There are a million and one questions that company owners and directors need to ask themselves in today’s business environment. In a challenging climate, it is becoming more and more difficult to win the kind of business that your company deserves. But with strong ideas and a willingness to make difficult changes, leaders can also harness the opportunities available in the new global business landscape. It’s a process that starts with the answers to three critical questions I have listed below. Just one word of warning – the answers and resulting changes will not be for the faint hearted, they will require solid leadership and a sturdy backbone.
1) Are you selling the right stuff?
Markets are saturated and becoming ever more so. Everyone is undercutting everyone else with the profit margin often slashed as a result of competition. Business in the post-internet age has become tougher, making it harder for firms to survive. To counteract this, many businesses have added more services, taken any work going and slashed their costs – or simply starved to death. The world has changed forever. Any market is open to anyone. The market is truly global and serious new competition is arriving daily on our shores.
Have you ever stepped back and REALLY looked at what you sell? The message you are sending to your customers? When we work with clients, we often find they have a special niche they are brilliant at, have great clients who work with them in that area but have muddled their message by trying to sell other stuff ‘just in case’ they don’t sell their core product or service. Typically we advise clients to review their marketplace. Take a long hard look at competitors and see what they are doing well and what they aren’t. LOOK. Search online with keywords you would use to find you. Unearth as much competition as you can. Be honest with yourself. If there are a lot of businesses who look much better than you, what are you going to do about it? What messages are they using? If you are going to war (and business IS war) then know your competitor. You have a better chance of beating them.
2) If you were them, what would you want?
Typically clients tell us what they want. How they wish to look and sound and what they wish to say. All well and good, but they aren’t buying themselves, their clients are. Sometimes they ramble on about themselves, saying how brilliant they are, how they do this and do that. Am I really interested? When I have a business issue, I search for someone who can fix it. I want someone who understands my situation and can elp. Someone who listens to me and helps me sort out the issue. Not someone who bleats on about how good they are. I’m not interested in THEM, I’m interested in ME! So when you build your messaging, marketing or create your design, maybe you should be thinking from a different perspective? Think about your potential clients and what THEY would want, what they would wish to see. This way maybe, just maybe you will start to create a brand and message that speaks to them and doesn’t bore them senseless.
3) Why you?
Why would I want to do business with you and not the hundred or so other companies that provide exactly the same as you do, often cheaper? Yes, yes, yes, I know you are nice, professional and on time. That’s a given though, isn’t it? What is it YOU do that no-one else does or professes to do? This is vital if you want to stand out and build a brand. It also needs to be substantiated, not just empty words. For instance, if you say you are the most environmentally friendly company out there, how? What do you do that is above and beyond? A brand IS the business NOT the product or service. It’s everything. If you can create a stand out message such as John Lewis – Never Knowingly Undersold or Rackspace, 100% Fanatical Support and drive this through your business, you can differentiate yourself from the rest. Do that, and you can explain why you are more expensive than the competition and not get drawn into a price war.
It used to be called a USP, now it’s called niche. It should be called survival. If you don’t differentiate, you are going to have to constantly fight it out with everyone else, price cut, tender, price cut again and eventually die of exhaustion. Don’t do it. You are too nice, professional and on time to allow that to happen. What can you say? What can you uncover? What can you do that others in your industry can’t or won’t? Do it.
Cliff Findlay is the managing director of Latitude Solutions and author of Why You?, a new, quick read book for business owners on how to create a stand out brand in the most competitive environment the world has ever seen. Before setting up Latitude, he spent 15 years working and freelancing for major advertising agencies. He has produced global marketing campaigns for clients such as Ford, Hasbro and Hewlett Packard.
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