Are You Your Customer’s Biggest Fan?

Are You Your Customers Biggest Fan?Ever buy something that costs less than the thing you really wanted because it looked all right and somebody said it would work just as well?

Then, when it didn’t live up to your expectations, did you tell yourself you’d gotten what you paid for?  We’ve all done it.

Stop selling on product and price!

Yet, people continue to buy based on appearances and price…and to make them comfortable about products that can’t be tried before they’re bought, both makers and sellers issue liberal promises. Those promises are on the web, in advertising and sales literature. They are repeated by sales people, and reinforced by warranties.

But, customers sold on unfulfilled promises can be lost forever once they are unsold. The web and social media give these unhappy customers a megaphone to declare their disappointment, frustration and, occasionally, raw bitterness.

There is a way, however, to beat the price game, still make the sale, and keep the customer satisfied. The answer is to add value to your product lines.

Tthe way to do that is to stand out from the competition.

The real key to unlocking growth with your customers is to align your business with their needs

Key to unlocking growth with your customers is to align your business with their needsTruth is, having the right product at the right price and an acceptable level of service are the cost of entry today.

You have to stop selling product features and specifications.

You need to start selling

  • Service
  • Relationships
  • Customer success

Your customers, like all of us, are bombarded with thousands of messages everyday…family stuff, business, the news of the day, social media, advertising, email, sales promotion, publicity. The trick is to avoid having your message lost in the daily clutter. So your customers know who you are, what you have to offer, and that you care when they’re ready to buy.

Looking beyond products

Looking beyond productsIt’s the “care” part that makes you different.

You have to guarantee their satisfaction. Your sales people must be knowledgeable. You have to offer the best products available in every price range…best for the money, best for the application, best for builder, best for remodeler and homeowner satisfaction.

You’re an expert at what you do. That means you need to look up from the day-to-day business long enough to identify market problems and turn them in to advantages.

Do this customer by customer with the goal of being the supplier who is most committed to their success. Leverage your strengths as the marketplace expert and resource.

Why adding value is good for your business

Good for your businessThe end result? You will stand out in your customer’s minds. You will make your competition irrelevant because all they are selling is product. And if they are using price as their primary sales tool, this strategy makes price less important.

That’s why adding value is good for your business.

Because aligning to customer needs benefits you with…

  • Increased customer loyalty
  • Less price sensitivity
  • Higher sales

And, that helps you stand out in a crowded marketplace, beat the market’s economic swings and pitfalls, and increase sales profitability.

For other posts on value from Channel Instincts, see Are You Ready For A Dog Eat Dog World? and  Are You Delivering Real Value to Your Customers?

Good Selling!

Image via Shutterstock

Are You Ready For A Dog Eat Dog World?

Let's talk about competitionWith that in mind, let’s talk about competition. To paraphrase Sara Lee, “Nobody doesn’t have competition.” We do, you do, everybody does. Do I hear you asking what’s the point?

Simple. Since having competition is a given, it’s what you do with it that counts.

What do you do with it? Ignore it? Hope it will go away? Bad mouth it?  Or do you learn from it? Do you make improvements to keep ahead of it?

For many of us, a big part of our current competitive situation boils down to one word. Price.

There are always small companies cherry-picking chunks of the market with lower prices on selected product knock-offs.  Do they offer anything else? Uh-uh. They can’t afford to. Have they embraced the very important concept of customer support that is key to a successful marketing effort?

The low price competitor is historically short on value

The low price competitor is historically short on value

As we’ve watched price-based competition come and go over the years, we’ve learned that your customers demand more than low price. They want comprehensive programs that include new product development, technological innovations and easily understood differences.

They also want merchandising support that really helps them sell. And, of course, they want service…before, during and after the sale. Moreover, they want it from pros who know their products, their markets and their needs.

It’s impossible to separate price and value

Your customers also know that it’s impossible to offer a comprehensive package loaded with value and always offer the lowest price in the market. But, they’re not searching for a shortcut to a quick buck. Like you, they’re in this for the long haul.

