Is different enough?

Without a doubt there is a conversation happening with marketing teams around the globe as I write this post trying to nail down differentiators. The more aggressive marketers might even be searching for “core differentiators” as if being different isn’t enough. Now we have to be different right down to our core.

Different is not good or bad. It’s not valuable or invaluable. Different is just, well, different. Who places a value on whether different is worth something extra, or worth something less?

Identifying your differences – or core differentiators – is a complete waste of time, money, and effort without first truly understanding your potential buyer. After all, who are you trying to appeal to with your differences?

Instead companies tend to begin on the inside rather than outside. Meaning, we tend to take the path of least resistance. Sitting in a conference room pontificating on why we’re different, and how much better we are than others does not get the job done. No. In fact, putting yourself in the market to truly listen to your buyers, and becoming vulnerable is what leads to innovation and disruption. Companies that do this well have no interest in being right….just in getting it right.

Does your buyer want different? What if all they want is better? Perhaps no one wants to relearn something entirely new. Perhaps all the buyer wants is for the “thing” they are currently using, to work better, or perform better. How do you know? Have you asked them? Have you asked enough of them to have a dependable sample size? Have you truly listened or did you embark on that research with a predisposition or set of biases? Were you tempted to skew the results to fit what you have in place?

In my book The Customer Mindset; Thinking Like Your Customer to Create Remarkable Results, I share an easy to implement process to map your buyers journey, starting with engaging your buyers and ultimately solving for the “so what?”. Yes, different can be better. The question is how much better, and does your prospective buyer care enough to pay for it?

When you look at your core differentiators, don’t forget to ask yourself (and your team), “so what?”

The Disruptive Buyer: A Cautionary Tale of Change.

1960businessowner

 

The business owner sat behind his desk staring out the window.  He started his business 7 years ago and for the most part things were okay.  He made it past the infamous first year when most start-ups go under, but it wasn’t easy. His sales were consistent, but flat over the past 3 years. Running a business was one thing, growing it was quite another.

The owner knew he needed to purchase a few super widgets to achieve his growth goals.  He had heard through the grapevine that other businesses using these super widgets were making lots of money. He had to get them if he too wanted to make more money. He needed them now. He wasn’t sure where he’d find them, or who sold them.  So he started his shopping the same way every other business did…

Like every business owner shopping for new products, he reached for the yellow pages and flipped to “W” for widgets but found nothing.  How could that be?  He thought some more and flipped to section “G” for growth. After all, the purpose of super widgets were to make businesses grow faster. Although his guess was correct, he wondered how long he would have looked if it hadn’t been. He would have kept looking if he hadn’t found them in this section, after all, the yellow pages is only so big. He found 2 pages of companies selling widgets. He wrote down the names, and phone numbers, of 5 businesses that sold these widgets and began dialing his phone. With each click of the rotary dial he was introduced to a sales person who offered to send him a packet of information which he’d receive in the mail in less than 10 days. This excited the business owner. In no time I’ll be making more money because of these widgets.

Two weeks past and the business owner sat in his office looking through 5 different packets of information from each of the companies he had called.  From there he narrowed his search down to the 3 companies whose brochures most appealed to him. He decided to begin making phone calls to these 3 companies immediately.

As he made his calls, each sales person sounded identical to the other telling him how long they’d been in business, why they different, and how happy they had made all their customers.  One specific sales person asked about his kids and right then and there the business owner was hooked.  He had made his decision on who he would buy from. It was this sales person who asked about his kids that he liked best. “She shares the same values as I do,” he thought.  She cares about my kids and my family. And with that he gave the order over the phone to purchase 5 super widgets.  He hung up the call excited to receive the purchase order in the mail the following week. In no time he’d be up and running with his super widgets.  In fact, it only took 3 – 4 weeks to receive them once his sales person received his signature on the purchase order and his payment in full. He sat back in his chair and thought about how easy buying these widgets was.  It only took a matter of weeks to educate himself and less than a month later to select a provider and have his super widgets in hand.  This was great…so he thought.

STOP THE PRESS!

Remember when? It wasn’t really all that long ago that this is how buyers made their purchasing decisions.  It’s how you and I both bought products and services.  It’s how we all shopped, considered, and purchased. We relied on the information we were “allowed” to have by the seller along with the claims and promises made by the seller relative to the value delivered by their products and services. We knew just what the seller was willing to release and not much more. You could say we were a lot like mushrooms just a short time ago.  Kept in the dark and fed a lot of….

But that’s all changed.  The age of the customer is upon us. She’s educated, connected, and socially engaged.  She wants information.  She wants a trusted advisor. She doesn’t want to be sold.  She doesn’t need to be sold.  She simply wants someone to help her along her journey, not the sellers journey, but her own personal journey.

If how you’re going to market still approaches the buyer like it’s 1999 I would ask two questions.  First, why? And second, how’s it working for you?

