“What makes you different?” Every sales professional and marketer gets confronted with this question multiple times a day. The ability to answer this question well forms the difference between winning and losing, profitability and unprofitability.
Here’s the challenge: you’re not different. Is that a fair statement? Probably not. But in the eyes of your prospects and clients, unless you take intentional action to create differentiation, you are not different.
Without differentiation, the best case scenario is that you win on price. The worst case scenario is the you lose to a competitor that creates differentiation. Even worse, what if you are losing to a competitor that creates differentation and charges more! Talk about salt in a wound.
How can you create differentiation? Let's consider three options that don't work for most companies.
Many companies I serve sell products that they don’t manufacture. From a product level, differentiation is at best low. Most importantly, these companies don’t make the products so they can’t control them. Even if they are able to beg the manufacturer for a new feature, in today’s world, it’s usually a matter of months before the competition achieves parity.
You can create differentiation by providing great service to go along with your product. Or, maybe your product is service. You can respond quickly--even proactively--to your clients’ needs. All of this is vital for a healthy business. However, I’m willing to bet that if you’re honest, you know you’re not the only provider in your space that provides outstanding service. Thus, differentiation from service becomes minimal.
You could create a brand. Companies like Coca-Cola, Nike, and Red Lobster dump hundreds of millions of dollars into brand building. Guess what? It works--if you have hundreds of millions of dollars. (If you’re a small business trying to build your brand based on billboards or cable TV advertising, good luck. I think you’re flushing money down the toilet.)
So, how do you differentiate? There has to be a better way to create differentiation that isn’t budget prohibitive.
The answer may be found from successful companies like Starbucks and Disney.
Let’s start with coffee. The ingredients for a cup of coffee cost well less than a dollar. The labor to make the cup of coffee lies on the lower end of the labor cost scale. You can buy a cup of coffee at a convenience store or a McDonalds for about a $1. Why then do people line up at Starbucks?
How about Disney? As I write this, their theme parks are closed for the COVID-19 pandemic. But I can guarantee you that the moment the parks open back up, people will be streaming through the gates at hundreds of dollars a ticket. (In the meantime, families are eating popcorn watching movies on Disney+, a service that crushed records in revenue the week they launched.) Why do people line up at Disney?
The answer lies around a word that has become the foundation of economic success: client experience.
Starbucks creates an amazing customer experience. Walt Disney built an empire based on creating experiences around cartoons. As a result, both of these companies have achieved incredible results.
In The Experience Economy, Pine and Gilmore assert that customer experience is the key to growth--something we all need as we look to the future. “Recognizing experiences as a distinct economic offering provides the key to future economic growth.”￼
In Revenue Growth Engine, I talk about two key experiences: Buyer Experience and Client Experience.
In the book we explore strategies to create an Ideal Client Experience (ICX). That means that you intentionally craft an experience that your Ideal Clients will appreciate.
What if you looked at your client experience AS your product? What could you do at each stage of the Buying Experience and Client Experience to add value and make your company memorable. Yes, you need to have great products and be operationally solid to deliver good service. But what can you do to enhance the experience your ideal clients have with your company?
I remember early in my sales career, a trainer said, “You don’t sell the steak, you sell the sizzle.” As cheesy as that saying was (and still is) there is a huge nugget of truth. The sizzle is the Ideal Client Experience.
The good news is that crafting your Ideal Client Experience is fun! You can put the creative power of your team to work to continually enhance your ICX. As you do this, you will deepen your value, increase client loyalty, and increase differentiation.
As you develop growth plans, the key to your future growth may be experience!