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Photo Credit: Casandra Roache

Entrepreneurs Reveal Tips on Jumping Ahead of Your Competition in the Battle of Business – Part 2

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No matter where an entrepreneur turns there will be competition. There will always be another business trying to hone in on your product or lure some of your clients over to their team. They might have loyalty programs or better sales than you. So what do you do to bring clients back over to your side? While you may have similar products, the key to attracting and keeping your clients from the business down the street is setting your company apart from competitors in some way.

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Photo Credit: Mike Coney

Photo Credit: Mike Coney

Listen to your customers and put their needs first

It’s almost cliché, but the best way to set your business apart from competitors is to listen to your customers and put their needs first. A lot of companies talk about it, but few follow through, and it remains just that – talk – because putting customers first would require them to fundamentally change how they do business. When I joined Unitrends as CEO in 2009, I worked closely with the executive team to create and implement a business strategy that focuses on the overall customer experience – a model that eliminates our customers’ pain points around backup complexity while providing the peace of mind that comes with a sound, effective, data protection strategy. That meant rewriting the book on how data protection is delivered. We eliminated the complexity by giving our customers all-in-one backup and data recovery solutions that simply and affordable secure data across heterogeneous environments and adapt to their continuously evolving infrastructures. We prioritized customer support as a key differentiator, and tolerate no less than a 98 percent customer satisfaction rating. And we fashioned our go-to-market strategy after the way our customers want to buy: the way consumers purchase goods on the Internet – quickly, simply and without pressure. Ultimately, we want to make it easy for our customers to do business with us, and we accomplish this through affordable, enterprise-class technology, unrivaled support and straightforward pricing and purchasing channels. Standing out in a competitive marketplace doesn’t have to be difficult. Prioritize your business’ most important asset – your customers – and the rest will take care of itself.

Thanks to Mike Coney, Unitrends

 

Photo Credit: David Eichler

Photo Credit: David Eichler

Taking big risks

Standing out in business is really quite simple. People say they want to do it but few are willing to look fear straight in the face and actually do it. On the school yard being different was a guarantee for ridicule. In business, people think not taking risk is career insurance, when in fact taking no risk is the greatest risk of all. If your competitors are all flocking (like sheep) to the right that’s the very reason for you to sprint left. Especially in marketing. How many ads have you seen in the Wall St. Journal or local Business Journal with two guys in suits shaking hands in front of a big building? Now tell me how often your eye actually stops to look at those ads or if you can remember who the ads were for? Don’t waste the money. We once did an ad for a very well respected, conservative law firm who nevertheless understands the point of marketing is to stand out. To not be generic, boring and safe. To not use clip art! The goal was encouraging the business community to jump on board with a new government initiative. We used a picture of a red Solo party cup with the headline “Consider yourself invited.” It worked because it didn’t look like any other ad in that day’s paper. It was striking. A disruption. It got people thinking and talking. The way to set yourself apart is to take a giant step in any direction away from the flock.

Thanks to David Eichler, Decibel Blue Creative Marketing

 

Photo Credit: Kimberly Smith

Photo Credit: Kimberly Smith

Start with a clear message to get above the noise

The world of business and the Internet are a constant buzz these days, so how do you get yourself above the noise? Start with a clear message, be consistent and remember the good old days! Yes even marketing can go retro. Take a few minutes each day to write a personal note to someone you just met, someone you haven’t seen for while, or a prospect you hope to land. I guarantee you will make a lasting impression and cut through the marketing noise. Today your message is often lost behind companies who are not in your area or your industry. Think of marketing as a way to create a fishing net – all strands need to be interconnected and the bigger the net the more the fish you’ll catch. Take a minute to be strategic, plan out your marketing spend, make sure the lines all connect, and then toss it in.

Thanks to Kimberly Smith, Corporate Housing by Owner

 

Photo Credit: Dennis Duffy

Photo Credit: Dennis Duffy

Funding our own consumer research studies

We’re a consulting firm that helps restaurant companies start and manage customer loyalty programs. We differentiate by funding our own national consumer research studies which then fuel many long-form blog postings and reports that position us as the thought leader in the category. We achieve distribution for our content through social media (mostly Twitter and LinkedIn), newswire press releases on a selected basis and good SEO. One investment in a research study can yield dozens of content pieces that have more credibility that those that are simply opinion pieces. One of our services is research so the survey development and analysis is internal but we purchase a sample from a survey panel to fit the demographics we seek. We seek a survey sample size that is at least 1,067 consumer responses (the size of national political polls) to ensure maximum credibility.

Thanks to Dennis Duffy, Loyalogy

 

Photo Credit: Brian Burch

Photo Credit: Brian Burch

Focus on one key aspect of your growth plan: security

It’s a reality of the economic times that large companies have significantly downsized their staff but they still have to deliver results, so small businesses have become a source of manpower and innovation. In order to set your company apart when competing for this business, you need to focus on one key aspect of your growth plan: security. A lax attitude toward securing your data – or relying on consumer-grade protection instead of commercial-grade cyber security – can severely hinder your chance for growth through contracts or partnerships with large public or private companies. The last thing a large company wants is to fall victim to a massive data breach because a 27-person company didn’t lock the back door. If you really want your business to stand out, show potential partners that you take their security seriously by adequately protecting yourself.

Thanks to Brian Burch, Symantec

 

Photo Credit: Richard P. Console, Jr.

Photo Credit: Richard P. Console, Jr.

Find new market space to compete in

The best way to set yourself apart from competitors is by implementing the strategies discussed in the book “Blue Ocean Strategy” by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne. Basically, the authors suggest that the majority of business compete with other businesses head-to-head in what they deem to be ‘red oceans’ where the primary way that you compete is on price and as a result businesses receive shrinking profits overtime as they continue to compete in this red ocean. The strategy recommended in the book is to find new market space, or ‘blue oceans,’ where you need not compete with any of your competitors. A prominent example in the book is Cirque du Soleil, where they were able to avoid competing with traditional circuses by moving into an entirely new market space which did not exist previously. As a result, they can charge a premium for their tickets and their competition was left in the dust.

Thanks to Richard P. Console, Jr., Console & Hollawell, P.C.

 

Photo Credit: Deborah Sweeney

Photo Credit: Deborah Sweeney

Personalize your interactions with customers

Personalize your interactions with your customers. I know that sending thank you cards or personally tweeting somebody sounds a bit schmaltzy, but these little gestures mean a lot to people. Plenty of businesses push for quality customer service, but wind up forgetting all about those customers once a transaction is complete. Thus it is very easy to for one of your customers to feel like they are just another anonymous face in the crowd, and it is up to you as a business owner to make that extra bit of effort and recognize the men and women who have supported your business and helped you become successful. You’ll get more repeat and referrals but, more importantly, your customers will feel like they aren’t just a figure in the revenues section of your balance sheet.

Thanks to Deborah Sweeney, MyCorporation

 

Photo Credit: Barry Maher

Photo Credit: Barry Maher

Make people feel important

Want to set your business apart from the competition. Here’s a radical thought: “Make people feel important.” Every company in the world knows customers are important, yet, as customers, how important do we feel when dealing with these companies? Often isn’t it more like that infamous phone message, “Because we value your business, please continue to hold.” With all the talk about customer service, with all the blather about customer-centric companies, making people feel important is still the easiest and the cheapest way to differentiate your business from the competition.

Thanks to Barry Maher, Barry Maher & Associates

 

Photo Credit: Greg Edson

Photo Credit: Greg Edson

Coming up with unique value propositions

The best way for businesses to set themselves apart from competitors is coming up with unique value propositions. Even if a business does exactly the same thing as a competitor, if it is positioned differently, that can make all the difference. For example, if two companies sell oranges and one touts that their orange has health advantages, then that orange company can appeal to consumers who are seeking healthy products. It’s all in the way you spin your company.

Thanks to Greg Edson, Brollytime Inc.

 

Photo Credit: Lisa Griswold

Photo Credit: Lisa Griswold

Building client relationships

Building Client Relationships* – We work very hard to build lasting client relationships. With a difficult economy clients are looking for great value but also for advice and help when planning a family vacation. Most online travel sites offer great vacation prices but no service. We offer a concierge level of service and great vacation prices all in one. By tailoring each vacation to our clients families preferences they get a vacation designed just for them, and we build a long lasting relationship. Look for ways to build and evolve client relationships in your business. *Training *- It’s very important that each member of your team knows your product and service inside and out. Training seems to be the first thing to be cut from a budget when times are tough, but this is when you need to ramp up training for your business. Find online and local training for your industry so when the economy does turn around you are ready to capture new business. For Pixie Vacations this means all of our travel agents take and complete the Disney College of Knowledge. So they are all up-to-date with the latest Disney Destination news, resorts, parks, cruises, and specials. Also don’t overlook your industry trade shows and site visits if these are available in your industry. Our agents participate in agent education programs at Walt Disney World, on a Disney Cruise, or at Disneyland so they can see and experience the product themselves and share this with clients.

Thanks to Lisa Griswold, Pixie Vacations

 

Photo Credit: Casandra Roache

Photo Credit: Casandra Roache

Go back to the basics with customer service

Going into a beautiful restaurant, 5 star by the way, I sat down at my table with a loved one. We began to have a conversation, laughing, talking, and smiling until our stomachs started growling! There were five waiters passing and each one thought someone else took the order. My point here is great customer service is truly going back to basics. So many companies overlook the personal touches of getting to know their customers and tending to their needs. As a life coach for female entrepreneurs, I study my market and constantly get update on the needs of my client. Going that extra step will create momentum in business.

Thanks to Casandra Roache, InspireMany

 

Photo Credit: Michelle Dunn

Photo Credit: Michelle Dunn

Do your research

The best way to set your business apart from competitors is to do some research, find out what they charge and what they offer for that fee, what is lacking in that particular industry that you could provide? I did this when I started my business and offered a 1 month low introductory rate that was lower than my competition, I also talked to customers who told me they already had a company they used and so didn’t need mine, and I asked them what one thing did they find they didn’t like about that company they were using. In my instance I found most businesses said they felt like they were left out of the loop, so lack of communication. I offered twice monthly updates and an online secure web page where customers could check their accounts online 24/7. Eliminating that problem which eventually resulted in them doing business with me. So my top tips are set your pricing strategically and/or offer a low introductory rate for a limited time or a discount. Provide added value to your service or product. Provide something the competition is not providing and get the word out that you do!

Thanks to Michelle Dunn

 

Photo Credit: Thomas Christel

Photo Credit: Thomas Christel

Easy as one, two, three…

To set your business apart from your competitors is as easy as one, two, three… 1. Know your Competitors: Research your competitors and develop a SWAT analysis on each, but don;t stop there. Develop a “message map” of your competitors – messages, brands, tag lines, and differentiators Understand their sales volume, market share and marketing programs (events, campaigns, social media, etc.) 2. Map & Matrix Your Company Against Your Competitors: Plug in your company against the competitors SWAT Analysis, Message Matrix, and Market Analysis Look for similarities, differences and strategic differentiators, what’s unique to your offering and business. Highlight against your current messages, brand, and clients 3. Identify and Implement Strategic Differentiators: Know how to identify strategic differentiators… (for example: cost is not a differentiator, features and functions are limited differentiators) Know the difference between “me toos” and key ways to elevate your business Know your target market and which differentiators will reach, resignate and create action This is a simple 3-step approach to helping you identify and implement ways to set your business apart. This also assumes you have evaluated your current clients, researching how and why they bought from you, understanding your key messages that resonate currently with your customers. Leverage what’s working with additional insights and ideas of new differentiators. It’s a good place to start.

Thanks to Thomas Christel, Yooplus

 

Photo Credit: Ian Aronovich

Photo Credit: Ian Aronovich

Building ourselves from the ground up

To set our business apart from our competitors, we built ourselves from the ground up into the go-to brand in our industry today. Selling information regarding government auctions is a very specific niche and the only way for us to build trust and credibility with our customers, clients and the media is for us to always put out the best and most useful information. Over the years our marketing efforts have rewarded us with guest appearances or featured segments on big-name media outlets like CNN and CNBC, television and radio show interviews, along opportunities to speak and present at various conferences and events. Our number one tip for setting your business apart from competitors is to find ways to publicize your company and constantly provide quality, useful information for your customers and clients to build credibility. Once you have credibility, you will be seen as a leader in your industry, thereby distinguishing your company from your competitors.

Thanks to Ian Aronovich, GovernmentAuctions

 

Photo Credit: Monica Strobel

Photo Credit: Monica Strobel

Simply build solid relationships

With customers able to find other businesses a click away as well as instantly share their experience with your company, the last competitive advantage is not simply in developing relationships, but how we make customers and clients, and our employees delivering our products and services, FEEL. And the best way to increase their positive feelings is by meeting their deep desire to be appreciated and knowing that they are valued. While this can be done on many different levels, what is most practical yet powerful is sharing words of appreciation. This one simple practice will steadily expand your winning edge, as people are drawn to those who appreciate them (and spread the good word about them, too).

Thanks to Monica Strobel, The Appreication Advantage

 

Photo Credit: Bill Corbett, Jr.

Photo Credit: Bill Corbett, Jr.