At the recent Digital Growth Conference in San Francisco, Jill Rowley, Social Selling Evangelist, talked about the disruptive buyer. A sales persons job today is to “facilitate the buyer on their journey, getting them ready to buy.” Quite a different and refreshing approach to selling.  A salesperson can no longer survive by having the brightest, shiniest widgets on the market.  They must have strong business acumen.  They must know how to use the tools at their disposal. Jill’s point of “a fool with a tool is still a fool” is quite thought-provoking.  It’s also still how many companies operate.  Produce the cool tool and let Sales run with it.  Bad idea.  Your buyers are way too sophisticated to simply follow the shiny bouncing ball. And not only will they not follow the bouncing ball, but they’ll kick it…hard…in the other direction making you have to chase after it to try to catch it.

Your job now is to be where the buyers are, and answer their questions where they raise them, when they raise them, and how they raise them.  Build it and they will come no longer works. Leading with the sale equals failure, while leading the buyer to the sale equals success.

Why as consumers don’t we want to be pushed, prodded or strong-armed into a sale?  We don’t like pushy sales people in our personal lives yet in business we direct our sales people to be exactly that. A robot can twist an arm, mail a piece of content, and do an online demonstration.  That’s not what the buyer is looking for when she finally engages with a sales person.  And forget value. All this talk about presenting value is overrated.  What is value?  In a recent study conducted by Sirius Decisions, the number one reason sales people lose a sale is because of the sales persons inability to effectively communicate the value proposition.

Your buyer is now the disruptor, more so than technology. She now drives the sales process, you don’t.  She has all the control because she determines what information she wants, from who she wants it, when she wants it and how she gets it. She has access to social platforms that provide feedback about you, your product, your company, your brand, your reputation.  She knows what you sell and how closely it delivers against your brand promise. The slightest disconnect between your brand promise and the experience delivered and you’re out of the game, kicked to the curb.

It’s your job to be engaged socially where she is shopping and learning.  You need to be there at the right time with the right content to help her through her journey.  She doesn’t want to be sold.  She won’t be sold.  She wants to be advised.  She wants information.  She wants hero stories…how others like her have benefited from following your recommendations.  She wants to feel connected to you and your company.  She wants to understand your brand…both brands…that of your company’s and you personally.  She won’t settle for anything less.

The age of the buyer has arrived.  Each buyer is unique.  Each is on his or her own personal journey. Each favoring different points along that journey where they need or want help. So are you still leading with a sale, or leading your buyers through their individual journey to a sale? It’s time to answer that question.

Are You a Helper, or a Server? An Important Question for Your Brand.

 

ChickfilA

Have you ever thought about what your company does?  I mean really does?  What is it you do? Why do you exist? What’s your purpose?  Are you a helper or a server?  Is there a difference?  Does it matter?  I’d suggest it does matter…greatly. Are you still wondering why the picture of the chicken sandwich?  Keep reading.

Pay attention the next time you’re in a buying situation.  You walk in a store, a restaurant, or car dealership, and in just about every possible example you’ll hear these four words – “can I help you?”  To help, as opposed to serving, boils down to a mindset.  We are taught as children to “help one another” in school, or to “help out” around the house.  As we get older the concept of helping others is seared into our brains as the right thing to do. Consequently in business, we bring those same thoughts with us, setting out to help someone or some business. But let me propose a different viewpoint; one that supports the benefits of serving others rather than helping.  An unexpected encounter at a quick-service restaurant brought this concept to my attention.

While on a recent road trip, my wife and I decided to stop for something quick to eat. We didn’t want to spend time in a full service restaurant.  We wanted something fast, and as close to healthy as possible given our travel schedule.  We pulled into a drive-thru and placed our order. From behind the audio box came a voice that was filled with energy (genuine) and asked, “How may I serve you today?”  What did she say? How could I be sitting in a drive-thru of a fast food restaurant and be this impressed?  This didn’t make sense.  We placed our order, pulled up to the window where we were greeted by a crisply dressed, smiling cashier who completed our transaction, and said, “thank you for your business and I look forward to serving you again.”  WOW!  That restaurant was Chick-fil-A. 

This experience got me thinking.  Who says “how may I serve you?”  Everyone says they want to help, but do they really?  “How may I help you” is regular, predictable, watered down. And how often have you heard those words knowing full well the person asking couldn’t care less about really helping you? But the question “how may I serve you?”, is a purple cow.  Something so simple, yet so remarkably different relative to today’s buying norms that you notice, and notice in a big way.

I wondered if this was a fluke or if there was something more to this one experience.  I conducted a bit of research and visited 3 other Chick-fil-As in different areas.  Shockingly, all provided the exact same experience as the first location. How can a company whose brand is represented by independent operators deliver such a consistent experience?  I just had to ask…

This remarkable service is the result of many things, but two things in particular: training and modeling.  Training content, material, philosophy, and methods are provided by corporate for consistency.  Modeling is provided by the independent operators.  The owners walk the same talk as all store employees.  One such owner that I had the privilege of meeting, walked around the store refilling customers drinks and asking if there was anything else she could do to serve the customers.  Remarkable.

