Sounds pretty harsh, but you need to be unique and differentiate, or perish, which isn’t an exaggeration. Whether you’re an entrepreneur or a large corporation, solvency and the future of your business relies on you standing out in a competitive marketplace.
Everyone is vying for the same client dollars, whether your clients are consumers, other small businesses, major corporations, or federal agencies. Your target clients are overwhelmed with lower costs, too much information, and too many choices.
The bottom line, you need to stand out from the crowd. The problem is that your clients have a choice, and they need your help to understand why they should choose your firm over others offering similar services.
And just because you currently have a client, doesn’t mean they’ll stay. There’s a big difference between their satisfaction and commitment. Did you know that more than 40% percent of customers who claimed to be satisfied, switched to a new service provider.
Thinking strategically about how to move your clients from satisfied to committed is not discretionary. Differentiation is one of the most important strategic and tactical activities in which a professional service firm can engage in.
For these professional service firms, this can also be tricky. It involves articulating the concrete value of something that, in your clients’ minds, is tough to quantify.
Not only do you have to catch and hold their attention to begin with, you need to demonstrate the bottom line impact that your services make in their lives. Differentiation will do that for you.
What Not To Do
Before looking at differentiation strategies that work, here are some to avoid.
• Banking On Creativity – Vague artistic marketing messages are a waste of your target audience’s time. When it comes to building trust and confidence in your firm as the best solution to their problem, prospects want concrete specific direct information. Don’t make them work too hard to understand your message.
There’s a lot of fuzzy, ineffectual marketing going on out there under the guise of being creative. Don’t be seduced by the poetic or the beautiful. Do keep your eye on clearly sharing information without burying it underneath creativity.
• Pricing Yourself Into Extinction – Don’t become a commodity by lowering your price to be different. When clients choose your firm over others because of price, your value fades and you’re no longer unique.
The one way to differentiate yourself using price is by being the most expensive. Price becomes an inherent benefit by portraying prestige and quality. This is easily true of designer products and is equally true for high-end professional services, financial advisers who work only with the wealthy.
• Doing It All – Trying to be all things to all people. “Our firm offers a wide range of services,” is the worst way to be unique. Not only do you overwhelm prospects with choices, you make it easy for your competitors to offer the same.
The Internet, especially social media makes it particularly easy for your competition to match what you offer. It’s easy to comparison shop online. So then it comes down to who’s got the better price, which is a losing proposition for everyone involved, including the customer.
Eventually, you’ll no longer be able to afford to serve them, or will resent having to give away your services. Choosing to be specific and narrowing your offer takes courage, yet it’s how to stand out in your customers’ minds, and it lets you charge what your worth.
So how do you effectively differentiate your professional services. There are approaches that work.
To Be Unique
A good strategy, if you’ve got a really good original idea. If you’re there first, anyone copying you later will just reinforce your value. It takes a lot of stamina to pull off and sustain.
Own An Attribute
Things like speed and experience are attributes. The key is to keep it simple and focus on one or two words that describe your differentiating attribute. If someone else in your niche owns it already, it’s not yours to claim.
Be A Leader
If you really are number 1, then proclaim it. Being number one can take many forms. You can lead in sales, technology, or performance.
Having a long history makes people feel secure. If your firm has been in business for 10 years, celebrate it! Likewise, “locational” heritage can make you stand out.
Pick A Specialty
A natural for professional service firms, which is about being a specialty expert. It’s a great way to differentiate, unless there are a lot of others pitching the same specialty.
Do moms prefer your daycare services over others? Does the federal government prefer to work with you because you offer a discount? Does your local city magazine rank you as a preferred pediatrician?
Third-party endorsements are worth their weight in gold, if you can get them, they’re a great way to stand apart.
Use A Different Approach
Do you make house calls? Does your firm offer nontraditional hours of service. Think about what your ideal client really needs that others aren’t offering, then do it.
Be The Latest
Technology companies have this nailed down. Every year a faster chip or a bigger system replaces last year’s model. Can your salon offer the newest advances in skincare? What about the latest approach to data security?
Whatever it is, make sure it solves a real problem, doesn’t mess with tradition and is truly a better solution.
Be Hot Be In Demand
If you just got a great review, an industry award, or your story covered in the press, leverage it. This also works if you’re solving a problem or aligned with a good cause. The key is to be truthful and to spread the word quickly.
How do you know which strategy to go with. Look at the market context of the moment. If other firms “own” a certain differentiation already, then don’t go there.
Pick something else. Then offer your proof and communicate it broadly both online and offline. It’s about being logical first, creative second. Do this consistently, and you’ll clearly stand out from the crowd.