Are You Struggling to Stand Out To Your Customer?

Do ever struggle to differentiate yourself from competitorsDo ever struggle to differentiate yourself from competitors?

My guess is that this is a constant struggle but one that is not addressed often by your marketing team. That’s because it’s not on their radar.

Perhaps it’s because they are too focused on the new product development processes you have in place and not listening to the critical input from customers.

When you listen to customers, you sometimes get an earful

When you listen to customers, you sometimes get an earfulThe commercial interiors business at Owens Corning struggled to differentiate itself from competitors. Sales were architecturally specified and product driven. The product was designed to absorb echoes in school gyms and classrooms.

In making calls with the sales team, customers emphasized that schools demanded a high level of performance. And also that many architects were becoming increasingly sensitive to being as green as possible in their designs.

Turning a black art into a differentiator

be differentAcoustics, however, was considered a bit of a black art.

Specialists were needed to figure out how much absorption a space needed. Surprisingly, we discovered that no one guaranteed the acoustical performance of their products, let alone have an independent third party determine their performance level.

This led us to successfully seek UL certification for all of our commercial interior products, a first for both the industry and UL.

Because Owens Corning was also the manufacturer of the base fiberglass boards the products were made from, we knew that those boards had a minimum of a 35% recycled content. This was enough to earn the product line a third-party certification (SCS), which would allow Owens Corning products to qualify for green projects.

Not all innovation is new product innovation

product_innovationWe combined these elements together with the standard 3-year warranty Owens Corning offered to create a program called Performance Marketing.

For the first time, our sales team had the ability to clearly position and differentiate our product line from the competition.

This  not only increased sales but also allowed us to create a significant trade PR program around our efforts to demystify acoustical performance.

Innovation can come from anywhere in the company. It can be product innovation, process innovation or, in this case, program innovation.

All of which will help you be more successful in launching impactful products and programs to grow sales and profits.

Good Selling!

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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.

“Congratulations! We Are Putting Your Category Up For A Product Line Review.”

4016829091_9228f9fc51The news came by email at 6 pm…our biggest account was putting our category into an unscheduled line review.

Now everything was uncertain…our forecasts, our budgets, our plans.

Suddenly, without warning, we were faced with fighting for our space on the shelf.

Was it really unexpected?

frustrated-with-salesNothing sends a bigger shock wave through an organization than the unexpected line review.

Rumors fly and productivity decreases. Suddenly everyone is focused on “how could we not see this coming.”

Start off by asking yourself what really prompted this line review:

  • Did the retailer’s goals change? Is profit now more important than sales or the opposite? Is the merchant merely driving the corporate message down to you?
  • Was it “time” for a review? Had years past since the last time a formal review was conducted?
  • Is the category drifting or POS comping negative? Does the merchant need to show there’s a plan to upper management?
  • Did the competition heat up? Is there a new player or compelling new product in the category?

Regardless of if the answer is the category is tanking and the competition is sensing blood or the merchant just needs to have a clear plan to take to management, the focus you apply to the line review should be the same.

Put yourself in the merchant’s shoes

brent_729-620x349The merchant has no loyalty to you. That said, if you have performed well as a vendor, there’s not a lot of reason to create confusion at the shelf. Strong partners support one another.

You bring focus and insight to the category (for both the retailer and your product line) through:

  • Market trends
  • New products
  • Assortment planning
  • Competitive insights
  • Promotional plans
  • Packaging and merchandising
  • Service and support performance

Done well, you will only reinforce your value to the merchant. They, in turn, can confidently support you to their management as the vendor of choice.  It’s truly a win-win.

Build a plan that solves a problem

be seen as the category expert and offering a logical and compelling case about why you should be on their shelfYour moment of truth is your pitch to the retailer.

Chances are, the team will include the merchant, their assistant, their boss, possibly a planner and many times an unrelated category’s merchant. That last one is where all the tough questions will come from.

Their job is to be the spoiler – without having to have your merchant be the “bad guy.”

Your job is to build a story that is compelling from start to finish.

Focus on answering questions that your customer is trying to solve:

  • What are the shopper insights?
  • What are the category insights?
  • What does the financial analysis suggest?
  • How can the assortment be optimized?
  • How can we drive conversion through merchandising and promotion?

Regardless of the reason for the line review in the first place if you answer these questions well, you’ll be seen as the category expert and offering a logical and compelling case about why you should be on their shelf.

The retailer is not the expert in your category – you are

If the retailer wins, you winBelieve it or not, the retailer is not the expert in your category – you are. But they do have perspective. Perspective from other categories they manage and from hearing what your competitors are saying.

But what they need to know is how they are going to improve sales and profitability. Maybe not overnight, but definitely within their fiscal year. It’s how they will earn promotions and make their bonus. Consequently, any recommendations you make should help them win. Because if they win, you win.

So pitch your presentation in a way that shows:

  • Clarity of the alignment between the retailer’s shopper and who buys your brand.
  • Insights on what’s happening in the category, why it’s happening, what it’s impacting and what – together – you’re going to do about it.
  • How your recommendation brings differentiation, innovation and excitement to the category and directly addresses market and shopper trends.
  • A clear picture of how you are bringing the best financial program, the best products and the marketing plan that delivers the most value to both the retailer and their shopper.

The merchant is evaluating your credibility as well as your recommendation

Think of it this way, the merchant is evaluating your credibility as well as your recommendation.

If you come in with clear plan – one that’s supported every step of the way with facts – you’ll be in a better shape because the merchant will be able to use your recommendation and data in supporting the decision to go with you and deliver the goals the merchant’s management team has for the category and department.

Good Selling!

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevensnodgrass/4016829091/

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