Use key staff to create long-lasting differences

Developing points of difference between your business and your competitors is one of the critical success factors that will determine the long-term success of your small business.  There are many examples of small businesses that look the same as their competitors.  These companies rarely thrive.  They tend to operate on a “hand to mouth” basis battling against intense price pressures.

Those small businesses that have developed points of difference which separates them from their competitors, encounter less price pressure.  Buyers know that if they want the unique features you offer, there is no other supplier who can deliver this to them.  They might go through the motions of pushing for a discount, but they won’t push too hard.  You have a greater chance of obtaining your asking prices.

Of course, competitors being what they are, as soon as you announce your market leading unique selling point(s) they immediately start to identify ways to neutralise it (provided they believe it is something the market wants).  Transient unique selling points that can be easily copied (fast delivery, free delivery, 60-day money back guarantee, lowest price etc) are not worth getting too excited about.

A unique feature built into your product/service will give you an edge for much longer – for as long as it takes for your competitors to release a new version of their product/service which includes the same feature.  It is very hard to devise a long-term, sustainable and unique differentiator.

In my experience, the most effective approach is to build your points of difference around your key staff – probably the founders or the largest employee shareholders.  These are individuals who will tend to remain with the business long-term and be unlikely to be successfully head-hunted by your competition.

Your aim should be to position these key staff as industry experts and have them involved with your most profitable clients.  If you only have a small number of clients, you might be able to have them all engage with your expert(s).  As your business grows, it will, of course, be impossible for these key people to engage with all clients, which is why you must focus on your most profitable ones.

Clients who have access to your experts will benefit from their knowledge and expertise.  Depending on how you organise your experts, clients may be able to meet with them on a regular basis to ask for advice, tips or recommendations about getting the most from their purchase.  Perhaps this is something you can combine into your social media strategy.

Allow your key staff to continually develop their knowledge and make them available to journalists and broadcast media for comments and interviews whenever a big news story breaks in your sector or industry.  The media are always looking for new sources and will almost certainly give you an opportunity.  Provided these opportunities are used to convey clear messages based on your experts’ knowledge and expertise, you will get further invitations to engage with the media.

Although it will be a great temptation, the biggest mistake that your experts can make is to hijack one of these media opportunities and turn it into a sales pitch for your products/services.  If this happens, your industry experts will be dropped instantly and will gain no further publicity.

When your clients have direct access to widely recognised industry experts they will value any input from these people on how to make best use of your products/services.  This might result in greater throughput, more efficient operations with less waste or fewer breakdowns (depending on your business).  In every case, your clients gain in a monetary way, which you can highlight as a part of the “added value” you offer to every client.

Your competitors will be unable to offer this added value element to their services and your prospects can be shown the extra benefits that buying from you would give them.  You should provide compelling evidence to prospects that this added value is valuable by getting testimonials from existing happy clients.  What your clients say about your products/services carries far more credibility and impact than you saying exactly the same.

ACTION IDEAS

  1. Identify one or two people who you could develop into industry experts over an 18 month period
  2. Develop a plan to build their knowledge and visibility in your industry
  3. Put the plan into action and begin building links and relationships with the appropriate media companies.
Posted in Differentiation