No matter which business you are in, at some point you will worry about competitors. How can you differentiate yourself, your product, or the services you provide when there are many alternatives?
The important thing to remember is that people buy for many reasons and rarely base their decisions solely on price. If you think about it logically, no business can offer the lowest price, provide the very best products, and deliver excellent service all the time. Maybe you can have two out of three, but not all three. Keeping that in mind, here are a few suggestions on how to stand out in order to attract—and keep—more customers:
Don’t follow the crowd
Have you ever noticed how some industries’ advertisements all look similar? Banking comes to mind; those ads always include pictures of the local executives and every bank has the same message. You want to stand out, not blend in, from your competitors. A great idea is to look at websites and research companies similar to yours in other markets. Or, look for ideas in industries outside your own. Keep emails or mailers that you opened because they were unique or interesting. I received a book with a hand-written note that would help me in my current role. I immediately gave that vendor a meeting because their unique approach piqued my curiosity.
Ask for referrals
Your best customers can introduce you to potential customers. Whether you make it part of your culture to ask, or start a referral rewards/loyalty program, use those key relationships to pull business away from competitors.
Don’t treat all customers equally
Your best customer is someone else’s best prospect. Know which customers are the most profitable and easiest to work with. Reward and recognize them with special incentives and opportunities.
Letters may work better for reaching key decision makers at small businesses. Use stamped envelopes (not a meter) and hire a student or part-time employee to hand-address the envelopes. Include your return address but not your name so the letter reaches the intended receiver without someone screening the contents.
Talk about problems you solve in your marketing pieces and advertisements
Include less about you and more about helping your customers personally or in their business. Using common language and relatable images can draw in customers.
Here is one very relatable image we have used in the past:
Ask for ideas
It is easy to get into a business routine and overlook some easy ways to differentiate ourselves. Employees and customers can provide ideas that may immediately increase sales. Keep an open mind and encourage your employees to share new ideas. Have a box for suggestions on how to boost sales and improve customer service. Ask key customers how you can improve your service. Be willing to change.
Improve your chances of success by continually learning
Complacency is risky for all businesses. Things change quickly and you need to keep up to date on ways to drive more customers to your business. Look for books, blogs, business publications, and professional groups like Entrepreneur Organization designed for small businesses owners and that frequently publish articles to help you “sharpen the saw.”
Don’t be a generalist, deliver AWESOME to your target market
Be the equivalent of a subject matter expert for your niche market. Many people thought Starbucks® coffee would not scale because who would spend that much money for coffee. They specialized and became valued for the experience and quality they deliver. They catered to a niche market initially but today continually adapt and try new things that might appeal to their customers and attract more. Some things work, some things do not. But they keep improving their products and services and earn new converts willing to pay $5+ for a 25 cent cup of joe.
Community involvement matters
This is an area where you can draw attention and get recognition that can’t be bought by bigger competitors. Membership in local organizations, volunteering at events, sponsoring groups in which current or prospective customers are members can work. Before spending money, evaluate closely as to which events deserve your time and investment. Track what you spend on community engagement and the number of customers acquired as a result. .
A little paranoia is healthy
Bill Gates said, in effect, that he bases his success in productive paranoia. Keep an eye on your competition to see what they are doing. You may need pivot quickly to take advantage of an opportunity when they slip up and their customers start looking for alternatives.
Your business is different from many of your competitors. Use that to your advantage and your business will thrive.
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