Jaynie Smith, Smart Advantage Inc.
Competitive-advantage specialist Jaynie Smith has a blunt message for business owners: whatever your sales messages focus on, it's almost certainly not what your customers care most about.
Smith, president of Smart Advantage Inc., a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based consultancy, was speaking at the annual PROFIT 200 CEO Summit. She told the audience of chief executives from Canada's Fastest-Growng Companies that 95% of sellers don't address the factors that customers consider the most important in their buying decisions. "There's a dangerous disparity between what companies think their customers value and what their customers actually value," she says. If you don't focus on what most matters to customers, they'll be far more likely to buy based on price.
To avoid this, you need to offer a meaningful competitive advantage over rival firms. The vast majority of companies think this advantage is something such as good customer service, quality, reputation or knowledgeable staff—or, as Smith puts it: "Blah. Blah. Blah." She uses these words because almost every other company also cites vague attributes like these.
To stand out from the competition, she says, you need to differentiate yourself through "deliverables": the way you do business, not your product or service. These must be objective, true and provable with metrics, not a given or marketing cliché, and not claimed by a competitor. So, instead of saying you provide fast and reliable delivery, say, "We fulfil 99.2% of our orders within 24 hours."
But identifying differentiators isn't enough. You then must identify your crucial competitive advantages: those differentiators that your customers deem the important. This is where most firms fall down hard. "We asked executives and sales teams at 150 companies to guess which things customers valued as No. 1, 2 or 3, and 95% of them got it wrong," says Smith.
She advises adopting a method detailed in her new book, Relevant Selling. At least annually, hire a market- research firm to conduct phone interviews asking buyers in your market to choose, from among your company's long list of differentiators, the three they most care about. Separate customers' top three choices from prospects' top three. "Research shows that 70% of the time, they rank different attributes differently," Smith says, "so you shouldn't run the same sales message to both."
Smith cites one client, a flower-delivery trucking firm, that had slashed its rates when the recession began. The firm then identified advantages relevant to its customers, including the facts that it averages one damage claim per 2,700 deliveries, its trucks have 20% more insulation than the industry average and it uses sealed loading docks, limiting temperature variations to less than one degree. "Once it focused on these, this company was able to raise its prices," says Smith. "And it lost only one customer out of 250."
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