise they had. Both types of feedback are equally valid and equally valuable.
I’ve also recently engaged with a marketing agency to conduct a survey of some of my clients, to help further define my value proposition. The insights were very interesting and have given me invaluable feedback for positioning my services.
Just as it is easy to underestimate our attributes, it can also be easy to fall into the trap of ‘big-noting’ ourselves with empty claims.
You don’t have to look far to see organisations that use terms like ‘the biggest’, ‘the best’, ‘the market leader’ without any real backup. Remember that a superlative starting with ‘the…’ means that it is a category of one. Unless we can state with 100% certainty and evidence that we are that one, we are going to appear unauthentic and unprofessional if we use those terms.
One final thing to consider is a ‘superhero name’ or ‘business nickname’. This is where you give yourself a soubriquet that instantly sets you apart. Good examples are ‘The e-tractionist’, ‘The Shift Initiator’, ‘The barefoot investor’. These instantly capture people’s attention, ensure they remember you and succinctly summarise what you do and how you are different.
It’s worth spending some time exploring and developing your differentiation, and do ask for external input where possible. It is one of the most important parts of your message and getting it right will reap rewards. It means that next time someone asks ‘Why should I pick you?’ you can, without missing a beat, reply ‘Here’s the three reasons why…’