Whenever I’m talking to business owners, a question I’m often asked is, how can I ensure I stay ahead of my competitors? So here are seven things that you can do to ensure you stay ahead of your competition for 2014 and beyond.
The first thing you need to do is ring-fence your existing clients. More and more businesses are looking to replace lost revenue and profitability through acquiring new clients — and some of the new business your competitors are targeting will include your existing regular clients.
As a lot of businesses have got complacent. They’ve tended to neglect existing accounts — and those are now the ones that have been taken by their competitors, or the ones most at risk.
What are your relationships like with your existing accounts? What about the ones you haven’t spoken to for a while? The ones you don’t get on as well with? Would they tell you if they had been using a competitor’s services? And if they did, would you keep the business at the same price or would you have to price match to keep it?
The quality of your prospecting will be one of the biggest factors in how successful you are (or not) in 2014. As the individual salesperson is asked to do more and more, it’s vital that the time you spend prospecting is time well spent.
That means knowing who is a good prospect for you. Most people think they know. But often they don’t. There will be certain specific criteria that make certain prospects more ideal than others. If you don’t know what they are, you need to find out — and fast. Take a look at your existing client base. What was it that made them stay with you at the moment they did?
The next thing you need to do is crank up the volume. I’m a big fan of a high level of activity — as long as that activity is good quality and is done with the right mindset.
The more deals you have in your pipeline, the more you can afford to lose. If you only have just enough in your pipeline (or close to), then you’re always going to be struggling as you’ll be counting on every deal converting, and it’s devastating when any of them drop out.
Just by increasing your activity, you increase your chances of success — and therefore increase the amount of money you can earn. Who wouldn’t want to do that?
Some of the best salespeople I know are a valued resource for their clients. They’re someone whose opinion their clients respect and who they turn to first to get information about purchasing decisions. They’re someone that has a high level of credibility and clients trust their advice.
Not all salespeople are in this position however. A lot of salespeople complain that their clients ignore their advice; that they don’t listen; that they don’t take their calls or see them when they pop in. What bigger signs do you want that clients don’t see you as a valued resource?
In order to be seen as a valued resource, you have to earn it. You have to give value first. You have to get updated on industry trends, technological advancements and understand the impact that these could have on your client’s business. You have to be able to hold a business conversation with the level of decision makers you’re meeting. Invest the time to do things like this, and it will pay you back tenfold.
One of the best ways to get ahead of the competition in 2014 is to win some customers from them. This is a great way of distracting them from their own new business efforts, plus it’s a great motivational factor for you and your team.
If you’re in field sales, why not map out competitors’ accounts in your territory? Then create a call plan for getting to see them and focus on winning their business.
If you’re in internal sales, make notes on the prospects that are currently using your competition, then filter the data by competitors name. Then you can create a phone campaign designed specifically to convert their customers to your customers instead. Dedicated and focused approaches have a far better chance of success — and they put a big dent in your competitor’s confidence.
We all know that motivation is important for a salesperson. But it’s the salesperson’s ability to be consistently motivated that will help them stand out from the rest.
In order to be motivated on a consistent basis, the salesperson has to take charge of their own motivation, rather than waiting for other people (or things) to motivate or de-motivate them. They need to have compelling reasons for doing what they do, especially the tougher jobs such as cold calling.
If you really want to stay ahead of your competition in 2014, you’ll need to sharpen your sales skills. This means getting up-to-date, relevant sales tips and advice from trusted sources.
Internal training at your company is great and hiring an external trainer or motivator is even better. However, you don’t have to spend money to keep your sales skills updated — there are articles, videos and podcasts that are free to access and there are plenty of seminars you can attend.
Just make sure you put into practice what you learn.
There’s an important, and often overlooked, correlation between the strength of your brand strategy and the effectiveness of your marketing activity. In other words, people who have defined their niche in the market and communicate that consistently find it much more cost effective to market their businesses than those that don’t.
Have you defined your niche yet? It’s pretty simple. You look at what you’re good at, what you want to be known for and what your clients love about you. Then you look at what your competitors are doing, and what they’re known for or good at. Ideally, there will be a nice slot for you somewhere that you can occupy: your niche.
Let me give you an example. A client of ours makes widgets. Those widgets are beautifully designed and expertly made in the UK. She’s utterly detail focused and so that’s the niche she’s chosen to occupy: high quality and great design. Over the past couple of years she’s found that a lot of competitors have sprung up around her, many of which are outright copying her designs. A fair few have copied her marketing design, too – her website, brochures, etc. And because she’s been on maternity leave, she’s understandably let the communication slide. She’s slipped into a nasty situation where they’re all jostling in the same marketplace for the same clients. It’s easy to get cross and upset about this, but ultimately she’s got to “own” her space and that should fend them off. They’re not all offering the same product, hers are higher quality and she leads the field in design, so by making sure she communicates where her niche is, she can quickly and cost effectively get things back on track.
So how do you go about owning your niche in the market?
Once you’re happy that you are really occupying a “niche” (because there’s no point in directly competing with your competitors) then you need to keep that niche at the centre of everything you do. By that I mean sitting down, and actually mapping out what you’re going to do to communicate your brand position. That could be that you create “engaging brand identities and powerful marketing campaigns that help people grow their businesses”; it might be that you’re the “UK’s leading colour consultancy” or that you’re a “gardener with knowledge”.
