The Element of Surprise

At another company fifteen years ago, I needed to engage someone to design a marketing brochure and other collateral. Several small firms and soloists came in, presented their portfolios, and answered our questions.

In all cases, the work they’d done for prior clients was quite good. Their fees were in a pretty tight range. We liked all of them personally. It was tough to pick. My team and I chose one gentleman—let’s call him Paul—who gave us a sense of comfort and confidence.

As our project progressed, though, we were wowed by how Paul approached our work and how much value he added. Along with his design skills, he had a talent for story—and he dragged a much better story out of us than the one we were telling the market. Paul had developed a unique process for doing that, and another innovative method for jointly arriving at the crucial design decisions. These were crucial to our great results.

At the time we were getting acquainted and making our decision, Paul explained none of that. Had we known, he would have been the obvious choice (and we’d have happily paid more to work with him).

You’ve likely heard the expression, “The cobbler’s children have no shoes.” It’s common that we’re so busy applying our strengths to other people’s businesses that we overlook doing the same for our own business. Or we get so close to our own business that we can’t see it through the fresh eyes of a prospective client. Paul was omitting from his own story what made him so special and capable. (I don’t mean to throw stones here; I’ve been the cobbler myself. That’s why I’ve learned to periodically go outside for strategy and marketing communications help.)

The Element of Surprise Isn’t Always a Good Thing

Paul had what I call “differentiation in fact,” but did not establish perceived differentiation at the time of our buying decision.

The element of surprise is a good thing in business when it adds a dollop of delight to a service experience. It’s not so good when the prospective client is left unaware of a supplier’s uniquely high value at purchase decision time.

In the case I mentioned above, we and Paul got lucky. But we came this close to losing his really valuable contributions, and he came close to losing an assignment that he wanted and needed. (Not to mention the referrals we later sent his way.) His fees also stayed well below what he was really worth.

Can you relate?

Getting Your Value Recognized

So if your business has “differentiation in fact,” how can you achieve perceived differentiation?

  1. List out everything you provide when working with your clients. Look all around the customer experience to identify other services you perform. Your differentiation may stem from what surrounds your core service. For example, if you implement things for your clients, you may also advise (or vice versa). So look at your business overall, not just at the specific product/service solution. Ask past clients why they think someone would rightly choose your business over a competing provider.
  2. Think about the so-what of working with your company and receiving your solution. What is the prospect’s situation before they work with you? How painful is the status quo? Why is it painful? What future state would they like? Where can you bring them? As keynote speaker Paul B. Evans says, from “unhappy to happy—that’s what people want.” Achieving perceived differentiation needn’t always explicitly spell out how you are different than your competitors. It’s often enough to do a far superior job of communicating that you understand where the prospect is now (unhappy with a situation) and where you can bring them (happy with their new situation).
  3. If your business clients experience a financial benefit as a result of working with you, develop an Economic Value Story. What effects can you typically bring to their income statement—do they achieve higher sales, or lower costs? What about the effect on their balance sheet—do you help them reduce the assets required in their business, or help them lever up? Spell out the effects that your work can typically have, and estimate what that’s worth so you can make Economic Value part of your story.

I hope those three ideas will help you if prospects aren’t recognizing you for the special value you bring. Not getting your value recognized means that you’re not having enough prospects seek you out and accept meetings, and too often competing on price.

Or maybe you don’t see yourself having the time or skills to tackle this on your own. What if you could have help in achieving these outcomes:

  • Clearly defined, compelling reasons to do business with you
  • Unique positioning that differentiates your company
  • Your sales team prepared to communicate your value proposition
  • More prospects find you or accept meetings (even if they’re satisfied with their current suppliers)
  • Clear criteria for prospects who’ll be the best fit
  • Customers choosing you even when you’re not the lowest priced
  • Profitably grow your sales

For more information on how we might help, please visit Packaged to Prosper.

Bob Sherlock

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Posted in Find The Right Clients

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