I have written before about the importance of small business owners setting their businesses apart from their competitors. It is essential that the points of difference they promote are difficult for their competitors to copy or negate. This gives a competitive edge that can be exploited for a few months, and in some cases, for years.
If you choose points of difference that are easy to copy (for example, next day delivery), the advantage you gain is short-lived. Your competitors will move quickly to negate your advantage and you are soon back at square one.
This is why you should always look for differences that will be awkward for your competitors to either copy or negate. Once you have found one, do everything you can to exploit it. Start by initiating a communications campaign to inform your existing clients and potential future clients of all the benefits your competitive edge gives them.
Every client and potential client will be somewhat sceptical regarding the claims made by suppliers, including you. They know suppliers are often guilty of over-selling their products/services. Consequently, all claims made by suppliers tend to be treated with a degree of suspicion until the claims have been validated / proven to be true. This requires suppliers to support their claims with evidence of the benefits being gained by their existing clients.
The best people to validate any claims you make about your products/services are your clients. If they make the exact same claims regarding your products/services as you have done, your prospects are more likely to believe them rather than you.
When you begin using your clients to communicate the benefits of buying your products/services, the impact on sales will be immediate. New prospects will be drawn to your products/services and will give them serious consideration.
How do you change your marketing activities to benefit from this powerful dynamic?
There are some simple steps you can take. Firstly, before you begin collecting claims and statements attributable to your clients you should decide how they will be used. Do you want written statements, audio statements or video clips?
If you have a product that can be shown installed and operational at a client’s location, then video would be a great choice. For a service, the impact of showing the service in action will be much lower – so a video will be far less effective than it would be for a product in action.
I have spent many years developing sales for service providers, where the intangible nature of what was being sold meant traditional marketing methods were of limited value. For these businesses, the value of having client success stories was immense.
Rather than collect client testimonials in the form of a one or two sentence quotation, a client success story provides far more information. It is this information that makes them very persuasive. Success stories aren’t all marketing gloss. In fact, they work better if they include information about the problems and difficulties the highlighted client encountered in switching to the new services.
By experimenting with different versions, I found those success stories which included a paragraph about unexpected obstacles (and how they were addressed) were the most persuasive and had the biggest impact. The structure of success stories that worked the best is this:
- A description of the situation before the new product/service was installed
- A description of how the client’s situation changed after their purchase
- Some of the unexpected issues that arose and how they were resolved
- A summary of the benefits gained by the client
- Statements from named senior managers of the client detailing their experiences in switching to and using the new product/service.
The statements/testimonials in point 5 above can be used elsewhere in your marketing campaigns. It is especially important to have them visible on your website and in any product/service brochures (printed and electronic versions).
Whenever you use client testimonials, always attribute them to a named individual as your prospects will assume anonymous quotes are made up to create the desired impact. When you name the source of the testimonial (and the name of their employer) it immediately makes it believable. Prospects wishing to validate the testimonial could even approach the individual named for confirmation about the testimonial.
The two lessons from this article are (i) make your points of difference hard to copy or negate and (ii) maximise the use of convincing testimonials by exploiting the loyalty of your existing clients.
- Brainstorm ways you could differentiate your products/services. Select the best ideas and put them into your enhancements programme so they can be introduced in the next version.
- Produce success stories for and collect testimonial statements from existing clients.
- Start using these testimonials in all your marketing activities to validate the claims you make about your product/service.