Differentiating Your Company’s Products or Services

Have you ever wondered why your customers keep on buying your products or requesting your services? Why they are willing to pay more for some of the products and services and less for the others? Could it because you are the only supplier in the area? If so, suppose a new company in the same line of business as you opens up a shop in the area, would your existing customers still continue to buy from you or they would defect?

There are various reasons why your customers keep on coming back to do business with you but one of the most significant one is driven by the value that you are offering them. Value is the core driving force underlying every business decision.

Although managers talk of value when determining pricing strategies, unfortunately, very few understand the true meaning of value, what it is, why it is so important, how it should be communicated and its critical role in pricing products and services.

To many of us, value means different things. As a test, ask your colleagues what it is that they refer to when they talk of value? Chances are high that you will hear different definitions. For example:

Some people equate value to expectations. To them, value is getting more than what they paid for, be it for an item or service delivery. In today’s information and social media age, perception alone is driving purchases.

Prior acquiring certain products or services, customers are communicating with each other on various platforms about the organization’s product and service offerings. By the time the customer makes a purchase, he or she in his or her mind has already built up expectations on what the offering will be able to actually deliver.

Only at a later stage after completing the transaction is the customer able to reflect and conclude that his or her expectations have been met.

Other people view value as a fair transaction. They look at the limited resources at their disposal and how best they can use them to meet their expectations. When purchasing an item, a lot of sacrifice has to happen.

One has to set aside time to search for the right item and choose from among options, evaluate the cost of money to purchase, the price itself and any associated psychological risk factors.

This sacrifice goes beyond looking at the monetary costs and also reflects on the time and efforts invested in seeking out the good in question.

In this instance, value is therefore viewed as the worth of the item purchased at least being equal to and certainly not less than the sum of the sacrifices made in acquiring it.

While others view value as expectations and fair transactions, others see value as an improvement of the current situation. Customers are looking for investments that are capable of improving their lives significantly.

Likewise, business managers are not keen on throwing money and resources at investments that will deliver a poor return and put the business in dire situations. Instead, they are looking for investments that enhance the business’s competitive advantage.

If any investment derives a return that surpasses expectations and genuinely improves the current situation, then value is said to have been delivered.

The challenge on business managers is to look beyond pricing and make sure that their products and services are delivering value to the customer or to the end-user consumer. Making pricing decisions based on cost and competitors’ prices alone will not cut it through in today’s business environment.

Customers possess the buying power and can easily defect to new suppliers if they are not happy with the current offering. Businesses therefore need to keep on reinventing themselves, re-examine the reality of the value they are offering to their customers and find ways to enhance the value they deliver.

Focusing on value helps business managers to understand the actual needs of its customers and find unique and differentiated ways of meeting those needs effectively and efficiently. When we talk about differentiation, it is not just about doing something different. It is about doing something different in a way that really matters to your customer and not just offering price cuts.

So many at times, when confronted with a customer challenge on price, the sales response is often to discount which often leads to early product commoditization. Of course, your product may be heading toward commoditization.

If this is the case, a thorough assessment and evaluation of the product and its relevance in the market is necessary. This will help you craft a strategy to reposition the product in the mind of your customers and prolong its lifespan.

Focusing too much on price prevents useful discussion of the real value of the offer. As a result, the buyer fails to distinguish the merit of what he or she has acquired and fails to gain, through lack of awareness, the full benefits from the products and services purchased. You need to challenge any claim that your product or service is just like everyone else’s.

How are your products or services positively changing the customer’s overall product or service experience? Communicating your differentiated solution in a clear, compelling and persuasive manner is vital to persuading the customer do business with you.

Differentiating the organization’s total customer offer from competition means that this difference delivers real value that the customer can identify, understand, acknowledge and be willing to invest in.

Unfortunately, this is not the case for many businesses. What these organizations are referring to differentiation are merely differences in specification and nothing more. There are no critical differences between their offering and those of the competitors.

For instance, many are making changes that are resulting in easier production of the product or easier delivery of the service just because they have the technology or know-how to do so but not a differentiation from the customer’s perspective. What impact is the change you are making on your product or service having on the customer’s business, in terms of both economic and emotional considerations?

