In today’s hyper-competitive landscape where your product and services can be viewed as a commodity, how do you differentiate from the masses? With prospective buyers being continually bombarded every day with the same messaging it’s become increasingly difficult to stand out. Every single day I receive dozens of emails, LinkedIn messages, and phone calls all stating the same thing -
- Our product is better than all the rest
- Receive a free assessment
- We create a meaningful relationship
- We are the best provider
- We have the best skills
- We have high customer satisfaction
- We have a high customer retention rate
- We save you money
- We deliver x value and ROI
As this small list illustrates, the focus is on what ‘we’ can do rather than on what matters to ‘you’. In marketing terms, as a buyer of services they call this your persona. Understanding what matters to your potential customers is not easy, which is why so many fall back on the easier ‘we’ messaging.
As business products and services become a commodity or even viewed as a commodity, it becomes more important to understand your buyer at a deeper level in order to differentiate. Companies anguish spending untold hours and dollars to find their secret sauce. Compounding the headache, differentiation and persona is a moving target. What worked last year or even last month may not work now.
Use what you already have… customers
One of the most powerful sources for differentiation are your existing customers. If you really do have all the ‘we’ down - we are the best provider, we have 100% customer satisfaction, we save you money - you have plenty of skins on the wall to use to your benefit. The trick - you have to ask!
When your customers are happy to provide a reference they should also be happy to provide you a testimonial. Testimonials are a tried and true method for obtaining customer feedback. Marketing loves the testimonial to be used in brochures, websites, white papers, etc. But there is more value to harvest from the testimonial. Customer feedback and testimonials will often contain the generic ‘we’ messages, but if done well, buried within testimonials are nuggets of ‘you’ differentiation.
Obtain customer feedback on a regular basis
Many companies ask for customer feedback… once. If you are good at what you do, you should have a continual flow of new customers as well as long-term customers. Both are great sources for feedback all the time. Of course this assumes you have happy customers willing to provide feedback and the more the better.
Asking for customer feedback can be intimidating
Many companies operate on the ‘no news is good news’ principle out of fear if they ask for feedback they will open the floodgates for negative comments. But there is more risk in not asking. Negative feedback makes you aware of potential blind spots when made aware can be addressed and actually turned into a positive. Positive feedback not only feels good, it provides valuable insights to your customer persona - priceless data points to use going forward.
We ask for real-time customer feedback continually through surveys and more formally using phone and email questionnaires at least twice a year. Here is a sample of our most recent feedback. Note I purposely chose a few from different industries and business models because it drives persona.
From a logistics company -
- Had NO IT department – outsourced to a guy that did it on the side. Owners computer was stolen and thought data was backed up, it wasn’t.
- Met Wade thru Master Mind Group – Liked that he was honest, transparent, worked within their budget.
- Loves the relationship that has been built and calls Fluid HER IT department
- Fluid helps with other vendor issues so as not to tie up productivity time.
- Fluid helps immensely with email security. Blocks things that shouldn’t be downloaded. Takes the stress off of worrying where and what employees are doing. Has helped by watching emails that employees are sending and has stopped theft of data and client information.
- Fluid understands our business and after going thru so much the past 2 years they have peace of mind .
From an oil & gas company -
- 4-6 years ago Fluid was called to help out only as a “ consultant “. 3 people were hired to take care of internal IT but were let go or quit after a few years leaving the accounting manager in charge. Servers started crashing and things were BAD!! Brought Fluid back in to fix the issues and move to the Fluid cloud. Fluid fixed all issues.
- Likes the model that help desk is included so no added worry of costs every time an employee has an issue.
- Especially likes the brain thought that goes into the architecture and their business environment. Doesn’t just throw you ONE solution like most MSP’s. Makes sure solutions are within the budget yet still secure.
From a financial services company -
- Reliable- consistent
- Can call Fluid anytime for advice and is happy to oblige
- Full spectrum of everything at Fluid
- With the turnover of bookkeeping being high, Fluid takes care of the passwords and grunt work taking it off our users
- Left and went to another company for savings, but came back because their level of customer service and swiftness was immeasurable.
From a large sign company -
- Fluid pretty much saved us. We were attacked by Ransomware and Fluid IT was on it quickly and efficiently to get us back in business
- Had to rebuild servers and Fluid was very helpful
- Even though Fluid is based in Dallas and we are in California, Fluid has been very dependable
From a law firm -
- Provide recommendations on hardware
- Comprehensive approach - work with us to provide strategic direction for the future
- All in one solution for our needs - one-stop shop
- Ease of working remote and being secured
- Data in different places for backup
From a hedge fund -
- Really like the quarterly training
- Comfort and ease of having everything in the cloud
- Cost is worth the security
If you read the feedback from the viewpoint of ‘how are we doing’, the highlights and key data points are different from the perspective of ‘how are we different’. Many of the comments support the ‘how good are we doing’, but when read carefully the comments provide insight into ‘what is important to you’ and differentiation.
When viewed through the lens of the customer, areas of importance become apparent. Key themes such as honesty, transparency, security, free up time to improve productivity, etc. can be found with a single customer, providing insight into them and their industry. Other customers value the comprehensive one-stop-shop, focus on helping with technology strategy for the future, and the cost being worth the sense of security and peace of mind.
Once customer feedback is obtained, it’s not over. Don’t be afraid to keep digging to get more detail relevant to the customers business and the value you provide. For example, with the oil & gas company, asking follow-up questions relative to a specific business process adds ‘punch’, such as “Tell me how our company added value or can add more value regarding the SCADA systems on the wells”. To do this requires knowing enough details about the business of the customer to even ask the questions. Knowledge of your customers business at a detailed level moves generic banalities to tangible differentiation.
There is great power and value in understanding how your customers truly feel, beyond the initial warm and fuzzy praises or frustrating admonishments. Look more deeply into the words themselves to find themes resonating how the customer perceives value to them. When you find it, keep digging!