Dog Eat Dog World of CompetitionIf this support list describes what you provide to your customers, you should be able to weather just about any competitive storm. Your customers should recognize that in this industry, it’s impossible to separate price and value. A successful distributor-based business needs both.

The low price competitor is historically short on value. And, in this dog eat dog world, value is the thing on which we and you keep our incisors sharp.

For more on value, see the Channel Instincts posts Are You Delivering Real Value to Your Customers? and Are You Your Customer’s Biggest Fan?

Are You Walking In Your Competition’s Shoes?

walk in competitors shoes

You and your team need to live in the competition’s head.  That way, you’ll have a good idea about how they will try to sell against you.  You’ll find the chinks in your armor more easily and you will ultimately be more successful in the market place.

To see if you really understand your competition, try this:

  1. Write a sales pitch to one of your customers as if you were them.
  2. Create a PowerPoint template and build the selling story.

Be aggressive and be the competition. It may surprise you. And it may scare you. But you’ll be better prepared for the future.

Know the competition better than they know theyselves: Take your top competitor and research everything you can

The goal of this process is to build a fact-based selling story, so start off by building your fact base.  Go to your key competitor’s:

  • Corporate website
  • Visit key retailers who stock their product
  • Go to etailers and retail .com sites that offer the product
  • Head over to all the social media sites
  • Gather literature, ads and catalogs

While in-store, take photos.  Note pricing.  Document plan-o-grams.  Evaluate packaging.    Is there any attempt at differentiation between retailers?  Scan QR codes and UPC codes.

While on .com sites, are you seeing A+ pages?  What graphics are being used?  What features and benefits are being highlighted?  Are videos posted?  Read reviews – good and bad.

Do you see evidence of a social media strategy?  Are they utilizing Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest effectively?  Note Likes and Followers, grab screenshots and document any promotions or special events like a Twitter party.

In general, what is being done to educate the consumer – online or off-line?  And don’t forget to simply Google your competitor.  You’ll be surprised at what you might find posted that will help build your knowledge base.

Put together a compelling pitch based entirely on facts

pitchmanCreate a PowerPoint template that looks as if it came from the competition.  Photoshop a template based on graphics you find online.  This is particularly effective at snaring senior management attention – it seems all the more real when it looks like the competition.

The presentation should have five major sections:

  1. Corporate overview
  2. Why us
  3. Product differentiation
  4. Marketing
  5. Retail landscape

Put all the facts together in a compelling way.  If your competitor is a multi-billion dollar corporation, brag about the scale.  If a small, privately held firm, talk up focus or nimbleness.

Approach the competition’s product line with the mindset of how might they position their brand and offering at this retailer?  What would be their sales pitch to upset your placement?  Dig deep into understanding their product offering.  What’s innovative in their mind?

What can you – as the competitor – bring to the party?  Differentiation?  Better value?  Even if you only use this thought process as a clean sheet of paper exercise, it will force you to think differently.

Remember you are trying to win the business as the competitor at one of your key accounts!  All the shackles of being the incumbent are removed.  One thing to keep in mind, you can’t know what cost or margin the competitor is likely to bring, so don’t tear out your hair trying to figure that out.

Wrap everything up with lessons learned

get results-keep score-winYou should put as much time and thought into this project as you would to build your own customer presentation.  Work hard to truly understand the key points your competitor will use against you to win the business.  And once you have the best possible pitch built, build out a page or two of lessons learned.

For example, was the story stronger than you expected?  Were you surprised by the strength of the product pitch?  Have you been discounting their innovation, materials or performance for so long you lost sight of what they were really communicating to customers?  Did you discover any new consumer marketing or brand strategies?

Done well, when you are finished with this exercise you will better understand how you can be challenged by the competition at a key retailer.  More importantly, you’ll have the insights you need to build a plan to reduce your risk of losing the business.