When being served, you may feel special, perhaps honored.  When serving others you might feel fulfilled, satisfied, humbled.  As a result of this experience I have challenged myself and others in my network to give thought to shifting their paradigm from one of helping to one of serving.  I personally, have found this subtle shift in thinking to be empowering.  It fosters a bond between the one being served and the one doing the serving.  Try it and see what a positive change it can make to your customers’ experience.  Are you brave enough to serve or will you stay in your comfort zone and help?  You decide.

 

Confidence THEN Conviction

perception

Confidence is one of the most studied, sought after, and revered human traits. We all aspire to have confidence. The confidence to ask for a raise, or a date, or the confidence to ask for the business. Nearly everything we do in life requires confidence. But do you know what ingredient is needed to super-charge your confidence? It’s conviction.

 Years ago I found myself sitting in a meeting with the brilliant founder of Intuit, Scott Cook. In that meeting we were discussing why one of our product lines wasn’t acheiving the level of sales success we had anticipated. All of our research suggested it was due to a lack of brand awareness within that product category’s space.

At the end of our presentation Scott sat back and looked around the table. We were all quiet, anxiously awaiting his approval of the depth and quality of our work and findings. Instead he sat up, placed his arms on the table in a folded position and said, “I have a question. Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard of a Yugo.” We looked around the room at one another and quickly hands began to rise. Still looking around the room Scott then said, “Now keep your hand up if you’d buy a Yugo.” One by one hands came down and we now knew we were about to get schooled in the topic of brand awareness.

“Your problem is not with awareness. Your problem is that the market has no conviction in your product”. Scott effectively made the point that strong awareness without conviction equals failure. Our job was to instill conviction in the marketplace. Doing so required us to establish confidence first with our buyer. They needed to first “believe” we were capable of what we said we could do, and only THEN could they demonstrate their conviction to buy from us.

Establishing confidence begins with awareness, followed by increasing the buyers familiarity with your offering. Once familiar, the marketers job is to instill confidence. This can be done through a variety of ways including testimonials, surveys, samples, free trials, or a no-risk guarantee. Regardless of which method you use to instill this confidence it must be real before you can ask for the customers conviction to purchase.

To make this journey successfully you must be willing to truly hear what your customers are saying. You need to assess the marketplace. And perhaps most importantly you need to exude a personal conviction that by doing these things your business will grow with happy, delighted, and profitable customers.

8 simple steps to creating a strong brand promise

In my prior blog, How Difficult is it to Change Your Brand Promise, I talked about some companies that did an excellent job of delivering on their brand promise, as well as one company in particular that didn’t deliver on their promise.  A visible disconnect between your promise and what is actually delivered, many times is the fatal flaw that brings down a company.  Even companies who are considered “Great” by today’s standards can fall prey to a faulty brand promise.  Therefore it is crucial that you ensure your promise is aligned, and able to connect to your delivery.

Developing a strong brand promise requires attention to detail.  Having a process to follow as you build or revamp your promise is necessary to maximize your success.  Here are 8 simple steps to creating or modifying a brand promise:

  1. Involve key stakeholders – having the right people involved from the onset of this journey will help with alignment at the end when implementation is critical.  People are most likely to support something they had a hand in developing.
  2. Talk to your customers.  Not just your favorites, or the customers you know will say good things.  Test the waters using VOC tactics to obtain a broad and random voice.
  3. Understand your competitors.  One of the most commonly missed steps of the process.  Why?  Because most people/companies think they already know everything about their competitors.  Wrong!
  4. Size your market opportunity to justify a change in your promise.  Think Amazon Prime.  Amazon changed how merchandise was shipped.  They strengthened their promise but not before researching and understanding the potential takers for this service.  Earlier this year the Business Insider indicated Amazon had reached 10 million Prime members.  At $79 a year that’s not a bad addition to the top line!  All from taking the time to understand the market opportunity.
  5. Develop your core brand attributes and identify statement – value proposition.  If a core attribute of your business is “easy” then you need to make sure that everything you do checks back and balances to easy.  If you market an “easy set-up” and set-up is actually time and labor intensive you’re already disconnected from your promise.
  6. Establish an Advisory Group.  Create a Council or Group of 9 to 11 members…always an odd number to ensure voting efficiency on topics and items that require decisions.  Use this group to test attributes, messaging, and most importantly experience.
  7. Talk to your employees.  Too often companies exclude the “rank and file” from this work believing it is an executive function only.  The problem with this mentality is that it’s all wrong.  I have witnessed countless times when an employee reviews branding work and raises a topic or issue that no other executive caught because the employee is closer to the action.  Involve your employees and you’ll see results in improved morale, better processes, and overall better performance.
  8. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.  Once you’ve locked into your brand promise share it.  Tell your story.  And most importantly monitory your results.  Is our promise connecting?  How are our customers and prospects reacting?

I will post future blogs diving deeper into each of the above 8 steps.  Until then remember:  “Do what you say, and say what you do”.  That’s your promise.