April 3, 2013 – Is what you do for a living perceived by potential customers as being a mere commodity; more or less the same as others in your profession? When that happens, customers revert to the easiest differentiator - price. The outlook gets worse as you realize that somewhere in the global economy there is likely someone offering similar products or services for a cheaper price. And with the Internet it's easier for your customers to find them. What's most frustrating is when you know your products and services are indeed different, but customers don't seem to get that and put you in the same category as everyone else.
The good news is you can change customer perceptions by changing the
way you describe what you do. Interestingly, when I discuss this in my
speeches and seminars, participants will often write to me afterwards
explaining this is one of the most useful tips they picked-up. Your
goal is to have a potential customer thinking, "If I don't explore this
further with this person, I could be missing a good thing."
Your own worst enemy
How would you describe what it is you that you do for a living?
Most of us automatically commoditize our job. Imagine meeting a
potential customer at an industry luncheon and giving that type of label
to what you do. The phrase, "I'm a . . ." implies that that there are other
people who do exactly what you do. In other words you sabotage your
uniqueness with your first two words.
Be a pain reliever
Rather than describing yourself in terms of a generic label, you can
instead refer to the ultimate benefit that you deliver. If you sell
liability insurance for example, you could describe your service in
terms of reducing risk for business owners. Keep in mind, there are two
ways to describe benefits. One is the pleasure gained and another is
the pain avoided. A financial advisor for example, might describe her
service as "helping people retire in comfort" (pleasure gained). Or she
could describe what she does as "preventing people from having to work
until they die because they can't afford to retire" (pain avoided).
Interestingly, when it comes to spending money sooner rather than later,
customers are more often motivated by avoiding pain than gaining
Of course, the idea in conversation with a potential customer is not
to ramble on about what you do - that sounds boorish and pushy.
Instead, say only enough to tweak the other person's curiosity. Imagine
you are a hair stylist attending a chamber of commerce event. When
someone asks what you do for a living you could reply with the generic,
"I'm a hair stylist." Unfortunately, chances are the other person
already has a hairstylist, considers your service to be a commodity, so
they change the topic.
The customer turn-off
You've probably heard networking 'experts' state that you're
supposed to have an elevator pitch (a 30-second commercial ready to
recite). The problem in the real world when you're talking with smart,
streetwise customers, is the 30-second infomercial sounds so phony and
contrived it turns them off more than tweaks their interest. Instead,
as a hairstylist you might reply a simple one-line ultimate benefit, "I
help people fix personal image problems." This time you're more likely
to have stimulated their curiosity. Their next question naturally
becomes, "How do you do that?" Now you've been invited to describe your
products/services in an even more compelling way.
Getting in their head
At this point in the conversation, you can describe what you do with
an example that the customer can relate to. An easy way is start with
the words, "You know how..." Then complete the sentence
explaining how your service fixes a common problem. For example, when
the chamber of commerce member asks the hairstylist how she fixes
personal image problems, she might respond with, "You know how most men have the same haircut that they've had all their adult lives - whether it suits them or not? And you know how
most hair stylists usually just ask how you want your cut and you
usually get the same thing done? Well, when I work with a client I
start by looking at the person's most attractive facial features, then
we come up with a cut that not only highlights their most attractive
features but also works for their lifestyle." This time the stylist has
differentiated herself in the mind of the potential customer. She
stands out as offering one-of-a-kind service. And price has become less
of a source of comparison.
The beauty of the relevant example is that it applies to the other
person's circumstances. That's why it's helpful to start any
conversation by first finding about the other person. It also happens
to make you a more interesting conversationalist because you're
beginning by discussing most people's favorite topic; themselves.
Bottom line: next time you need to set yourself apart from the
competition - beyond just lowering prices - try changing the way you
talk about what you do for a living.
Customer service strategist and professional speaker, Jeff Mowatt, is an authority on The Art of Client Service . . . Influence with Ease. For Jeff's other tips, self-study resources, and training services on this topic, click Improving the Sales and Service Culture.
How to stand out – without lowering your price