Marketing leads to sales, and sales drives revenue to company coffers. But where should you focus your efforts?
For many firms, the best place to start is by rethinking how you will differentiate yourself to your clients and deliver value that your competitors don’t or can’t. This is essential because if you cannot make a strong case with prospective clients as to why they should buy from you, you can rest assured that a competitor will.
While differentiating is important in all the market you serve, it is especially important in the GSA schedules program. While price is an important consideration to any client, Federal buyers placing a GSA order use best value determination for deciding which vendor gets the order. All GSA vendor pricing has already been deemed to be fair and reasonable, so an agency can select someone for other than low price reasons. This happens all the time with consulting firms and complex solution providers. And for those selling commodities, price is very competitive, but even here the buying decision tie breaker will usually be something other than price.
I am therefore surprised to hear from some GSA contractors that they don’t think they are that much different from many of their competitors. I think this type of view stems from either being too modest or a simple acknowledgment that they share many similarities with competitors. Yes, it is true that one engineering consulting firm is similar to every other engineering firm in that they all have professional engineers on staff and they all provide civil, electrical or other types of engineering services as all their competitors. Or a reseller of audio visual products may integrate products into slick conference and training rooms, just like all their competitors. So in cases like this, are their opportunities for firms to differentiate?
When I have looked deeper look into each company, I always find many opportunities for that firm to differentiate themselves from competitors. I encourage customers to reflect on the reasons prior customers gave as to why they selected your firm to work with. If they did not explicitly tell you, call them up and have a discussion. If you are entering a new market or want to penetrate a new agency, talk to people who have previously bought from competitors and ask them what is important to them in making purchasing decisions. That will inform your judgment as to how you might differentiate yourself in the future.
Now see if you can further differentiate your firm from others. For products companies, differentiators may include some combination of the following:
- Unique or patented product
- Method for producing products is more environmentally efficient
- Greater reliability
- Better warranty
- Faster delivery after receipt of order (ARO)
- Better reputation for service
- Friendlier service
- More sizes or options
- Geographic proximity to the client
Many of the above are differentiators may apply equally to professional service firms, consulting firms and complex solution providers, but service firms should also consider:
- Your consulting or business methodology delivers better results.
- You have certified or recognized experts, authors or trainers on staff
- Your small staff size ensures that the client will have your premium consultants assigned
- Your project management plans ensure that project risks are minimized
- Better payment plans
Notice I did not mention price in the above. That’s because I usually avoid recommending differentiation on price alone. It’s easy to do but hard to protect.
For each of the differentiators you identify, add some meat to them by substantiating your claim. For example, if you believe you have a better reputation for quality service, then substantiate this with testimonials and letters of recommendation. If your products are more reliable, then provide testing results. In sum, don’t just assert the difference, demonstrate it!
Finally, make sure that the differentiators you choose to highlight provide actual value to clients and demonstrate the value it delivers; how it will benefit them. Without connecting differentiators to value, then this exercise is meaningless.
Are you stuck and need some help defining your differentiators and unique value proposition: