Vendors are a dime a dozen but partners are hard to find. This statement is continually in the minds of your customers. If you would like to develop a business strategy based on quality relationships, take a look at how your customers currently perceive your business. Ask your customers what they think of you through surveys or simply by word-of-mouth. The conversation they have with themselves about you is their reality.
You can greatly influence your chances of success in an uncertain economy if you position yourself as a partner to your customers. Learn to get on their side of the table. Learn what they perceive as valuable to them and what is not. When you are clear about how you want the market to perceive you, you can then drive this positioning strategy throughout the many silos of your business. As all the areas of your business drive the same consistent message in both word and deed, you will own that position in your marketplace.
Before I consult with an organization, I generally ask the management team to answer the following positioning questions. Answer them for yourself. Do this and your chances for success will dramatically increase.
1. Who are my customers?
This question sounds quite simple but this is a critical first step. To better understand the question, explore these sub-questions:
a. Who do I want them to be?
b. What must I do to get them?
c. Who has chosen me?
d. What are their demographics?
2. Where are my customers?
b. Industry segments?
d. What publications do my target customers read?
e. What media format are they likely to frequent?
3. How do my customers find me?
a. Word-of-mouth, drive by or walk by traffic, snail mailings, e-mailings, phone solicitations, yellow pages advertising, local cable station/national networks, radio, newspapers, specialty magazines and cross promotions are possibilities.
b. Maybe they’ve heard of you through a media interview or article?
c. How about the Internet? By now, your organization should be somewhat web-centric.
4. How do my customers perceive value (benefits) when selecting a supplier/vendor with which to partner?
Technological capability, knowledge, overall service/unbundling of services, integrity, selection, price, geography and a cadre of other factors will affect their selection process. Additionally, there are the supply/procurement considerations:
a. Traditional brick and mortar.
b. Mail order/catalog.
c. Click and brick.
d. Click only.
5. How do my customers prefer to do business?
a.Do they walk the partnering talk or just talk it?
b. Can I live with their reputation?
c. Can my company survive the potential pitfalls?
d. Ethics is a big consideration. Additionally, ethnic and cultural concerns are critical factors in today’s diverse society. Are you willing to “walk the extra mile” to understand and fulfill your diverse customers’ desires and needs?
6. Who is my competition?
Generally, any business that can pluck dollars from the pockets of your potential customers is absolutely your competition! Specific to your situation, who has similar products and/or service capabilities? Who is willing to make a stronger commitment to offering the greatest total value package?
a. Explore your direct competition.
b. Explore your indirect competition.
7. What are the benefits that my competitors’ customers believe they are receiving from my competition?
Spending time thinking about solutions to customers’ problems and challenges from your competitors’ point of view will serve you well. Know how your competition thinks and acts. You can learn from them! To win customers, you must know your competition better than they know themselves. That is how Pepsi gained shelf space from Coke in grocery stores in the 1960s. Pepsi changed the rules by offering 8-packs and one-liter bottles. Be careful not to select copycat positioning—rarely is it successful. Adapt rather than adopt.
8. What is it about my company that really gets me excited?
Find your company’s uniqueness and passionately sell through that window with all your energy. Can’t find it? Either you’re not looking hard enough or you’re in the wrong place! Those with purchasing power will seek out specialists who can solve their customers’ problems by truly fulfill their customers’ needs, wants and desires—physically and mentally. Decide to position your company in this select group and then make the necessary commitment to get there.
9 What is my personal uniqueness?
a. What is it that you bring to the table?
b. Is it your personality traits, the area in which you excel or the one thing about the way you do business for which customers are always complimenting you? Find this and you’ve struck gold!
c. People prefer an original whenever possible—can it be you?
The answers to the above nine questions will assist you in defining a positioning strategy upon which you can successfully increase sales and build your business. This may well be a new strategic direction or simply an adjustment to your current sales and marketing strategy.
Entire industries are giving way to new technologies resulting in a new or dramatically changed paradigm for their industry. Where fragmented industries once existed in comfort, consolidators and roll-ups are devastating the playing field. As an example, you will not find the number of local independent stationary stores, bookstores and drug stores that once spotted your city streets—just big boxes that look, smell and feel all the same. Regardless of your specific industry, it’s changing whether you like it or not. It is happening before your own eyes. Can you see it?
Ed is the Founder and CEO of the 501(c)(3) non-profit public charity, Cigar PEG Philanthropy through Fun, and president at Rigsbee Research which conducts qualitative member ROI research and consulting for associations and societies. He has been called “the dynamite that broke up our log jam” by association executives—rarely politically correct and almost always provocative—and from a dozen years as a United States Soccer Federation referee, Ed calls it the way he sees it. Exceptional resources at www.rigsbee.com.
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