Once you’ve defined this, map out what marketing activity you’re going to undertake to communicate this. This is such a powerful thing to do because not only will you save money (ie, you won’t be tempted by that last minute “deal” in the local newspaper to take a full page advert), you’ll also find that your marketing is a whole lot more effective because your target market will be attracted to what you do; and they’ll “get” it much faster because throughout the year you’ve been talking to them consistently. So how do you do this?
Well you find activities that will support this, and you also make sure that at every opportunity you’re reinforcing and re-communicating your brand strategy. In other words, you stay focused. Many small businesses make life difficult for themselves because they fail to carve themselves out a niche, and once they’ve got that, they rarely communicate that niche via their marketing activity.
I’m going to visit a potential client this afternoon who owns a children’s shop. This is an enormously competitive marketplace to be in: you’re competing with the multi-million pound marketing budgets of the likes of JoJo Maman Bebe, Gap and Monsoon. You can compete on a smaller scale, but you’ve got to be focused.
Once we’ve worked out what her niche is, we need to communicate that in everything she does. She already has a plan to run a competition (fantastic idea!) but she’s got to be clear on what the style of the shop is and who her target market are. She needs to make sure that when the winners’ photo shoot happens it’s done in a location that supports her brand strategy and that will appeal to her ideal client. And all the design of the entry forms and adverts needs to look instantly engaging and attractive to her audience. Once she has these photos, she needs to use them in a way that backs up her niche and makes the most of them – and that’s just one piece of marketing that she needs to think about!
“Owning” your niche is hard work. It takes focus, determination and, frankly, some investment of your time, if not your money and someone else’s time, up front. But it WILL pay off. You’ll find that you spend less time and money in the long term on marketing that doesn’t work; and you’ll also find that your marketing is much, much more effective for it.
Fiona Humberstone of Flourish
FACT: If you are the same as the rest then why should customers bother to buy from you?
SO WHAT?: Ignore the one-liner at your peril! Wake up and smell the coffee!
In a world where competition seems to be everywhere, you need to separate yourself from the rest.
FACT: If you compete on price, only the customer will win – in the end the company with the lowest prices (and biggest buying power) will get the business. This is no place for the timid.
SO WHAT?: If you try to be the same as the rest, a ‘me-too’ business, it is incredibly difficult to survive in the long run. After all, the only way you can differentiate yourself if several businesses are selling the same product will be on price. And if you differentiate yourself on price then it becomes inevitable that you enter a price war – customers will chase the cheapest prices – those businesses with the biggest market share (and economies of scale) will be able to command better prices from their suppliers. As a result, these competitors will be able to pass on those savings to customers while maintaining healthier profit margins than their competition. You will end up cutting your profit margins, probably until you go out of business.
Legendary, remarkable customer service will be your secret weapon.
Shoreditch’s bustling café society is thought to be the first place to offer customers a disloyalty card in order to drum up business for local independent baristas and reward customers for trying new places in the area.
The loyalty card is a well-established consumer psychology tool but the idea of collecting stamps from eight different coffee houses in order to gain a free coffee was dreamed up by award-winning barista Gwilym Davies to combat the homogenised high street coffee culture.
The reason behind teaming up with fellow independent coffee shops arose due to the overwhelming demand and lengthy queues at Mr Davies' shop on the back of winning the World Barista Championship.
Initially he tried suggesting nearby alternatives that he recommended on a whiteboard, something that might be the last thing a small retailer might want to do in a very competitive and cost-sensitive industry. But as a supportive gesture for fellow traders and to help satiate the increasing lust for good coffee, it still wasn’t enough and so the disloyalty card was born.
Speaking to the Evening Standard, Mr Davies' business partner, Jeremy Challender, said: “There are a lot more places opening, and as prices are the same, it seems a shame a lot of people haven’t experienced high quality coffee. It’s totally different to what you get in a high street chain.”
The partnership has seen eight independent coffee shops join in with the venture which, if successful, could see the consumption of 45,000 coffees and a new culture of using local coffee traders and award winning baristas that are passionate about the content of the cup they vend.
As a retailer, would you try a similar scheme with fellow businesses?
A healthy and strong brand will stand above the competition, standing more chance of being chosen if it's not been tried before as well as having a loyal customer base once it's been purchased.
It all started with cows and making sure you could distinguish your cow from someone else's cow. That led to the most basic form of branding with a unique stamp on your cow's rear end region. With most businesses being a little more complicated than cows nowadays, branding and brand management have had to become more and more sophisticated.
Even now this rather more basic cow example of branding is what people think it's all about - the name and the logo. It's not that simple, and lots of different inputs from all around your business will work together to make up your brand. What is blissfully simple however is the benefit of a well managed, clearly thought through and strong brand. And that is the very catalyst behind the cow example above: being unique, standing out and being identifiable.
That's because a strong healthy brand can:
This is all fairly critical to us humans, especially when you account for the fact that your average person is exposed to over 5000 messages each day. That's huge. People process information very quickly, and so you have to be at the top of your game to ensure your brand can cut through quickly, be understood, resonate and then become part of a consideration choice. Notice we haven't got to purchased yet!