In today’s copy-cat environment, it is easier for competitors to emulate your products and services and surprise you. Despite this, many organizations are still of the assumption that their differentiation will make the competition irrelevant.

Never underestimate your competitors’ abilities to shock you. You need to find unique ways of influencing the relative value the customer perceives, make the customer choose your product and service and remain with you.

How good are you when it comes to listening and fully understanding the customer’s context, value-adding processes and pain and pleasure points? Are you able to consolidate this information and create a product or service that offers real differential advantage from that customer’s perspectives?

Gone are the days of pushing products and services to the market. To do well, the business has to be a good listener of its customers. You need to possess intelligent consumer and product insights that are capable of leading you to new ways of differentiation.

You can differentiate your service by ensuring that your customers receive consistently great service. Consistency is key to having dependable and reliable customers.

Convenience and customization are also key to successful differentiation. By improving the convenience to your customers of using your product or service through using methods that are difficult for your competitors to imitate, you may be able to lock them in.

With regards to customization, you need to deeply understand your customer’s value adding processes or production operations. Having this deep understanding will enable you to identify where your company’s unique skills can be applied for the benefit of both the client and the service provider.

By fully understanding the real needs and motivations of your customers and timely responding to them, you can differentiate your total customer offer and reap great benefits.

Although there are various ways the organization can choose to differentiate itself from competition, regardless of how it decides to do so, learning and understanding as much possible about the customer, her company and market is vital.

Where are the sources of pain and problems he or she is experiencing that no one else seems to be addressing? As a business, how can we leverage our unique capabilities, contacts, technologies or other resources to address the customer’s problems in a way that is difficult for our competitors to copy but at the same time make it easy for the customer to buy and remain with us?

You need to deeply know and understand your customer in order to build a powerful, persuasive and compelling value proposition. In this day and age of plenty information, you can never know too much about your customer.

Every single piece of information you collect goes a long way in helping you understand your customer’s business, context, strategy or desires. Value is different for every customer and even for the same customer under different circumstances. This value comes from knowing all the critical details about your customer.

Learn everything about their value drivers. In addition to understanding your customer, know your differentiation – how and why you are different from your competitors. This will help you identify your competitive advantages and disadvantages, develop effective business and pricing strategies and enhance customer value.

If you are unable to justify totally the value-adding elements of your product or service proposition, your total customer offer is highly likely to be rejected by your target market.

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Leading in Uncertain Times

One of the biggest challenges facing business leaders today is making the right decisions that will ensure their organizations succeed, survive, and remain competitive in an increasingly uncertain and complex environment.

A recent post, The best way to lead in uncertain times may be to throw out the playbook, by Strategy+Business has several good points.

The article is about the COVID-19 pandemic, how global companies navigated through the crisis, and how best to prepare for future disruptions. Here are some key points and my comments.

