Are You Ignoring Your Competitive Advantage?

You will NOT BELIEVE the meeting I just got out of.

Sales Guy:  Yes – we use this engineered raw material.  It’s 15% more expensive than what the competition uses.  Yes, it is better quality. Yes, it has tighter tolerances.  But that doesn’t matter.

Me:  But it DOES have benefit in the application right?

Sales Guy: Yeah.  But I don’t think it’s worth the 15% increase in cost.

Me: (Head exploding!)  REALLY?!!!  F’n REALLY?!

You can’t expect to sell product you don’t love1 finger

I was going to write on a completely different topic, but then I had TWO meetings in a row like this and I just couldn’t take it any more.  I figured if I had two conversations like this in the space of two days — there were thousands of you possibly THINKING this and it’s my duty to smack you around this morning.

There is a fundamental law of sales and marketing — just like the physical laws of the universe that says — you will NOT sell product you don’t love or believe in.  I mean it is already hard enough to connect with ideal customers when you KNOW what they need and your product or service is the perfect solution to their problem.  But to KNOWINGLY sabotage your sales and marketing success because you don’t respect the technical details of your product and the benefits these bring to your customer is — self-defeating.  I mean how can you expect a customer to buy into it if you don’t?

You can’t.

It’s called competitive advantage — and without it you die

So let’s talk a little about competitive advantage.  Some marketers call it positioning, some call it differentiation, no matter what you call it — it’s a requirement for everyone involved in the selling and marketing of the product or service.  Oh — and let’s not forget that your CUSTOMER desperately wants to know what it is.

There are too many choices out there and so the purpose of competitive advantage or differentiation is to help your customer choose you.

Now, because I work with a lot of technical and industrial product with some heavy-duty specifications and a lot of scientists, I can appreciate the need to be accurate.  But being accurate doesn’t have to mean confusing the customer.

Here are a few things to be know and understand about competitive advantage, how you find it for your product or service and how you speak about it.  Some of it might surprise you.

Competitive advantage through test and research

One obvious way to discover or uncover competitive advantage is by researching and testing your market.  In this case, you are looking for the ideal customer who can benefit from your product or service.  You are looking for areas of their life where something is missing or there is a gap that your product or service is the perfect fit or solution for.  This isn’t always easy – but sometimes it’s what you have to do to really stand out.

You can do basic secondary research — just using the web and researching alternatives that your customers have in your industry.  Then you can create a list of features or offers and compare yourself against that to see what space you can occupy that hasn’t been filled.

Create or declare a competitive advantage

But let’s say that you don’t have the time or the resources to do all this testing and research.  Or you’ve already done this kind of research, but weren’t happy with the results.  Guess what?  You can literally STATE or create or declare a competitive advantage that hasn’t been STATED or declared by anyone in your industry.

This is really what gets the technical people’s undies in a bind.  It scares them or perhaps it makes them feel like you’re lying.  But you are NOT — you are just stating the obvious — and you are doing your customers a huge service in doing so.

Here — let me give you an example:

Let’s say that your product is an all natural food.  And you use all natural ingredients.  And, let’s also say that there are other products just like yours that are all natural too.  BUT — one alternative is featuring the energy benefits of the product, while another is featuring the low calorie component of the product.  Even though both alternatives use all natural ingredients neither has claimed them as an advantage.  They have CHOSEN to focus on those benefits that will appeal to their target market — either people who care about calorie count or people who want to increase their energy level.

Guess what — YOU CAN CLAIM all natural.  Yes — you can!  Even though “everyone is doing it” no one is claiming it and it is YOURS for the taking.  So TAKE IT.

Lessons for your products or services

If you are still struggling with this concept – I don’t know what to tell you.  But I will tell you that if you don’t claim a differentiator that is meaningful to your target audience – you will forever be fighting a price war.  Your customers will beat you down on price because YOU have not chosen something that has value to them.  You are doing your product and your profitability a disservice by NOT choosing some kind of competitive advantage.

You are unique by definition

OK.  I get it.  You think that your product is a commodity.  This is where you are wrong.  People are NOT purchasing just a product or service.  They are purchasing the entire experience of working with you and your company.  Just as each individual is unique — the combination of individuals in your company is unique.  AND your “commodity” product was designed and manufactured by a whole other series of unique human beings.  The order was placed on a unique system and delivered in a unique box.

By definition on this physical plane of existence — each product your customer receives is UNIQUE.

Start treating it that way.


Ivana Taylor is the publisher of DIYMarketers and the President of Third Force, a strategic marketing firm. She's the marketing expert and book editor for Small Business Trends and a frequent contributor to AMEX Open Forum.

Posted in Best Practice
5 comments on “Are You Ignoring Your Competitive Advantage?
  1. BAM! You were on fire in this one! Great post Ivana, thank you for the smack-down!

    • Ivana Taylor says:

      Hey James – wasn’t smackin’ YOU down – of course you are perfect in every way. As I mentioned in my other comment – I think I gave MYSELF a smack down when I realized how much our customers want us to tell them WHY they should choose us. Kinda strange huh?

  2. John Hawkins says:

    James, a great article very clearly articulated. I have just completed our annual Asian Managers Meeting during which we discussed this very approach … using Noble Sales Purpose approach and emphasizing Passion for what you do, for the products you sell and for the organization you are employed by. This article is therefore very timely for me and I will be distributing it to our country Managers as a great refresher.
    Thank you
    John Hawkins

    • Ivana Taylor says:

      Hi John – Ivana here — I’m so glad this spoke to you. Yes — I was a little on fire about this topic. In fact as I was ranting on the page — that’s when it hit me that our CUSTOMERS want us to tell them why they should choose us. I don’t think it had completely dawned on me until that moment. I guess I, too, had looked at competitive advantage as a marketing message. No I see it as customer service — LOL

    • John thanks for commenting. Ivana knocked it out of the park, glad you saw the value as well. And perfect timing with Global Entrepreneurship week coming up next week!

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