By Robin Robins, President, Technology Marketing Toolkit, Inc.
Almost every day I receive marketing campaigns submitted to me for critique that contain zero benefits or reasons why a customer should pay attention, let alone respond or buy something. In most cases, I can tell they have spent hours, possibly even days, trying to come up with some cute slogan or picture to capture the reader’s attention and get a response. This is a big, HUGE waste of time. Cute slogans with “hidden” meanings or inside jokes do NOT sell, and slogans should NOT take the place of a solid USP (unique selling proposition) or meaningful benefits. Some slogans can be congruent with a USP and convey benefits (like Wal-Mart’s Always Low Prices – Always), but the vast majority simply do not.
So what exactly is a unique selling proposition and how do you get one? Simply put, a USP is a reason or set of reasons why a prospective customer should choose to do business with you over any and every other option available to them. In other words, what is so special, advantageous, or beneficial about your products and services that makes you the obvious choice above all of your competitors? If you were face to face with a prospective customer and they asked you why they should give you their business over all of the other consultants and vendors offering the same products and services, what would you say? You have a lot riding on the answer to this question.
Another way of asking this same question is, what quantifiable thing do you do better than any of your competitors, and whatspecific, measurable benefit(s) does that offer to your customers? For most technology companies, this is a hard question to answer. In most cases the business owner replies “better service”. Ok, but who else can (and does) promote that to their customers? If anybody and everybody can use your USP, it ain’t a USP because one of the obvious factors is uniqueness. In order for it to have any power, your USP has to favorably separate you from the competition.
There are only 5 ways you can do this:
Having a unique product is incredibly rare. Even if you happen to have a truly unique product, chances are it won’t be long before someone invents a faster/cheaper/newer/bigger/low carb version of it.
Differentiating yourself by lowest price is, in my opinion, the worst USP to have especially when you are in a small service business. Aside from the obvious fact that it prevents you from making healthy margins on your services, it attracts a lower-end client that is far more likely to complain, pay slow, shop you on price, and not appreciate your services. However, many small business owners are too lazy to go to work on finding, developing, and communicating a USP and are forced to compete on price without strategically choosing that as their USP.
Process and service offer far more opportunity for you to differentiate. Being able to deliver a better customer experience not only creates an environment for customer loyalty and referrals, but it also allows you to command higher rates. I believe that one of the best examples of a service-based USP was developed by a company that we are all familiar with, selling a product that is not only extremely low in margins, but also incredibly difficult to differentiate. Maybe you are familiar with the story…
A small town kid trying to pay his way through college decides to buy a little business on the edge of campus to come up with the money he needs to graduate. The owner is all to happy to dump the business on him for no money down. Full of enthusiasm and bright ideas, he recruits one of his buddy’s to help him. They come to the agreement that one of them will take day classes, one of them will take night classes, and they’ll alternate running the business. The plan is to do all the work themselves, sleep on cots in the back room, and pocket all of the profits that come in.
However, after a few months of working like dogs they discover they haven’t made a dime. As a matter of fact, they are losing money and going further into debt. Finally, his partner decides that he has had enough and bails on him and the business. This forces him to drop out of school to try and make this crummy little business pay off. Fortunately, he somehow comes up with a service-based unique selling proposition that turns this little sink hole of a business into a profitable, thriving operation. In very little time he dominates his city, his state, and then his country. According to Fortune Magazine, he becomes one of the 1,000 wealthiest people in the US in less than 10 years.
What was the USP he discovered? Fresh, hot pizza in 30 minutes or less, guaranteed. On the strength of that service-based unique selling proposition, Tom Manahan dominated his industry. Now if you analyze and study that unique selling proposition (and you should) you’ll notice a number of lessons. One of the most important ones is that Tom Manahan exploited what is known as an “opportunity gap” in his industry. He identified the one thing that annoyed his target audience about pizza delivery that all of his competitors did badly. He then fixed it and made it the center focus of his business. You’ll notice that he never mentioned quality ingredients, special sauce, discounts, coupons, or even good pizza in his unique selling proposition. You’ll also notice he is very specific about the deliverable: fresh, hot pizza in 30 minutes or less. He doesn’t say “fast”, “speedy”, “soon”, “faster than the other guy”, or “faster than a speeding bullet”. He said set your watch; it will be there in 30 minutes or less. Then he actually has the brass cohunes to guarantee it.
I have personally conducted an extensive amount of research with small business owners and IT managers to find out what the “opportunity gap” is in selling technology services. To date, I’ve conducted over 200 live telephone interviews to find out what annoys business owners and IT managers when buying technology products and services. Over and over again, the top 3 biggest complaints were:
- Slow response time.
- Lack of communication.
- Lack of service after the sale.
If I were building a unique selling proposition for a technology services business, you can bet that I would base it entirely on solving these three problems or complaints. I would also make sure that I was engineering my business in such a way to make sure I could deliver. A dentist colleague of mine recently asked this question to all of his patients, “What would you like to get from your dentist that you currently don’t get?”
Here’s the interesting part: very few of the answers had anything to do with the actual dental services being performed. Most of the answers were based on the overall office experience and included the type of music being played in the office, how they were greeted upon entering the office, cleanliness of the surroundings, having their appointments taken on time, and so on.
This exercise proved a very valuable point: there are thousands of little things that make up “customer service” that matter greatly to your customers that have nothing to do with the quality of the work you are doing. They also may be things that you would never guess as being important. This would explain why so many “technically” better consultants lose sales to their lesser qualified competition. So many business owners focus so much on the technical aspect of the services they are providing and overlook these other factors that determine the level of satisfaction their clients experience.
For example, billing on time, accurately reporting in detail what you are billing your clients for, the friendliness of the technician, returning calls promptly, being able to be reached, following up, and even the manner in which you communicate with your clients all add up to an overall experience. By the way, the question this dentist came up with is a GREAT research question that you should ask strangers, prospects, people you meet at networking events, neighbors, and vendors about your business:
“What would you like to get from your computer support guy that you currently don’t get?”
A plumber based here in Nashville uses a great service-based unique selling proposition: he guarantees that his plumber technicians won’t smoke, cuss, stink up your house, smell like a goat, or leave a mess. He also guarantees that they will show up on time or he will pay you cash, and he promotes this heavily in his yellow page ads. His entire marketing message is geared towards reasons why you should hire Hiller Plumbing over all of the other plumbers listed.
Finally, you can always use marketing – the hard-hitting, outrageous type I teach – as a way of differentiating yourself from the competition. When everyone else’s advertising looks the same, you’ll stand out from the crowd simply by communicating differently to your prospects. Chances are your competition is not using testimonials, guarantees, proof, or other benefit-laden promises in their marketing. Through one or more of the five items I’ve listed, you can cultivate a solid unique selling proposition or at least the perception of one.