  • Rather than follow a rigid blueprint, executives must help organizations focus on sensing and responding to unpredictable market conditions.
    • Comment: Senior leaders play a vital role in providing clarity about the organization’s strategic direction, creating alignment on key priorities to ensure the achievement of enterprise objectives, and ensuring the business model is continuously evolving to create and capture value in the face of uncertainty. They must not rest on their laurels and stick to the beliefs and paradigms that got them to where they are today and hope they will carry them through tomorrow. Regulatory changes, new products, competition, markets, technologies, and shifts in customer behavior are upending many outdated assumptions about business success. Thus, the businesses you have today are different from the ones you will need in the future hence the importance of continuously sensing changes in the global economy. Employees and teams often feed off the energy of their leaders and tend to focus their attention where the leader focuses attention. If the leader is comfortable with current business practices and rarely embraces the future or challenges the status quo, then the team is highly likely to follow suit.
  • When it became clear that supply chains and other operations would fracture, organizations began scenario planning to shift production sources, relocate employees, and secure key supplies.
    • Comment: Instead of using scenario planning to anticipate the future and prepare for different outcomes, it seems most of the surveyed organizations used scenario planning as a reactionary tool. Don’t wait for a crisis or a shift in the market to start thinking about the future. The world is always changing. As I wrote in The Resilient Organization, acknowledge that the future is a range of possible outcomes, learn and develop capabilities to map out multiple future scenarios, develop an optimal strategy for each of those scenarios, then continually test the effectiveness of these strategies. This does not necessarily mean that every change in the market will impact your business. Identify early warnings of what might be important and pay closer attention to those signals. In other words, learn to separate the signals from the noise.
  • The pandemic forced the organization’s senior management team to re-examine how all decisions were made.
    • Comment: Bureaucracy has for a very long time stood in the way of innovation and agility. To remain innovative and adapt quickly in a fast-changing world, the organization must have nimble leadership and an empowered workforce where employees at all levels can dream up new ideas and bring them to life. Identifying and acting on emerging threats and potential opportunities is not the job of the leader alone but every team member. To quote Rita McGrath, in her book Seeing Around Corners, she writes, “Being able to detect weak signals that things are changing requires more eyes and ears throughout the organization. The critical information that informs decision-making is often locked in individual brains.” In addition to the internal environment, the leader must also connect with the external environment (customers, competitors, regulators, and other stakeholders), looking for what is changing and how.
  • It’s worthwhile for leaders of any team to absorb the lessons of sense-respond-adapt, even if there is no emergency at hand.
  • Sensing: Treat the far-flung parts of your enterprise as listening stations. The question leaders must ask is, “What are we learning from our interactions beyond the usual information about costs and sales?” Train your people to listen for potentially significant anomalies and ensure that important information is not trapped in organizational silos.
    • Comment: Cost and sales data are lagging indicators that reveal the consequences or outcomes of past activities and decisions. Although this information can help leaders spot trends by looking at patterns over time, it doesn’t help understand the future and inform what needs to be done for the numbers to tell a different story. In addition to lagging indicators, pay attention to current and leading indicators and understand the relationship between these indicators and outcomes.
  • Responding: Improve communication across intra- and inter-organizational boundaries. Leaders should view business continuity as an essential function that acts as connective tissue for the enterprise.
    • Comment: In addition to creating mechanisms that allow the free flow of information both inside and outside the organization, decision-makers should also be comfortable receiving information that challenges their personal view of the world, even if it’s not what they want to hear. Create a culture of psychological safety where people are not afraid to share bad news for fear of getting punished, but rather are acknowledged and rewarded for speaking up. Leveraging the diversity of thought enables leaders to anticipate the future as an organization, decide what to do about it collectively, and then mobilize the organization to do what’s necessary.
  • Adapting: Challenge assumptions, and question orthodoxies. There’s always the temptation to mitigate threats simply by applying existing practices harder and faster. One way to get at those deeper issues and encourage double-loop learning is to ask, “What needs to be true for this to be the right approach?”
    • Comment: In an increasingly uncertain environment, it’s difficult to survive and thrive with an old business model or outdated technologies. Many businesses fail because they continue doing the same thing for too long, and they don’t respond quickly enough and effectively when conditions change. As a leader, stay curious and connected to the external environment, look for market shifts, understand what needs to be regularly refreshed and reimagined, adopt new technologies and capabilities, and adapt in ordinary times but also during times of transition. Unfortunately for many leaders, it’s just more convenient for them to continually downplay the fact that conditions are changing than take the appropriate course of action that drives business success.

How are you preparing your organization for potential future disruptions?

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The Collaborative Organization

These days the term collaboration has become synonymous with organizational culture, creativity, innovation, increased productivity, and success.

Let’s look at the COVID-19 pandemic as an example. At the peak of the crisis, several companies instructed their workers to adopt remote working as a health and safety precautionary measure.

Two years into the pandemic, they are now asking their employees back to the office full time or are planning to adopt a hybrid model.

The need to preserve our collaborative culture and accelerate innovation are two of the top benefits being cited by organizational and team leaders for bringing workers back.

Collaboration is indeed essential for the achievement of team goals, functional objectives, and the overall success of the organization.

Today’s breakthrough innovations are emerging from many interacting teams and collaborative relationships.

When teams, functions, and organizations collaborate, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; group genius emerges, and creativity unfolds.

But, what makes a successful collaboration? What are the key enabling conditions?