Both the business and the owner need to stand out

To set a business apart from competition, the business and the owner need to stand out. They must attract attention regarding not only the product or service that they provide but also who they are, what the company stands for and how they offer added value. PR, social media, speaking engagements, trade shows, networking are all activities that can help a business stand out. Media coverage resonates and carries with it credibility. Whether you are a restaurant, chef, attorney, bagel shop owner or an accountant, being interviewed by the media (radio, TV, newspapers, online blogs) creates buzz in a non-promotional manner while generating brand awareness. Owners, CEOs and presidents of companies need to be visible and attracting attention to themselves as well as their company brands. This cannot be achieved if they hide in their offices. They need to be active on social media sites liked LinkedIn and utilize video to convey messages to their prospects, contacts, employees and the public. Companies that have CEOs with strong personal brands and branding efforts stand out strongest. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffet are prime examples of this. Smaller businesses who utilize PR, social media, speaking engagements, trade shows, and networking to make themselves and their businesses stand out can replicate this kind of success within their own communities and sectors.

Thanks to Bill Corbett, Jr., Corbett Public Relations

 

Photo Credit: Marjorie Vizethann

Photo Credit: Marjorie Vizethann

Define a niche target audience

Define a niche target market or consumer; you simply cannot be everything to everyone and do it successfully. My company developed a specific client profile that included the following: one niche servicing offering, a clearly defined ad spend range, and specific verticals that our team has the expertise to manage better than our competitors. For instance, a travel client seeking search engine marketing services with a monthly ad spend within the $10k – $50k per month would be an example of an ideal client for my company. On the flip side, a large retail client with thousands of products across multiple engines would not fit our desired client profile. A niche service offering and precise client profile allows Lead Horse Marketing to create ideal partnerships built on trust and performance results.

Thanks to Marjorie Vizethann, Lead Horse Marketing LLC

 

Photo Credit: Jess Johnson

Photo Credit: Jess Johnson

Create engaging advertising campaigns

When my sister and I started our bookkeeping firm, Build on Bookkeeping, we were fully aware of the boring nature of the business. It didn’t take us long to realize that trying to make bookkeeping and administration services exciting was definitely no mean feat. When planning our first ever marketing campaign, engaging our target audience came down to one simple idea: laughing at ourselves. Since then, our engaging campaigns have attracted clients who may not have otherwise thought of using our services. From comparing bookkeeping firms and hair style analogies to making our own tea bags, funny and creative initiatives have allowed us to stand out from other businesses in the industry.

Thanks to Jess Johnson, Build on Bookkeeping

 

Photo Credit: Bill Leider

Photo Credit: Bill Leider

It begins with understanding your brand

It begins with understanding your Brand and what it really is: a widely held set of beliefs and expectations about what you deliver and how you deliver it, validated by customers experiences. Your Brand is a lot more than name recognition, messages and physical images. Brand strength goes beyond marketing. Everyone in your organization is a Brand Ambassador. Every interaction, every encounter, everything you do that in any way touches your customer is a Brand experience. That is how your customers see you. You sell products and/or services. But your customers buy experiences and results. And that is how you can differentiate yourself – by consistently delivering experiences that go beyond what customers will accept as merely acceptable. To do that you must see yourself through your customers’ eyes; envision the kind of experience and the result your customers’ want to receive. Surprise them. If you promise delivery in 5 days, deliver in 3 – every time. If a customer returns an item, make their experience hassle-free; don’t question their integrity. Make the encounter painless. Empower your employees to thrill customers, not just robotically follow some written policy that leaves your customers frustrated and unhappy. Those are Brand experiences that set you apart.

Thanks to Bill Leider

 

Photo Credit: Shira Plotzker

Photo Credit: Shira Plotzker

Know your competitors

My number 1 tip would be to know your competition! (ie: know what their strengths are compared to what you offer and know what your strengths are to compared to what they offer) This can be a great opportunity! This tip has helped me tremendously! I am now able to use my competition as an advantagbe. If a potential client comes to me looking for a service that I know my competition not only does better than I do, but wants to do it and I don’t. It’s a win/win for both my competitor and me!

Thanks to Shira Plotzker

 

 

About Gresham Harkless Jr.

Profile photo of Gresham Harkless Jr.
Gresham Harkless is a Media Consultant for Blue 16 Media and the Blogger-in-Chief for CEO Blog Nation. CEO Blog Nation is a community of blogs for entrepreneurs and business owners. Started in much the same way as most small businesses, CEO Blog Nation captures the essence of entrepreneurship by allowing entrepreneurs and business owners to have a voice. CEO Blog Nation provides news, information, events and even startup business tips for entrepreneurs, startups and business owners to succeed.
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