  • It extends beyond the boundaries of the organization. Business success is a function of internal and external relationships. Instead of viewing your business in vacuo, understand that you are part of an ecosystem. External to your organization, who do you need to partner with to enhance your value creation processes, achieve/exceed your objectives, or successfully execute your strategy?
  • Ensure the objectives are clear and there is shared understanding by everyone. Unclear objectives are one of the topmost barriers to team and organizational performance.
  • Foster a culture that encourages opinions and ideas that challenge the consensus. People should feel free to share their ideas and not hold back for fear of others penalizing them or thinking less of them. Collaboration is hindered when one or two people dominate the discussion, are arrogant, or don’t think they can learn anything from others.
  • Groups perform more effective under certain circumstances, and less effective under others. There is a tendency to fixate on certain topics of discussion amongst groups which often leaves members distracted from their ideas. To reduce the negative effects of topic fixation, members of the group should be given periods to work alone and switch constantly between individual activity and group interaction.
  • Effective collaboration can happen if the people involved come from diverse backgrounds and possess complementary skills to prevent conformity. The best collective decisions or creative ideas are often a product of different bodies of knowledge, multiple opinions, disagreement, and divergent thought processes, not consensus or compromise.
  • New technologies are making collaboration easier than ever, enabling us to increase our reach and broaden our network. Although new technology helps, it will not make your organization collaborative without the right culture and values in place. First, define what you want to achieve through collaboration then use these tools to promote creative collaboration.

How else are you championing collaboration within your organization to create value and succeed?

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Preparing for Geopolitical Shocks

Geopolitical instability has steadily increased over the past years, and uncertainty in the global economy is at an all-time high. Thanks to globalization and advances in technologies, we now live and work in a tightly interconnected world, one in which the boundaries that previously separated domestic from global issues have disappeared.

Threats are no longer confined to traditional political borders, social structures, and geographic boundaries. Geopolitical shifts have dramatically altered the global economic landscape and brought politics and business together.

The rise of China as an economic and politically influential power has threatened the dominance of the United States as the world’s largest economy. Although the opening of China and a market of 1.4 billion people have benefited both countries, it has also intensified competition and sparked U.S. economic and technological espionage accusations against China, leading to strained relations between the two giants.

U.S. companies operating from China have felt the impact of this tense relationship. The opposite is true for Chinese companies in the U.S.

Across Europe, national populism is on the rise and now a serious force. In 2016, the United Kingdom shocked the world when it voted to leave the European Union, generating reverberating effects across markets.

Banks and financial services companies that once benefited from the EU passporting system have had their cross-border banking and investment services to customers and counterparties in the many EU Member States impacted, causing them to reimagine their value proposition models.

The recent invasion of Ukraine by Russia is another example of a geopolitical event that has had devastating effects on human livelihood and businesses. Although the conflict between the two countries has risen over the years, I think it’s fair to say that few political analysts, governments, and businesses predicted a war to happen.

The war has created a humanitarian crisis, rattled global commodity and energy markets, caused prices to soar, and forced many international companies to temporarily suspend their Russian activities or completely cut ties with the country.

Global supply chains which are already fragile and sensitive due to the COVID-19 pandemic are now facing new challenges in the aftermath of the Russia-Ukraine crisis. Multilateral economic sanctions have been imposed on Russia. A state of affairs that was unthinkable months ago and is now threatening to derail the nascent global economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Given the global domino effect of geopolitical events and the shrinking of the distance between markets and politics, the need to better understand and more effectively mitigate geopolitical risk has become more urgent. The business impacts, whether direct or indirect, vary by company type and industry sector.

Your company may not be able to prevent wars between nations, but you can anticipate and better prepare for geopolitical shocks:

  • Integrate strategy, risk, and performance decision-making. Consideration of risks to business success is an important part of the strategy selection and execution process, not an afterthought.
  • Develop a better understanding of geopolitical trends and how they are changing. For example, what are the megatrends in business, politics, and technology that are making geopolitical risks more diverse, prevalent, and consequential?
  • Assess the links between these geopolitical events and business performance. What are the events that matter most to your business? For example, how might current global political trends pose physical, business, and reputational risks to your parent organization?
  • Anticipate how these trends are likely to play out in the short, medium, and long terms, and develop mitigation strategies for each geopolitical scenario. Proactively anticipate and plan for radically different worlds, instead of reacting to problems as they arise
  • Review your mitigation strategies as the world changes. Are they effective enough in case of a major shock?
  • Develop capabilities for continuous learning to anticipate, address, and recover from geopolitical crises.

What do you think?

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